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Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics) Kindle Edition
|Length: 226 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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From the Publisher
About the Author
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are the most famous and popular Russian writers of science fiction, and the authors of over 25 novels and novellas. Their books have been widely translated and have been made into a number of films. Arkady Strugatsky died in 1991. Boris Strugatsky died in November 2012. Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and other science-fiction classics.
- File Size : 955 KB
- Publication Date : May 1, 2012
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 226 pages
- Publisher : Chicago Review Press (May 1, 2012)
- Lending : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B0087GJ5WI
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #44,755 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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While this may be a science fiction novel, taking place a number of years after first contact that involved no contact at all, the narrative is more akin to horror than anything else.
Aliens arrived on Earth, landing in a handful of seemingly random locations and then left shortly thereafter without any attempt to interact with us. What they left behind in their landing locations were bizarre, hazardous, and toxic zones where people like our protagonist would illegally venture with the purpose of risking their lives to collect items of alien manufacture that could be sold to scientific institutes for study or private collectors for bragging rights. The odds of surviving these trips into the zone were slim and anyone who made it out was changed by the experience.
This is where the novel begins, the context surrounding a story that is equal parts inspirational and terrifying, disorienting and straightforward. This book should be considered not only a fantastic sample of Cold War era Russian science fiction but also an example of surreal horror at its finest.
The premise of Roadside Picnic is that the earth has been visited by aliens. In six areas of the world, they have come and gone, leaving only their debris or garbage behind. Five of these areas are on land. By the end of the day of the visit, the Zones are declared off limits. Eventually, world scientific organizations set up on the borders of the Zones and begin to study the visible and invisible. Some of the items in the Zone are powerful energy sources. Some of the areas of intense gravity that crush men and vehicles flat. There are also organic life forms that cannot be studied because they kill all who get near them. Thirteen years later they are still being studied.
No one except scientists are allowed into the Zones. The trade in the black market for items smuggled out of the Zone is huge. The money to be made makes it worth the risk for these smugglers or "stalkers" to enter the Zone at night risking their lives. They are also risking more. Stalkers who frequently run the risk of the Zones find they have severe mutations in their children born after they begin venturing into the Zone. The book prefigured many of the issues surrounding the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
It really is an amazing book that really must be read. Or even better, listened to. Robert Forster does a great job narrating the book. Roadside Picnic, although written by two Russian brothers, takes place in Canada. Forster keeps his voice in somewhat of a neutral accent but he conveys the toughness of the main character, Red. Red's frustration with the problems of living with the Zone and the issues it causes comes through very well in the narration.
Roadside Picnic is a great book. It has all the tension of a thriller, all the science of a science fiction, all the character development of a great literary novel and it is an exciting audiobook. The Forward by Ms. Le Guin is really important to listen to before the book itself. It helps put the importance of the novel in the listener's mind as they hear the incredible story of Stalkers and the risks they take to provide for their families.
But what exactly are these leftovers? What was their original purpose? Study them though they might, the scientists have only barely begun to understand anything about these objects. "I'm absolutely convinced that in the vast majority of cases we're using sledgehammers to crack nuts," says a scientist at one point, illustrating how infuriating and bewildering it is to be so close to mind-expanding technology, but unable to know anything about it.
And that all goes double for the Zone, a bizarre, nightmarish area whose outward normality belies bizarre rules, deadly traps, bending gravity, and more. These are areas in which normal rules no longer apply, where the very rules of science seem to no longer hold true. But why are these Zones here? Are they testing us? Are they windows into a larger world? Or, as the same scientist says, are they simply the refuse and trash of aliens who stopped for a roadside picnic on our earth, and saw us as ants and animals - not even worth speaking to?
That's a bleak philosophical backdrop to a novel, but seems fitting for a novel written in 1972 Russia - after all, this is a culture known for its weary, laughing acceptance of all the cruelties of life, and Roadside Picnic is no different, American setting or not. Whether the book is a critique of the Russian system or an allegory for the corruption of capitalism or simply a science fiction story, I leave for each reader to decide for themselves; yes, there's a long history of censorship of the novel, but as Boris Strugatsky explains in the fascinating afterword, it was never quite clear exactly what was wrong with the novel, other than maybe its tone. But whatever the deeper meaning, Roadside Picnic ultimately feels like humanity coming to terms with its own insignificance, and trying to make peace with what that says about us. Are we just base animals, scrabbling for money and self-interest? Could we be more than that?
All of this makes Roadside Picnic sound existential and crushing, I know; indeed, if you've seen Andrei Tarkovsky's film version of the novel, Stalker, you might expect something weighty and heady like that. Instead, Roadside Picnic is remarkably down-to-earth, engaging with its ideas through drunken conversations and private musings, all while living through its primary lead, a stalker named Red whose incursions into the Zone are tense, unnerving, and unsettling, all without much ever truly happening. Indeed, one of the things that makes Roadside Picnic so effective is the way it suggests so much without ever explaining anything, allowing the reader's mind to fill in the gaps of this world around the edges, while giving us an interesting, relatable, down-to-earth character we can empathize with. After all, all Red wants is to provide for his family, and exploring the Zone is what he's good at.
I'm not wild about the ending of the novel in some ways, which seems like it comes from a different story entirely, eschewing the more existential and weirdly practical questions of the rest of the book for a quest for a mythical object which may or may not exist, but demands much. There's something fascinating about where the Strugatskys choose to end the novel, though, which ties into that larger question of what exactly we are as a human race, and whether we truly can overcome our limitations. It's a compelling ending, even if I'm not sold on the way we get there.
But even with that, it's hard to really convey how much this strange, slight novel will stick with you, informing how you see the world and creating a haunting, grim world that you'll think about for a long time after you finish the pages. Its ideas, its worldbuilding, its imagination, and its characters all live and breathe, giving you a novel whose ambitions and ideas linger beautifully and whose classic status is justly deserved.
Top reviews from other countries
Both the film and book have different but equally melancholic endings. However the novel might be said to have the ultimate happy ending, depending on what you believe the protagonist is actually thinking in the last paragraph…
The plot is a bit non-linear and tends to jump a few years at each chapters.
The ending is... breathless.
Abrupt, maybe a bit too open, but certainly perfectly in tone for this story; once you get the time to regain your sanity and think about it.
As far as I can tell, the book has little resemblance to the movie or video games (a.ka. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.). Though I guess you could say that the movie was closer to the meaning, while the game only took the basic idea of the zone and expanded A LOT about it. (Admittedly because they didn't really had the copyright to do an adaptation... oups!)
So what's Roadside Picnic?
Well one day a alien "event" - we could simply call them alien, but no one really knows, ok? - crash to earth and change the lives of almost everybody overnight. Suddenly, the whole market is about finding artifacts that we don't know how to use, hoping we get the upper hand before other countries find out what all this was really about. And it is all really absurd, you see... except it was also absurd before the event, and it is hard to tell how worst it has turned since everything is going down the drain anyway.
Our main character used to go in on the side, offering unusual and hard to get prizes to independent corporations. Except, he is not doing this anymore. It's all legit work now. For the hopes of others.
Until his own world fall apart a second time.
How far would you go before you realize you have gone too far?
How wretched one can turn in the search of the impossible?
Is the Stalker using the zone in order to live, or is the zone itself stalking mankind for its unfathomable goals?
In the end though, it's all about an ordinary man being imposed an extraordinary question.
Would you trust yourself to build the answers?
Strongly recommend to fans of "Annihilation" (2018), or of Phil K. Dick's deconstructions.
Very original take on first contact and quite plausible but mysterious and imaginative. I also say that there should be more Real Aliens in SF and less soap opera with latex appliances. Some dark humour for those who take their SF seriously but are critical of the cliches and assumptions of both science and science fiction as she is writ. Not every body's cup of Russian Caravan Tea but I really enjoyed it.
I had played a game called "Stalker: Call of Pripyat" (very good FPS) and had heard that it was loosely based on both the Roadside Picnic and the movie Stalker. So after playing the game I decided to check both of them out. Both the movie and game use the Roadside Picnic as a source but of course have deviated considerably to create their own unique experience.
The Roadside picnic deals with an apparent Alien visitation that no one witnessed. However the Aliens have left their mark by leaving their "debris" scattered about. One of the scientist refers to this visitation as having a roadside picnic and leaving your garbage behind for the creatures to use not knowing if its beneficial or destructive (e.g. food crumbs to oil stains from the car). This debris is referred to as "artifacts" and no knows how to use them or what their purpose is. Some seem to be beneficial and some are very deadly. Five areas in world are affected by this but the story focuses only one area which is not really identified and for some reason most critics assume it is in Canada. However being Canadian I don't actually read that into the description.
The effected area is called the "Zone" and is militarily cordoned off. Its illegal to the enter the zone and retrieve the artifacts which in turn creates a black market for these artifacts. People who make a career of sneaking onto the zone are called "Stalkers". However the nature of the Zone and its artifacts produces deadly areas and only experienced Stalkers can venture through and even the most skilled Stalker can get caught by these shifting deadly areas. Entering the Zone also has a detrimental, physiological effect on humans.
For most of the book you follow one Stalker known as "Red" whose daughter was born with full body hair, an effect of the zone (as the stories moves through the years, she slowly becomes less human and more animal like). Red carries this guilt with him and its one of the motivation factors that keeps bringing him back to the Zone.
There is no breakthrough moment in the story that explains what the artifacts represent or why the Aliens never contacted the Humans. Its a mystery and the reader is left to ponder the same questions as the characters. When you enter the Zone with Red you share the same unknowable danger as he does. There are no ray guns here its a story of how Humans react to or take advantage of an unknown.
Anyone planning on viewing the movie "Stalker", which is loosely based on this book, will find that the movie shares little with the original story. The movie is more psychological and involves only 3 characters and their journey into the zone. Their journey is more a journey of discovery of who they are so there is a lot of philosophical discussion. Visually the imagery is very striking but its a slow contemplative journey.