Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

By know I am sure you know the drill and how I found this title. Yep you guessed it, my Amazon feed. And I am such a sucker for a vague yet mysterious title and of course some cool cover art. So I never had a chance when this on popped up on my feed. Damn you marketing geniuses!! You are doing too good of a job parting me from my money.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are two Russian brothers who co-wrote this novel. I have not read many books that have two authors, much less brothers. I wonder how the process works having more than one writer on the project. I would think that it could get very convoluted and or easily off track. To me I would think this could be very difficult as you have perhaps too many ideas that are trying to be thrown into the story. But they seem to have figured it out without any issues. This is undoubtedly their most famous novel, they have written others but none as famous as this one. Sadly Boris died in 1991, and Arkaday passed in 2012.

The story starts out in a world where aliens have landed on Earth and have left just as quickly. However, around the world each place they landed is called a “zone” and they have left behind various trinkets and weird alien items. In the zone there are all kinds of other things that don’t make sense. People that have gone into the zone often encounter weird and strange occurrences that often defy physics and logic. Many of those that enter never come back, but the brave few that do, are called stalkers. They retrieve these mysterious items and sell them on the back market for a hefty price. The story mostly follows a stalker named Redrick and his life as well as the strange happenings during his trips into the zone. At first he works for a government agency that pays him to go into the zone to recover the various artifacts but later he becomes a stalker on his own. There are many legends about artifacts that have said to be found and others that no one has seen, but said to be true. Redrick hears of a mysterious golden sphere that has the power to grant wishes. Each trip into the zone could be his last, he has to decide to risk his life to find this mysterious sphere if it even exist at all.

This one was pretty strange all around, although I did think it was pretty interesting. The whole premise was something that I never really thought about, in terms of if this were to actually happen. I could totally see humans trying to gather these artifacts, or what could in all actuality be alien garbage and use it to advance our technology, if it were possible. There is an interesting conversation that takes place in the novel that touches on this.

At times I thought that the story kind of wandered and somewhat lacked execution. Again I think the premise is cool, but I felt it could have been better had they taken the story in a different route. But what do I know, as this is an extremely famous book that has been published in several different languages in many different countries. I just felt that they left a lot of really cool ideas unexplored, but that is the route the writers chose to journey down.

I found the below quote from the story fascinating for a few different reasons.

“There is a need to understand but that doesn’t require knowledge. The God hypotheses, for example, allows you to have an unparalleled understanding of the absolutely everything while knowing absolutely nothing.”

 At first I think it has very little to do with the overall plot. To me even though I really liked the quote, I don’t think it has any real context for the story. If I think long and hard enough I think it somewhat fits in, but you really have to get down deep into the story and put yourself in the characters shoes and what is going on in their world, and maybe that is what the authors intended. I just found it interesting because the whole story is somewhat lacking in this deep thinking, nothing wrong with that, but certainly strange that for a few pages two characters seem to be having a truly deep and philosophical conversation. To me just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the story. The other thing is the quote itself. It makes total sense and something I think is fascinating. While looking up the God Hypothesis I found another book I will soon read. As I always say have a curious mind!

At the end of the book there is an afterward by Akraday where he talks about what it took to publish the novel. As I have said many times I always think the story behind the story is always fascinating and this one is no exception. The book was published in the 70’s, I believe, in Soviet Russia, where there was an extraordinary amount of censorship. Akraday talks about all the hoops and hurdles he had to jump through to get the book approved by the state. After reading this portion of the book it really does make you appreciate the freedoms we have here in the US. He made the statement that when it finally got published after many many changes, he didn’t even what to read it nor really cared that it got published. He claimed that what got published was so far from his original idea that he no longer cared. I can totally see that, as if you create something only to be told that you have to change it, suddenly it no longer becomes your creation, but something else that you may not have intended. It is a very interesting read and honestly if you do not read this book I encourage you to at least read these few pages to get a feel what it is like to live in a censored state, extremely frustrating to say the least. After reading this I could not help but wonder how many great and powerful novels never got published for this reason. It is really sad to think about some potentially great stories that history and society have been deprived of because of censorship. Again really makes you appreciate the country we live in.

This one is okay, certainly not one of my favorites, but a decent read. I did take a few things away from this one that I certainly did not intend to. To me I felt there could have been a bit more action or just something with a little more pizzazz. Still regardless of my thoughts this is still and extremely famous novel that as also made into a movie called STALKER as well as a series of video games with the same name. I have not seen the movie or played the games, but any novel that has not only a movie but video games is certainly famous. Check this one out if you want, I just felt it was somewhat lacking in terms of overall excitement and intrigue. But as always what do I know.

Manik

 

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