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Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics) Paperback – May 1, 2012
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
When aliens visited Earth, stopping briefly for (some speculate) a roadside picnic, they left their detritus behind in an area now known as the Zone. Surrounded by a wall and guarded by police, the Zone is accessible only to scientists and other employees of the Institute, including the explorers for alien artifacts who have been dubbed stalkers. A stalker who enters the Zone looking for alien treasure -- either as an employee of the Institute or to smuggle out items at night -- is always at risk: pockets of accelerated gravity, hell slime, and death lamps pose a constant threat. Apart from causing mutations in stalkers and their children, contact with the Zone leads to other anomalies, including animated corpses and -- for those who move away -- a tendency to attract accidents and natural disasters.
Red Schuhart is a stalker until, having seen enough friends die, he quits. After fathering a furry daughter, Schuhart returns to his old ways, dodging the police outside the Zone and death inside. He knows that stalkers who continue to push their luck end up dead, but when a final prize is dangled before him -- the mythical Golden Sphere that is said to grant wishes -- Schuhart cannot resist one last journey into the Zone.
Why does Schuhart risk his life as a stalker? Because self-reliance is all that has ever saved him from oblivion. He has always wanted to be his own boss, free from the slavery he associates with reporting to an employer. He considers himself an animal, riffraff, but he has never sold his soul, and that is the source of his strength.Read more ›
I have to give special recognition to Olena Bormashenko for the excellent translation, she truly did justices to Strugatsky's unique style, staying true to both form and substance.
The set up is simple and brilliant: aliens visited the earth some years prior -- possibly on a picnic -- and left behind a messy zone swirling with dangerous, unpredictable areas that run counter to the laws of physics but riddled with artifacts (possibly trash, but light years ahead of our technology). Under an authoritarian military and scientific presence, a community of stalkers — people who risk it all to sneak into the dangerous “zone” to secure the strange items and sell them on the black market — thrives, but at great physical and emotional risk.
What he manages to do with that setting is amazing. First, reading about the strange technology and how unwitting humans would interact with it is nothing short of miraculous. It felt so real, and yet so completely, well, alien. Second, the character development, imbued with the Russian soul of long-suffering pragmatism, was remarkable. Third, and most impressive, is literary depth of this slender work — the insanely nuanced commentary on life under communism, the subversive critiques of capitalism and science and the deep insights into the human condition and our unease with our place in the universe.
Loved lines like this: “Austin isn’t a bad guy, he’s got the right mix of courage and cowardice.” And, “I’m not proud, I just don’t like counting pennies, that’s all.” And, “I think and think, can’t think of a thing, and decide not to give a damn.”
When this story begins, it has been years since "the visitation". These ETs were neither benevolent bringers of technology and enlightenment nor conquerors with malevolent intent. Earth was just a stop-over - like a roadside picnic - and they didn't notice the humans of earth any more than we would notice the small animals, birds or insects hiding in the bushes on the side of the road. The ETs left without making contact leaving their "litter" covering several square miles in 6 locations around the Earth which are now known as Visitation Zones. The Zones are controlled by the various governments and entry by anyone but authorized government technicians is prohibited because of the toxins and radiation and dangerous unexplained phenomena.
The story revolves around one Visitation Zone in Harmont, a town in a Fictitious Commonwealth country (which I assumed was somewhere on the American continent), and follows the main protagonist, Redrick "Red" Schuhart, over an eight-year period. By day, Red is an authorized laboratory assistant at the international institute which studies the Zone, and by night, he is a "stalker" who enters the Zone illegally to acquire Zone "artifacts" which he sells on the black market. This is another aspect of the story that I really liked - the main character is not a super intelligent scientist who understands everything or a high-testosterone space adventurer who intends to save humanity. Red is just a normal, lower-middle-class-type guy trying to eke out a living from the Zone without getting killed by the hazards in the Zone or his rival stalkers or incarcerated by the clueless law enforcement.
Very interesting characters and plot lines. Highly recommended for Sci-Fi fans.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Just might be one of the most (if not THE most) original pieces of SF I've encountered in 40+ years of deep-diving into the genre. Read morePublished 9 days ago by Amazon Customer
The conceit that we would be the topic of interest for an advanced alien civilization is pretty much crushed by this novel. Read morePublished 18 days ago by Armand Gilbert
Other reviewers here have given excellent synopses, so I'll forego another. But this is a dangerous book, and different from much SF that Western readers are familiar with. Read morePublished 22 days ago by M. L. Shaw
I found this story to be quite fascinating in spite of the fact that I am not a great fan of science fiction.Published 1 month ago by badassgrandma
It was great, I feel like this book has opened my up to a whole new genre of cold war era, soviet-block sci-fi. Read morePublished 1 month ago by James Henry McKeen
One of my favorite films, so I knew something before I read this book. The book was not disappointing at all. Researching the history of how it was written was also interesting. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazonian
The premise is that the artifacts left by an unknown, visiting alien culture are a mixed blessing. The book is about how the chief protagonist, a poacher of the artifact in the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Phil
If you're a fan of the movie Stalker, or the STALKER games, read this. It fills in a lot of the holes in the world, and the story itself is very richly told and fascinating.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer