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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Roadside Picnic
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...
Published on 8 Sept. 2008 by D Brookes

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not very exciting
This is one of those books where the blurb on the back (like the Product Description here) tells the reader what's going to happen about 75% of the way through the book. This kind of spoiler really annoys me, even if the journey getting to that point is enjoyable. So, is the book up to that point enjoyable? Well, it's certainly not a chore, but it wasn't that...
Published on 19 May 2012 by Andy Phillips


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Roadside Picnic, 8 Sept. 2008
By 
D Brookes (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
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.

Unmissable.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are we monkeys or cavemen,ants or ghosts?, 3 April 2013
By 
technoguy "jack" (Rugby) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Roadside Picnic (Paperback)
This magnificent Russian SF novel is about 40 years old and was written by two Russian brothers,Arkady and Boris Strugatsky,and this is a new translation where the original language,idiomatic,slangy,violent and fresh,has been restored.Set in the early 70s,ostensibly in Canada.There are 4 chapters,detailing the life of Red Schuhart a stalker,who ventures illegally into the Zone,in spite of the extreme danger to retrieve the mysterious artefacts that alien visitors left scattered around.The book starts off with a description of the Zones,6 of which have been left randomly across the planet.Aliens have visited the earth and gone away again leaving behind them several landing areas littered with their refuse, bizarre technological wonders to be found in the Zones. These areas, where the physics of matter are warped in mysterious and dangerous ways, are thought to be the trash piles of aliens who dropped by for a picnic and didn't clean up after themselves The Zone in this novel,Harmont, has a town nearby that was changed by the alien visitation,where a thriving black market in alien products has grown up.The 1st chapter is written in the 1st person from Red's point of view,he is an amoral, lively, unpredictable buccaneer with a revolting vitality.Red has survived after many incursions into the Zone,and has a legendary status,but he isn't some exceptional or particularly unusual human being, but just some guy getting by as best he can in peculiar circumstances.The 1st time he gets out of the Zone where he went with a scientist to retrieve an "empty", two discs held together in space with nothing between them,we find out his girlfriend Guta is pregnant.We know that their child is likely to die or be born mutated due to his visits into the Zone.People are mundane,human relations ring true,there are no super intellects.Most of the characters are tough people leading degrading, discouraging lives,driven by lust,greed,fear and money.This innovation brings a lot of energy,describing the effects of this alien visitation on commonplace people,not an elite.

You meet Red's child,Monkey,over the 10 year period the novel takes place and you realize her strange mutation. Later chapters(3 more) are told in the 3rd person,this brings in more characters,scientists,traders,black marketers,and broadens the perspective and deepens our knowledge ,the stages in the growth of the frontier town which passes through a period of prosperity,the roles of the people in that society.There are conversation between different people about the Zone and scientists researching it and the people who live around the Zone.In one chapter ideas between Richard Noonan and a scientist are discussed about the purpose of the visit,the sociological implications of the advanced technology,was it to see the effects upon the human race,or to kick them a few rungs up the ladder of development,or was it a test,or was it sowing the seeds for a future harvest when the aliens returned?" The violations in the laws of causality is much more terrifying than a stampede of ghosts."Aliens might be indifferent to us and finally unknowable,we may only know them through the after-effects, a one-way contact. They are as far removed from us as we are to animals,insects.The exploration of levels ofconsciousness is good.

Red goes back again and again to the Zone to find the answers to all his problems,becoming mentally and physically changed.Movement away from the Zone leads to disasters and death to the places and people around the emigrants.The chapters in between the 1st and last chapters are one step away from the action(that is entry into the Zone by Red) where each character's viewpoint is distinct,where the authors describe the various deals,exploitations going on around the Zone and the madness of the free market economy. After imprisonment for trafficking in looted alien products, Schuhart agrees to one last expedition to the very heart of the Zone where resides a Holy Grail-like Golden Sphere, capable of granting any wish to the one who reaches it. Red's plan was to improve his own life when he reached the globe? He wanted to do something for Guta and Monkey. But when an innocent young person reveals his own wish - happiness for everyone - this takes the place of Red's more selfish wish in his increasingly confused mind. So perhaps he was going to reach this divine object and perhaps his (borrowed) wish was about to come true...

Objections to the publication(dragging on for 8 years)were moral,not ideological (contrary to what Ursula Le Guin says in the Forward),the language used,the lack of role models for Russian people,with the darkness,violence, drinking,crime and cursing.The story is racy,lively and pungent,the characters are individually vivid and likeable.The slice of life approach to the narrative works.Its not the plotting that's moving you forward,it's the different ideas,the jumps in time and perspective,societal changes,over 10 years.The ending is abrupt but awesome and the novel leaves you with many layers of commentary and social satire,amazing images and disturbing ideas,with subversive rumblings emerging into consciousness later.The authors have a great sense of humour, slyly poking fun at bureaucracy, and finding the humorous in the most mundane of everyday events .Their imaginative boldness was to posit an idea or theory of alien visitation and to cleverly describe the magical debris,the chemical and physical effects and changes,in a fresh inventive,idiomatic language,through down to earth characters.The shards,ashes, images,after-effects of who we are and what is our place in the universe.Because there are no pop cultural references nor references to the technology of their own time,the book has never dated and reads as if it had just been written.The technology of the aliens is far in advance of the technology we have today.This is SF as a feat of imagination,our limited human perspective on the immensity of the universe.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Return of a Classic Russian Science Fiction Novel, 2 Jan. 2013
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Roadside Picnic (Paperback)
One of the best science fiction novels published last year is, oddly enough, among the oldest; Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's "Roadside Picnic", the inspiration for Andrei Tarkovksy's critically acclaimed film "Stalker". When it was published originally in its abbreviated English translation decades ago, none other than Theodore Sturgeon acclaimed "Roadside Picnic" as the product of "....[the] Strugatskys' deft and subtle handling of friendship and love, of despair and frustration and loneliness [produces] a truly superb tale..... You won't forget it." These are sentiments which I not only share but I believe are strongly emphasized in the newly translated edition of the entire original text of "Roadside Picnic", which is considered still as the greatest Russian science fiction novel of the 20th Century, as an excellent example of the traditional science fiction trope of "First Contact", but as Ursula Le Guin notes in the foreword to this edition, it is a "First Contact" tale in which aliens have visited Earth and ignored us, leaving behind in several areas, "Zones", debris that is potentially useful - and dangerous - to humans, especially to those willing to scavenge - "the stalkers" - it. Set somewhere unspecified in English-speaking North America, most likely Canada, "Roadside Picnic" is a most memorable odyssey of a young stalker, Red Schuhart, who is willing to test the limits of friendship and loyalty, love and desire in realizing that he must return again and again to the nearest "Zone" as a means of finding himself, as a means of finding solutions to all the problems he is facing. As a fictional exploration of the human spirit, "Roadside Picnic" is a science fiction novel worthy of a much broader readership, and one that might be especially receptive to it because it inspired Tarkovsky's brilliant film; it is also a notable novel that should earn a most receptive audience from those who are fans of speculative fiction, especially, science fiction. (As an aside, the surviving Strugatsky brother, Boris, contributes an afterword chronicling the difficult literary gestation that led to the novel's original publication in Russian.)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miracles, 3 Jan. 2011
The scenario is that extraterrestrials have visited our planet, and departed without apparently noticing us. The place they visited (in Canada) has become the "Zone". What they leave behind is to us inexplicable, and makes the Zone a place of danger and possibility. The narrator makes his living as a "stalker" - an illegal guide through this weird landscape.

The tone of the novel is quite bleak (though not without humour) - never mind trying to understand the alien, we can't even sort out our own human mess. And yet the moving ending sees the cynical hero putting his trust in the miraculous to put things right.

An extraordinary novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and relevant., 22 Feb. 2010
By 
W. Gold "llangold" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Just finished this. I haven't seen 'stalker' but I saw it referenced in a book and it piqued my interest. I like books like this which present fantastical situations in the way the characters see them with little or no narrative voice filling in the gaps for the reader. What particularly struck me about this book is that the tone and themes are equally relevant today and the writing and events (and technology) doesn't see 'old' which is more than can be said for lots of SF from the 70's. Overall I really enjoyed this book. The central metaphor, from which the book takes it name, is clever and resonant and the pace and characterisation kept me hooked through this short novel. A true classic, give it a shot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not very exciting, 19 May 2012
By 
Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK) - See all my reviews
This is one of those books where the blurb on the back (like the Product Description here) tells the reader what's going to happen about 75% of the way through the book. This kind of spoiler really annoys me, even if the journey getting to that point is enjoyable. So, is the book up to that point enjoyable? Well, it's certainly not a chore, but it wasn't that entertaining in my opinion. The story isn't bad but there's a lot of the book describing events outside The Zone that I didn't find very interesting, and that ultimately didn't affect the story very much.

In its defence, the sections of the book where the character enter The Zone are great. The idea that a brief visit by aliens could leave behind all sorts of weird effects and devices is great. The descriptions of these things and the way that the Stalkers and scientists behave when dealing with them is fascinating.

Also, beware that there are a lot of lose ends at the end of the book. There is an ending of sorts, but it's a bit open and the reader never finds out what happens to some of the characters. This isn't terrible in itself, but it was a bit frustrating when I wanted to find out more about what would happen next.

I do recommend this book, but it's certainly not the best one in the Sci-Fi Masterworks series.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really great story, perhaps a bit depressing, 20 Oct. 2010
By 
Gajo Csaba (Budapest, Hungary) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This was a really good book, probably one of the best that I've read. It's a bit sad that so much misfortune happens to the protagonist, but in the end he's got only himself to blame for it. I think the women are characterized a bit old-fashioned, they are basically living in a patriarchal society. Other than that, the story is really really good, the characters are made of flesh and blood, and the Zone is really weird and sometimes terrifying...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will impact you, 9 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Roadside Picnic (Paperback)
‘Roadside Picnic’ belongs to the SF sub-genre of failed alien contacts. Like in Lem’s ‘Solaris’, ‘Eden’, 'His Masters Voice’ and ‘Fiasco’ it explores the impact on humans of an alien encounter that cannot be comprehended by our minds.

This book, written in 1972, has immense depth. However, after you read the book your experience will be incomplete until you watch the movie made in 1979 titled ‘Stalker’ that was based on it. With the screenplay written by the authors of ‘Roadside Picnic’ it adds another dimension to the story.

The depth of ‘Roadside Picnic’ / ‘Stalker’ sets it apart from the typical and usually simplistic western-style writing and film making. When you read and watch it, you will end up participating in the story. Like Strugatsky’s heroes, you too will be trying to comprehend the strange world left behind by the visiting aliens. This book doesn’t qualify purely as entertainment – it can change you. Not many books do.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel approach to Science fiction, 8 Oct. 2012
By 
Dorothy Thelwall (Ripon, N.Yorks., U.K. United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Roadside Picnic (Paperback)
This is the most innovative and unusual science fiction I have read. I approaches the idea of an alien visitation in a unique way and poses questions about how we regards the significance of our existence in the universe. An unputdownable read which I can only highly recommend.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Packed prose, 16 Oct. 2002
By 
Mr. W. Hardy "GH" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Roadside Picnic (Gollancz Collectors' Editions) (Paperback)
It's a pleasant thing to read fiction from Eastern Europe and Russia, mostly because it seems to highlight differences in the way things can be considered and approached. A new angle on something, a new way of looking at it can be very enlightening. This is most certainly true of science fiction.
Until quite recently the vast bulk of fiction/sci-fi I read was western european/american. After reading this, I know that it's time to change that pattern and start looking further east for a few more things that are a bit like this.
The premise of this novel is not completely unfamiliar to those who enjoy sci-fi. It's the approach that's different. I really don't want to make sweeping generalisations, but the whole thing just felt 'russian', which helped increase the sense of alienation when visiting the zone. There were certainly some influences of life behind the iron curtain, which had the effect (for me) of making it feel almost claustrophobic. Some of the ideas where not explored fully enough, which is why I gave this four stars.
The writing style is concise and detailed, and although the page count is quite low, there is a lot packed into those pages.
Definately worth giving this a go if you're looking for something in this genre that's just a little bit different.
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Roadside Picnic (Gollancz Collectors' Editions)
Roadside Picnic (Gollancz Collectors' Editions) by Arkady Strugatsky (Paperback - 24 Aug. 2000)
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