“Roadside Picnic” is a book written by the Strugatsky brothers – two Russian writers who worked during the Soviet era. I had wanted to read this book for a long time, and I finally did when a new, uncensored translation was published.
The world of “Roadside Picnic” is a world after a visit by outer space aliens. The aliens stayed for a while, without establishing contact, and then left. They left behind several “Zones”, that are now restricted, in which mysterious items can be found and unexplainable and dangerous phenomena occur. Around the Zones a new occupation, that of a “stalker”, has arisen. A stalker is a person who goes into the Zones and fetches things for study or for sale.
The main character of the book is “Red” Schruhrat – a stalker. Stalkers can earn a lot of money, especially when they sneak into the Zones and bring out stuff to sell on the black market. One of the early missions of Red into the Zone is a trip sanctioned by a local Institute where he is employed. Although the trip seems successful, due to Red’s inattention a scientist touches a “silver web” and this slip apparently causes his death shortly after the return.
The book covers large portion of Red’s life and further trips into the Zone. Some political and military intrigue is alluded too. However, the Zone remains incomprehensible throughout the book.
One hypothesis explaining the Zones is presented during a conversation in a bar where a friend of Red muses that the Zones are simply garbage the aliens left, and are just incomprehensible to us as stuff left in the grass after a roadside picnic would be to ants.
This book was an inspiration for another Tarkowski movie – called “The Stalker”. I have seen parts of this movie – it is visually stunning – but is extremely slow. I have yet to watch it entirely.
I really enjoyed this book and I will probably read of Strugatsky’s novels.