One of the best pieces of sci-fi fiction in the last few decades, "Roadside Picnic" tells the story of a Stalker, one of the few who dare to enter a zone of suspended disbelief that is the remnant of a possible alien visitation. Stalkers venture into the deadly realm for artifacts, which are sometimes useful, sometimes enigmatic, sometimes life-threatening, in order to survive in the oppressive, broken social climate surrounding the zone.
Anybody who's ever played the video-game "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl" will recognise the very concise plot; those who've read "Nova Swing" by M. J. Harrison will have also come across one of the many pieces of fiction inspired by this short novel.
The writing is terse and superbly descriptive, shifting from a first-person narritive to third partway through. The change is expertly handled by the Strugatsky brothers, who are masters at the hard under-stated personalities that frequent Soviet fiction - think the protagonist from "Solaris", if you've read it, and you'll know what I mean.
Some have critisised the novel for being "too much sociology and not enough sci-fi", that is to say, not what they were expecting. However if you get exactly what you expected in a novel, you probably just read pulp or a 1960s comic book. "Roadside Picnic" is a beautifully written, inspiring read, with strong, desperate characters and a thrilling premise.
The only downside is that it is perhaps too short: the potential for other aspects of the story to be played out - like the original of the zones, further applications of artifacts, scientific or unanticipated, or the continued stories of some of the characters - are put aside in favour of a delicious form of mystery that will keep you reading right up until the fantastic thought-provoking denoument.