A Literary Picnic


Zakkery Bologna

“Roadside Picnic” is an excellent read, especially for those who are interested in Russian literature, science fiction, or treasure hunting stories. “Roadside Picnic,” by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is a science-fiction novel set after the earth was visited by aliens but the aliens leave shortly after arriving.

No one remembers seeing them, but they left behind various items that humanity has yet to understand. Some people, known as stalkers, have taken it upon themselves to venture into these now heavily restricted “visitation zones” to retrieve and sell these items on the black market. Further away from these zones however, life continues normally. The story is rather short at roughly 200 pages, depending on the translation and was originally published in 1972.

The story’s primary character, “Red,” is one of those who illegally venture into a zone. The book explores the effects of greed and its consequences not only for those around us but also upon those who are blinded by it. Like all art, the book is not perfect. Some of the word choice when describing character was off- putting.

The story lacked any sense of urgency in its third section, though it does discuss the philosophical predicaments of the book’s world. Finally, the tonal shift during the final section of the book is rather abrupt. Though the story has aged well, it’s age shows when the characters reflect upon the “advanced technologies,” in the setting such as self-driving cars, that we have today.The book is not for everyone, however.

The book contains some domestic violence and alcoholism, as well as references to suicide, and sexual harassment. Like most media from its era, the characters tend to have an outdated view of women. These views seem to be internal to the characters, rather than to the authors.“Roadside Picnic,” has enjoyed a long-lasting legacy.

The 1972 film “Stalker” by famed soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky is loosely based on “Roadside Picnic,” so much so that the Strugatsky brothers wrote the film’s screenplay, Chicago Press’s publication of the book even uses a shot from the film for its cover. The book has also inspired the “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” and “Metro” series of books and videogames. Fans of “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” would find the book’s setting familiar.