A SciFi Must Read: Roadside Picnic

The encounter with aliens was brief, and nobody would have notices except for what they left behind: four zones, wastelands filled with deadly traps but also technological wonders. So only few people dare to step into those Zones, and most never come back out again. Of course, the government also wants a fair share of this technology and as such they set up an institution next to it.

Redrick "Red" Schuhart is a Stalker who works for one of those. At least until fate shows him another set of cruel cards and he goes back to smuggling valuable goods out of the Zone for the highest bidder. 

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

Before I even beginning with this review I have to explain that I loved it! It's been a while since I held a book in my hands that I actually wanted to read. Then I took the time to read it at home as well and not just on public transport - the usual spot where I read. I instantly fell in love with the idea presented, the story, the tone and the Red's cynicism.

While the book is quite old (first published in 1972), it does not feel old. The story might as well play in the apocalyptic year of 2021 and take it from there - there is only a lack of cell-phones but that can be overlooked. The translation also uses modern slang, which is understandable because it had only been translated in 2000. So there is absolutely nothing you have to set your mind to before reading. Instead you can just start and you are going to be sucked into the story from page one. 

I adore and even covet the writing style. The first (of four) chapters is written in first person, the rest in third. And yet, none of these tell emotions. Not once is it "Red feels panic", instead you are shown those emotions in an almost brutal way. The sentences are cut off, thoughts are cynic, and to the point. There are no words to pad anything, or make it pretty. You perfectly understand what Red is feeling and how life treated him. 

I wipe my tears and turn on the water. I take a long shower, first in hot water, then in cold water, then again in hot water. I use up a whole bar of soap. Eventually I get sick of it. I turn the water off and [...]"

- page 34, see below 

This provided the perfect writing style for the story - show, no tell - short and crude sentences, in a world that does not allow for much more. 

Every visit to The Zone leaves your nerves on edge. After all, it is a dangerous place and could snap one of our main characters up without a moment's notice. There are no clear indicators where the danger is, the tension is very obvious. In fact, "Roadside Picnic" already made me scream for justice within the first chapter. 

After this, I could no longer put it down. I followed Red's journey through the years, when he starts as a recovered honest man, and goes back to illegal stalking for goods within the zone in order to support his family. The fates do not grant him break. 

By the end, Red is so disillusioned and the only thing left is one wish. This is an interesting journey to read, and you can feel the mental anguish through the pages - even when it is paired with softer moments. Red's heart has become cold over the years ... and one almost assumes that it remains that way until the end. And yet, this little almost childlike hope for a better world somehow survives. 

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic does not provide any answers for the reader: why did the aliens land there? Unknown. There are no clear indication for wrong or right. And yet, there is a shy tinge of hope in all of this sadness which I could not help but adore. Even though, it never becomes clear if this hope is fulfilled. 

Furthermore, the Barmashenko's translation from Russian into English works out wonderfully. The tone is perfect, there are no obvious translation errors. It is as readable as any other book, and I believe that it captures the atmosphere perfectly. 

If you want to read a scifi book that shows the rotten and morally grey aspects, then read "Roadside Picnic". You are not going to regret it. 

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky, and Boris Strugatsky,
Published2012by Gollancz
Original titel: Пикник на обочине
Translated from Russian by Oleno Barmashenko
Goodreads:Add to shelf
Content warnings:alcoholism, death

Post a Comment

Copyright © floralcars.