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Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics) (original 1972; edition 2012)

by Arkady Strugatsky, Ursula K. Le Guin (Foreword), Boris Strugatsky

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1,140447,179 (4)71
gsmattingly's review
I finished reading "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky last night. I enjoyed it. It was interesting. "Stalker" by Tarkovsky was based on the book. The film contains elements of the book but doesn't really follow the book that closely. Still I enjoyed both the book and the movie. ( )
  gsmattingly | May 20, 2012 |
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Roadside Picnic is a Soviet-era ideological tract about the evils of Capitalism. Interesting idea for the zone but science fiction in the service of ideology is par for the course of this sordid genre. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jun 30, 2014 |
A sf novel from the USSR era. An inspiration for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R movie and game. On a banned books list. Very much an enjoyable read. ( )
2 vote Me-chan | Jun 19, 2014 |
When I finished this story I was reminded of a comment that Rudy Rucker made back in the day about there were limits as to how weird one could make your aliens because our own world was probably about as weird as Humans can handle. Which is another way of saying that what "Roadside Picnic" really has going for it is existential dread, as our protagonist goes from young bravo seeking to make a fast buck from raiding alien artifacts to (over the course of a few years) a desperate man seeking answers to what has happened to his life, and knowing full well that he probably isn't equipped to understand those answers even if they're forthcoming. That the authors cut you no breaks on the ambiguity of the situation in the approved edition of the novel I consider a plus.

What also makes this book look prescient is, on one hand, how it presages the Chernobyl Disaster, and on the other, how it apparently helped to inspire a whole genre of fiction and gaming (survival-horror). ( )
  Shrike58 | May 28, 2014 |
What's most amazing about this book is how the authors write prose that is so thought-provoking but not at all heavy. I might rate it 4 stars for that alone, but add to that the solid, lean prose, interesting characters and the compelling mysteries of the zone, and it's definitely a 5 for me. ( )
2 vote qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |
What's most amazing about this book is how the authors write prose that is so thought-provoking but not at all heavy. I might rate it 4 stars for that alone, but add to that the solid, lean prose, interesting characters and the compelling mysteries of the zone, and it's definitely a 5 for me. ( )
  qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |
Science Fiction
6 Stars

Roadside Picnic, while written in 1971, feels like it somehow belongs to the Golden Age AND the Modern Age of Science Fiction. Based on the after effects of an alien visitation Roadside Picnic feels like it could have been written in the 1930’s. However, the language and the way the strange occurrences are handled are definitely modern. This is some of the wittiest, humorous, and downright scariest Science Fiction to come around in a long time. (Psssst, it’s scary as hell because it reads real…) ( )
  TheAlternativeOne | Mar 18, 2014 |
I hadn't originally planned to read this but I saw the movie with some friends and one of them recommended the book. It's very sad, and I think purposefully unfulfilled. I think, like the abruptness of a bug trap, I don't think the reader is supposed to know what happens. The last words we read are like an echo, a last thought, a moment of pure rebellion. It's one of those books where the journey is best part and the point of the story, rather than the conclusion. The film that is based off the book is similar in this way that it only hints at what the Zone really is and where it came from. But that is what makes the Zone so extremely dangerous, is that the reader knows as much about it as the characters do. Rederick Schuart isn't a hero, he is a man struggling between his own curiosity about the Zone and making ends meet for his family. His isn't the kind of character that has an epic destiny, a determination to save everyone, he just wants to be free from those that run his life. So instead of being disappointed like some, I'm glad the book progresses the way it does. ( )
  asukamaxwell | Mar 13, 2014 |
Beautiful, yet unfulfilling, I am left with a hunger for more ( )
  IAmAndyPieters | Feb 16, 2014 |
This is said to be a classic of Russian science fiction. The idea of discarded alien artefacts, absurdly dangerous to retrieve from the zones where they are littered, but with potential of fabulous wealth for the stalkers who bring them out illegally, is a strong one. However, the language seems to have suffered a lot for being translated, and the sceanarios start off very bleakly, and get even bleaker. Not recommended. ( )
  Matt_B | Jan 26, 2014 |
13 years ago, something happened near the city of Harmont. Known as The Visit, no one is quite sure exactly what happened, but something changed in a five-kilometer are. People died. Large gravitational traps appeared pulling anything to the ground, from a tiny bird to a large helicopter. Shadows became alive and dangerous. The air exploded like flame in an instant. And ordinary object suddenly transmuted into valuable items: spacells that provide electricity indefinitely; pins that sing if one pinched long enough; two saucer-sized discs of copper with nothing between them yet inseparable and weighing almost fourteen pounds (an "empty"). Good money was to be found in retrieving such objects and bringing them back for scientific study (or even private collections).

Redrick Schuhart is a Stalker, one of those daring individuals who venture into the area known as the Zone, and one of the best at his craft. The prospect of bringing in a full "empty" -- two of those saucer discs but with a blue substance between them -- spurs Red into making another trek into the Zone -- that, along with a hefty sum of money. But his comrade Kirill innocently brings something back from this trip, something that convinces Red that these trips are too dangerous. But the Zone won't let him go that easily, not when the effects of living so close to and venturing into the Zone too often take their toll on his daughter.

Convinced by his old comrade the Vulture that an ultimate object exists in the Zone -- a Golden Sphere that will grant your innermost wish -- Red makes one last voyage into the damaged area to hopefully find a way to protect his daughter.

A remarkable trip into science fiction, "Roadside Picnic" creates a fantastical landscape, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Simple, forgotten objects take on new life, new meaning, and it's amazing watching Red and his traveling companions carefully pick their way through the Zone. The world inside the Zone doesn't look changed, but nothing is as it once was. Red uses remembrances of past trips, unintentional landmarks left by former stalkers, and even something as simple as tossing a nut or bolt on the path ahead to determine the correct path. Red and others constantly try to understand what created the Zone -- was it simply a change in nature, portending what the future may hold? Or was it an alien visitation? Did they stop by Earth for a few moments and leave their garbage, what Red and others now treasure as the mysterious objects, behind? And throughout, Red tries to hold on to some kind of hope, that something exists in the Zone that will answer all his questions and bring about the miraculous change that his life needs. It's a great book that should be a part of any science fiction library. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Sep 5, 2013 |
Excellent beginning to this novel and a fascinating central idea - our First Contact with extraterrestrial life being with their litter. There's a not-too-subtle point being made here about our own exploitation and degradation of our environment.

The middle is interesting, as it rather disjointedly develops some of the characters and shows how their lives are affected by contact with the alien artifacts. Little is explained and much is hinted, which is simultaneously tantalising and frustrating.

The last chapter I found a disappointing anticlimax to what had gone before. I didn't expect everything to be explained but this felt like it was a couple of pages short of the actual finale. A fine but flawed book. ( )
  Michael.Rimmer | Jul 26, 2013 |
In the book blogosphere the oft-mentioned "proper" order of things is to read the book first and then see the movie. I tend to do things the other way around, seeing a film and wanting to experience the source material.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky is the source material for one of my favorite soviet films — Stalker (1979). My introduction to it came in an advanced film theory class where we were learning about narrative transformation.

In Stalker, there is the Zone, an abandoned, restricted area where strange things happen. Stalkers are hired by those who wish to see it (illegally of course). In Roadside Picnic, there are many of these Zones. They are areas where alien technology has appeared.

Red Schuhart, like his cinematic counterpart is one of these stalkers. His daughter was born in the Zone and is affected by it. Because of her dependence on it, he can't leave, even though he wants to.

I am grateful for Roadside Picnic providing inspiration to the film, but I was not as blown away by it as I am by the film. The Zone just needs to be shown.

Cinematically it is distinguished from the rest of the world by its color, just like the Wizard of Oz film (1939). But it also uses actual (and dangerous) abandoned buildings as its backdrop, bringing and eeriness that no set designer could accomplish. The book while more complex in its world and character building, can't compete with the visceral impact of the films visuals. ( )
  pussreboots | Jul 21, 2013 |
Recensione su: http://wp.me/p3X6aw-4t
Review at: http://wp.me/p3X6aw-4t ( )
  Saretta.L | Jun 15, 2013 |
Aliens came to visit. Aliens have gone. And what's left on Earth is basically a couple of piles of trash from these picnics. Wait, that isn't quite as rosy as it sounds - they're disaster zones, and the "trash" is dangerous as hell. Some think that meticulously retrieving and probing the mysterious artefacts and items would yield interesting scientific results. Some think that the zones should be left alone. Some think there's a black market out there for all the weird stuff. So in come the stalkers - people skilled in traversing the dangers of the visitation zones, some using their skills with permissions and proper gear, some taking the harder way and just going there on their own.

"Roadside Picnic" is a bit disjointed book - a series of episodes in and out of the visitation zone. Compared to the film "Stalker" that was loosely based on the novel, the story focuses a little bit more on the milieu and lifes and situations and feelings of individual characters, and doesn't really have as much direction. On the other hand, "Stalker" is a slow and meditative film, while "Roadside Picnic" is positively action-packed at times. The protagonist, Red Schuhart, also isn't one upholding all that solemn and contemplative narrative, and goes for a bit more of relaxation.

Reading this book was part of my "oh damn, now that I have a tablet, I'll read all the ebooks I've wanted to read" challenge. Most of those books were from Project Gutenberg, but while Roadside Picnic isn't public domain, the book and its first English translation has been available on the web for a long time through official Strugatsky websites. Years ago, I even tried feeding the novel through text-to-speech. Never quite completed it, but now I did. Of course, I had to deal with the fact that the reader app didn't really like the *fascinating* HTML conversion, so reading experience wasn't optimal. It went okay, though. ( )
  wwwwolf | May 14, 2013 |
Fascinating idea: I love this view of contact with aliens, the idea that maybe they'll come along and they won't care about us, they'll just leave their litter here on earth and not care what happens to us because of it. Obviously the novel unpacks that, but that's the basic idea at the heart of it. And as with so many masterworks of SF, the book is mostly worth reading for that: the characters are indifferent to unpleasant, and only a couple of the relationships are important.

The end is -- whoa. It's awful. And it's somehow the more awful because we don't see what comes of it, whether it was remotely worth it. ( )
  shanaqui | May 7, 2013 |
Brilliant

I’ve been aware of this book for a long time, it spawned both a celebrated film (Stalker) and computer game (Stalker) and is a classic of soviet era SF. The world has a number of sites that are part of “The Visit” where aliens have been to Earth and have left behind mysterious artefacts in “The Zone”. The book opens with a scientific explanation of the distribution of these Znes and then follows Red who is a “Stalker”, a treasure hunter who goes into the Zone to retrieve artefacts. This is a first contact story but one that is utterly strange and wonderful. There are lots of theories, expounded by various characters in the novel, but no hard telling of “this is what’s happening” and the mystery and utter alien-ness of the Visit is what is brilliantly portrayed here as well as following some of the characters over more than 10 years as the Zone is explored. The ending (which I won’t spoil) is also very memorable and stunning. This edition has an introduction by Ursula Le Guin (don’t read this before reading the book!! – why can’t people write introductions with the assumption that you’ve not read the book and don’t want spoilers, luckily once it started talking about the plot I skipped and came back after I read the book) and a brilliant afterword by Boris Strugatsky about the difficulties they had getting it published and Soviet censorship.

Overall – Highly recommended for lovers of SF and the weird ( )
  psutto | Apr 3, 2013 |
Top Story
A New Translation of The One Russian Science Fiction Novel You Absolutely Must Read

By Annalee Newitz
If you're going to read just one Soviet-era Russian science fiction novel, it should be Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's dark, ambiguous Roadside Picnic. Originally written in the early 1970s, it's back in print in English after 30 years, with a brand-new translation by Olena Bormashenko and a riveting afterword by Boris Strugatsky about how the book was butchered by Soviet censors. It's a seriously intense tale of a man who risks his life and freedom to smuggle artifacts out of mysterious "Zones" where aliens landed.

Red is a "stalker," a man who is one of the most successful players in the black market for alien technologies. He trades in the inexplicable objects left behind by mysterious visitors in now-contaminated Zones all over the Earth, where even the laws of physics have been warped by whatever the aliens were doing. The life of a stalker is almost always deadly, because the Zones are full of toxic gunk, gravitational anomalies, and other dangers. Plus, exposure to the Zones causes the stalkers' children to be born as inhuman mutants, and corpses buried in the Zones come back to life and shuffle aimlessly around their old homes. Still, Red thinks the whole deal is worth it — the artifacts fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly because they've allowed scientists to invent everything from infinite, self-replicating batteries to a perpetual motion machine.

Nobody has any idea why the aliens came, nor why they left. At one point, a Nobel prize winning physicist who works on the Zone technologies admits that the items may have been left behind as garbage. The aliens might have been the equivalent of humans on a picnic leaving behind foil wrap, batteries, motor oil, and other bizarre bits of junk that confuse the local animals.

The brilliance of this novel is that it doesn't matter whether you believe the Zones are garbage we animals are picking over, or a message the aliens want us to decode. The point is that you are forced to guess at the aliens' intentions, and deal with the discomfort of not ever getting a pat answer. It's the same discomfort that is wrecking Red's life, and warping everyone around him as they try to create value and meaning from what might, after all, be nothing but (literal) alien shit. Things only get worse when some of the stalkers decide to hunt down the "sphere," an artifact that supposedly grants wishes.

Fast-paced and exciting, Roadside Picnic is also a compelling character study of Red and his family as the stalker's life changes them. It's a novel of disturbing ideas about both extraterrestrial life and our own pathetically puny place in the universe. Gritty and realistic but also fantastical, this is a novel you won't easily put down — or forget.

It's also one of the Strugatskys' most popular books outside Russia, partly because it inspired Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker (as well as a series of videogames). But its publishing history, according to Boris, nearly drove the brothers insane. Apparently, it took eight years to get the book past the censors, and not for the reasons you'd think. Russian authorities had no problem with the ideology of the book, which can be interpreted as anti-capitalist and depicts Western life as a horror show. Instead, they were angered by the idea that kids might be harmed by reading a book that was so dark, full of violence, drinking, crime, and cursing. They gave the brothers a list of hundreds of scenes and phrases that had to be changed before the book would be published — including turning the zombies to cyborgs (less disturbing) and making the novel's ending decidedly unambiguous in a really cheesy way.

In the afterword, Boris Strugatsky explains that there are worse things than ideological censors — there are the literary gatekeepers who want every work of fiction to be banal and reassuring, never forcing the reader to go outside his or her comfort zone. But Roadside Picnic, now restored to the authors' original version, is all about going into the Zones that are far beyond the reaches of your safe little life. To venture into the Zone is to confront who we really are, and what our place is in the universe. And the answers will disturb the hell out of you. Which is as it should be.

You can pick up a copy of the new translation of Roadside Picnic via IPG, from Chicago Review Press.
  Traveller1 | Mar 30, 2013 |
For me, this book is not about who the visitors where, what they wanted and what they left behind. It is about human nature as seen by the response of people to this unique event and its consequences. It is about a small city where everyone is trying to get at everyone. Stealing, lying, double-crossing, killing for money and for survival. Even the most honest or innocent end up entangled in this mess.

I read Stanislav Lem's review about the book and I frankly believe his criticisms were unfair. I don't see a problem with the possibility that the visitors were benevolent and the whole thing was an accident. The point is that we, just like the people in the book, don't know, can't know and in the end it doesn't matter. The possibility that they didn't even notice us is enough. I also don't see the turn to fairy tale towards the end of the book. The Golden Globe had become a legend for the people in the book, but there is no reason to think that there is something special about it. In fact, the person that first found it doesn't seem to have any of his wishes fulfilled and when Red finally sees it he notices that it looks quite ordinary, another piece of visitor junk. ( )
  dalai-lt | Mar 30, 2013 |
One of the SF Masterworks (a series of the best SF out there) is Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (or Bermtoeristen by Arkadi and Boris Stroegatski in Dutch). Written in Russia in 1971, it tells the story of the Zone near Harmont. There are in total six of such Zones, results of the Visitation. Aliens have visited our Earth and have left debris in these Zones, leading to all kinds of strange effects.
In this story we follow Redrick "Red" Schuhart, a Stalker. A Stalker is somebody who goes into the Zone to get stuff to sell this on illegally. It is a dangerous occupation because besides the patrols and police, the Zone itself is quite deadline in all kinds of unexpected ways. The book has several chapters, all looking at Red or another character at some point in their lives.
As a reader we are told about life in Harmont, and what is found in the Zone. However, as the people researching or gathering these things don't know what they are and what they are for, neither do we. The same goes for the Visitation itself. Nobody knows who the aliens where, and why they came. Why are the Zones there? This book doesn't offer any answers, instead it deals with the emotions and thoughts of mainly Red the Stalker. A nice, thoughtful and short novel (which of course I would have liked to be longer so it could feature more explanations). Four out of five stars. ( )
  divinenanny | Mar 14, 2013 |
Grittier and more earthy feel than lots of the recent sf I've read. Defintely old school. And Russian/Soviet. ( )
  iceT | Jan 18, 2013 |
A classic with a new translation, forward and afterword, easily accessible after many years. Roadside Picnic may have difficulty living up to its reputation, however the book remains compelling, and it's not a demanding read.

Aliens stopped over on Earth and left just as suddenly. They left "zones" behind, filled with odd technology humans are trying to puzzle out. Red is a "stalker", someone who illegally sneaks into the zone and smuggles tech out - if they don't die in the process.

Roadside Picnic is not a big book, and - though a lot are retrofitted onto it - it's not a novel of big ideas and themes. Compared to other authors writing at the same time, it's more minor Philip K. Dick than Ursula K. LeGuin, but this is not to say it's a bad book.

Much like Dick's work, un-knowing forms a large part of the book. Not only the alien tech, but what the other humans are feeling, thinking, why they act the way they do. Red's quest is a quest for meaning, really, and the book traces his - and humanity's - progress over more than a decade.

Knowing its fraught publication history in the Soviet Union, it's tempting - and easy - to see cold war metaphors, totalitarian metaphors, capitalism/communism metaphors, and more on every page. And perhaps they were put there subliminally - though the remaining living Strugatsky denies it in the afterword. This gave me a somewhat weird feeling reading it - it's a rich text, but I was aware that I was projecting a lot onto it, and just try to appreciate it for what it is.

The translation certainly felt unobtrusive to me - I cannot comment on its accuracy, but the prose was utilitarian and seemed surprisingly similar to other, Western scifi from the age to me.

This review may sound a bit deflated. I suppose it is, in that the book has the reputation of a titan, and simply: it is not a titan. But what it actually is, is a fine enough book with a great setting that's rendered creatively, moves along quickly, and is not overlong. That was enough for me in the end. ( )
  patrickgarson | Jan 16, 2013 |
When I saw that this was Russian scifi from the Soviet era, I knew that I needed to pick it up, if for no other reason than that I’d never seen any before. This new print has been returned to the authors’ original vision, with the heavy edits (really, censorship) removed. It also starts with an introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin.

The germ of the idea is truly brilliant and is immediately clear. This idea of an alien race stopping by for a picnic, essentially, and ignoring humanity like so many ants. It’s so different from the more egotistical interpretation of alien visitations that we usually see. The book was worth the read for that alone. The early scenes are vivid and clearly establish this post-visitation situation where the Zone the aliens landed in is uninhabitable, and the government and scientists are trying to study it while stalkers sneak in (at great risk to their lives) to extract artifacts for the black market. Similarly, the artifacts that the stalkers (and government) find and bring out of the Zone are wonderfully imagined. It is easy to see that the authors probably knew exactly what the aliens used the items for whereas the characters in the book are clueless. Trying to find any use they can for them.

The book though is truly about Redrick. It uses the scifi setting to explore this man who really just wants to escape the rat race and have a comfortable life with his family. He chooses to attempt to be his own boss by being a stalker in the Zone and is repeatedly thrown in prison for it. We never really see him as a whole man, since we only saw him after the Zone. It is as if the presence of the Zone gave him hope, and the repeated failures slowly rob him of his life energy.

In spite of this excellent set-up and interesting character arc, the book didn’t fully satisfy me. I found Redrick difficult to sympathize with. He thinks he is a slave to the system, but really he is choosing to be a slave to money. He could have left the town and the Zone behind multiple times to go live a life with his family, but he doesn’t. I understand others might interpret his freedom of movement differently from me, but that is how I saw his situation. It seems most of his problems come from a love of not just money but a love of wealth. So although I periodically sympathized with what he was saying, I didn’t ultimately sympathize with him.

What I truly found disappointing though was the ending. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that while the rest of the book was realistic scifi, couched in darkness and despair, the ending was surprisingly positive in a deus ex machina manner. It felt like a real cop-out, particularly compared to the rest of the book. Whereas most everything else was innovative, this was generic, ho-hum, and disappointing. While I was still glad to have experienced Redrick’s world, the ending kept the book from truly grasping me or blowing my mind.

Overall, then, this book is an important piece of both Russian and scifi literature. It has enough uniqueness of setting to it to keep the well-versed reader of both genres interested but beware that the main character might not be entirely sympathetic, and the ending is a bit disappointing. Recommended to fans of Russian or scifi literature.

Check out my full review: http://wp.me/pp7vL-Vc ( )
  gaialover | Dec 14, 2012 |
Russian literature is an interesting thing for an American like me to read. There are some things that are universal no matter where you live, but at the same time, there are certain things you take for granted which are fundamentally different in other countries, including Russia. It’s not to say that we as Americans are greater or more privileged or anything, but rather that people from different countries can see things is a completely different way than in America (or between any two countries or cultures, for that matter). This is why I find it particularly interesting to read Russian literature. I get a view of a world that is the same, but totally different than my own.

It is with great curiosity that I started reading Roadside Picnic, a classic Russian sci-fi book I had never even heard of until it was sitting in my inbox. Within this brand new English translation, the Brothers Strugatsky have concocted an unusual not-too-distant future. Aliens visited Earth some time ago, and the places where they had their eponymous diversions exhibit all manner of unusual properties, most of which are completely fatal to the humans who are brave, or stupid, enough to venture in to collect some highly demanded alien artifacts.

This world is my world, but fundamentally different than any world I’ve ever know. And while the prose is sparse, providing more action than description, this kinetic painting makes a particularly vivid visual image.

After having read this book, I still am not sure what had fully happened, and what’s going to happen next, but what did happen within the book was a story worth reading.

To risk generalization, Russian literature, especially the kind from the same era as this book, has struck me as bleak, almost without hope, but not quite fully. Stoic and straight-faced, but with the tiniest hint of a smirk when nobody’s looking. It’s prose like this that both render the story completely familiar and simultaneously completely alien to a reader like me, a mixture that is ideal for any science fiction story.

I recommend this book for all fans of Soviet science fiction, as well as fans of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. ( )
  aethercowboy | Jul 5, 2012 |
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