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Roadside Picnic (1972)

by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8921123,967 (4.01)167
"Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of the extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a "full empty," something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he'll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems."--… (more)
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    leigonj: By the same authors, both books feature strange happenings: in Roadside Picnic the curious effects left by a brief Alien visitation in 'the zone', and in Ugly Swans the perpetual rain and mutants in a small town, caused by who knows what?
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» See also 167 mentions

English (103)  French (5)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (110)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
Occasionally you read an older book that (temporarily) makes you think "everything written today is garbage" and this is one of those books. ( )
  mvolz | Jul 10, 2022 |
This was really mesmerisingly good. Gripping and fascinating, so packed with rich language and invention that I can see myself rereading it. ( )
  whatmeworry | Apr 9, 2022 |
Roadside Picnic is an SF classic. Originally published in the USSR at the height of the Cold War -- and Communist censorship – it received an English translation and publication in the US in 1977. It was thought of then as an experimental novel, and it still is. The premise is this: Four alien ships have visited Earth for a brief time and left behind a bunch of trash and strange effects in the areas they've visited, some of which are harmful to humans so those areas have been closed off for safety and further study. But people still sneak in to steal the alien technology, for which there’s a thriving black market. The novel is about one these stalkers, as they are called, nicknamed Red. It’s not a bang-up adventure tale ala Michael Crichton, though there are exciting parts when Red enters “The Zone” to find alien tchotchkes. It’s more about his interior life and how the alien visit has affected the rest of humanity, which ranges from scientists to black market dealers to housewives.

Actually I think the book IS a parody of the Russian black market for Western goods as it existed in the early 1970s. The characters one meets in the book could have been selling rock LPs and blue jeans. But there's a philosophical aspect too, in the idea that even if aliens have visited the Earth, humanity might never understand them, or they, us.

This is one of those rare books I would give five stars. Despite the often awkward language I was really into it by the end, which describes Red’s colorful but tension-filled trip through a bizarre alien-damaged quarry in search of the "Golden Sphere" -- a legendary alien artifact which has the power to grant wishes. There’s a good amount of cosmic horror too. We never see an alien, only the strange effects their visit has caused, which ranges from “bug traps” – areas of increased gravity, that squash anything that enters them into pancakes – to poisonous hell slime, free-roaming invisible heat storms, and momentary time warps that resuscitate corpses. That these are all described so colloquially and off-handedly adds to the strangeness and horror of it all. It was very different from anything I've ever read.

The book is divided into one prologue in which the alien visit is nicely introduced and four chapters. The first of them is a first person present monologue by Red as he visits The Zone with two companions. It’s one of the rare first person present POVs that gets it right. The other sections are in close third, also from Red, which felt like first person POV; as writer, I felt the authors were showing me two different ways to handle the same voice. Both were valid, and both worked.

On the downside, the roles of women were stereotypical: Wife and Mother vs. Spoiled Teenage Whore. There were no female scientists, stalkers, or black market dealers. There's only one mention of a woman even having a job, and that’s as a stenographer who has to fend off the attentions of the boss. Well, it was written in the early 1970s after all, by two Russians with only clandestine knowledge of the West, which is where the story is set. Unlike the Russia of the time, where women were regarded as comrades working alongside the men, women of the West in the 1960s were still expected to hold minor jobs at best until they got married.

The story’s setting adds to the absurdist nature of it, making it more like magic realism than a Western SF novel of the time that set out to predict a plausible future. The imaginary town of Harmont where the visit occurred is English-speaking and could have been American or Canadian, yet, the characters are Russian through and through in their personalities and mannerisms. There’s a lot of drinking and smoking that goes on, and there’s even a bar called The Borscht. Colloquialisms that were originally in Russian sound odd when translated to English equivalents, like “mug” for example, for a criminal-looking face. Which might have suited the early 1970s time frame, but sounds odd today, in the 2020s. But that’s also what made it so interesting to read.

So, don’t be intimidated by this book in spite of its academic pedigree. (There’s a scholarly introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin, in fact.) You’re in for a good time. There’s even been a video game based on it. ( )
  Cobalt-Jade | Mar 23, 2022 |
Would be 5 stars but there's one bad chapter. Amazing book otherwise and the grandfather to a lot of scifi ( )
  pgarri16 | Mar 5, 2022 |
This is really difficult to rate. I liked the story and it was written/translated beautifully. I think it had an important message, but I haven't figured it out yet. It seems like it was influenced by what was going on in contemporary Russia, and I don't know much about that. ( )
  Sarahbrarian | Feb 3, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
 

» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Strugatsky, ArkadyAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, BorisAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Adrian, EsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barceló, MiquelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bormashenko, OlenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bouis, Antonina W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Capo, LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fukami, TadashiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griese, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalliomaa, HeikkiCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Le Guin, Ursula K.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lem, StanislawAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magee, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möckel, AljonnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rehnström, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schalekamp, Jean-A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, BorisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sturgeon, TheodoreIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uhlířová, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
You have to make the good out of the bad because
that's all you have got to make it out of.
Robert Penn Warren
Dedication
First words
I suppose that your first serious discovery, Dr. Pilman, should be considered what is now called the Pilman Radiant?
INTERVIEWER:... I suppose that your first important discovery, Dr. Pillman, was the celebrated Pillman radiant? (tr. Bormashenko, 2012)
Quotations
We usually proceed from a trivial definition: intelligence is the attribute of man that separates his activity from that of the animals. It's a kind of attempt to distinguish the master from his dog, who seems to understand everything but can't speak. However, this trivial definition does lead to wittier ones. They are based on depressing observations of the aforementioned human activity. For example: intelligence is the ability of a living creature to perform pointless or unnatural acts.
It all had to change. Not one life and not two lives, not one fate and not two fates -- every little bit of this stinking world world had to change ...
On the one hand, we are forced to admit, on the other hand, we can't dispute.
I'm anxious about going into the Zone and cold sober to boot. I grab him by the shoulder belt and tell him exactly what he is and just how his mother conceived him.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

"Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of the extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a "full empty," something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he'll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems."--

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