A while back, I admitted that the last two science fiction novels I read was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Search for Snout. I can officially change that to include Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Out of all the books I’ve read in the last few years, I think this one had the most effect on me. This is a story that crawls beneath your skin.
The book is based after an alien visit that leaves behind several “zones”. Leading scientists suggest that the aliens merely stopped on Earth enroute to another destination, not unlike how we stop by a forest for a picnic. The visit to Earth isn’t significant to the aliens but it has a devastating impact for towns close to the zones. Corpses come back to live with their families, children are born as aliens and what happens in the zones are completely unexplainable by science – not to mention, just completely messed up.
Roadside Picnic centres around a stalker named Redrick Schuhart. Stalkers live a risky life of illegally retrieving items from the zones and selling them. One thing that detracts me from sci-fi novels is the amount of time spent simply describing the plot and the settings. But Roadside Picnic jumps right into the story and lets you figure it out.
It’s worth mentioning that Roadside Picnic was originally published in Russian during the Soviet days where it was edited beyond recognition. It was also out of print in North America for 30 years. Maybe it’s an alien conspiracy to keep us from reading it.
PS. I thought I’d show you some of Edward Burtynsky‘s photos of man made landscapes of quarries and oil mines – where we have literally created our own version of “zones” for the residents and wildlife there.