A couple of years ago, I picked up a book to review for SF Signal, looking for something different. That book was Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and it turned out to be one of those books that quietly never quite left my head.
Thinking about Roadside Picnic and its authors, as well as our last column on Stanislaw Lem, we get a good starting point for examining how science fiction developed outside of the United States. Given that a lot of SF has been published here in the US, we appear to be a leader in the genre, for better or worse.
At the same time, we forget, ignore or simply don’t realize that authors such as Lem and the Strugatskys were as big as the giants in the United States: on par with Bradbury, Asimov or Heinlein. Examining their publishing experiences and approaches to the genre is good to highlight the limits and potential of genre, but also where US authors and fans tend to put on blinders for the world around them.
As awareness of foreign SF grows (see Clarksworld’s Chinese SF project, funding now), it’s important to realize that a) this isn’t a new phenomenon, and b) SF isn’t limited to the United States and England.
On top of all that, go read Roadside Picnic. It’s a phenomenal book.
Go read Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Today’s Kindle Daily SF/F Deal is Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky:
Today’s SF/F Kindle Deal is Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky:
Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a “full empty,” something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems.
First published in 1972, Roadside Picnic is still widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels, despite the fact that it has been out of print in the United States for almost thirty years. This authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions and has been supplemented with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin and a new afterword by Boris Strugatsky explaining the strange history of the novel’s publication in Russia.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: A fantastic, character-driven story of alien contact.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Years after Earth is visited by an alien presence, individuals known as Stalkers move in and out of the Zones to illegally collect artifacts left behind. Red Schuhart is one of these Stalkers, and encounters many strange things over his years of collecting.
PROS: Fantastic and plausible conceptualization of the nature of alien contact, with vividly drawn characters.
CONS: Pacing wasn’t to my liking.
BOTTOM LINE: A brilliant, thought-provoking novel.
I’ll confess that I’d never heard of Roadside Picnic before it was re-released recently by the Chicago Review Press earlier this year. This new edition is the preferred text, following a dramatic history with Soviet censors when it was first published in the 1970s. This edition has a particularly good introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin. Read the rest of this entry