January 20, 2014

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (Review)

Title: Roadside Picnic
Author: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
First published: 1972
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★★

To say that this book is a Sci-Fi classic is to say exactly nothing. Everything Strugatsky brothers wrote has become a classic, but among all their books this is the cult one. Not only has it inspired the famous computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and formed a separate stalker sub-genre of Sci-Fi literature, it has also marked the beginning of the popularity of a new hobby - urban exploration or urban tourism. I've known some guys who define themselves as stalkers - they break into old destroyed plants' territories, explore manifolds with underground rivers... It's dangerous and illegal, and it has been very, very popular in Russia since the 80th when a lot of objects from the Soviet times were abandoned and deteriorating. I guess there are not many books that have had such an impact on popular culture.

Such an influential novel simply has to be awesome, and this one totally is. The world has survived an invasion. It has come and gone, leaving after itself several Zones. They may look normal from afar, but abnormal, inexplicable things happen there and all kinds of curious objects can be found there. While scientists are trying to make sense of it, some people are ready to pay money for the stuff from there, and special people - stalkers - steal to the Zone at night to get these objects for sale, risking their life and health every time they do it. There are legends connected with the Zone, one of them telling about a golden sphere that can give you whatever you ask for, if only you are good enough to get to it...

There are so many fascinating ideas in the book, that I will not even try to talk about them - you simply have to read the novel by yourself. What I will talk about here is writing - I have forgotten how well the Strugatsky brothers can show the way a person is thinking. The main character talks and thinks differently when he's 23 and when he's 31, but it's obviously the same very well recognizable man.

In my book:
It's simply a masterpiece and must be read.


17 comments:

  1. Oh wow! I have seen those pictures of people exploring crumbling Soviet buildings and all--fascinating and very dangerous--but I had no idea that a book started it. I've never heard of the video game or anything. Must read.

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    1. I guess the urban exploration would have started anyway, with so much opportunities around, bit the book really added enthusiasm! :) I haven't played the game, as it's not my type (I like strategies or RPGs or better still both :)), but it's extremely popular.

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    2. Guess what guess what!! I found a copy at work! It's a 1977 edition; I think it's the first English printing. I hope the translation is good. There is also a story called "Tale of the Troika." I wonder if I can finish in time for the end of Vintage SF Month?

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    3. Owww, that awesome!!! Tale of the Troika is also very good and funny! Even if you can't finish it for the Vintage Sci-Fi event, go for it!!! :) Although both are really short

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  2. I thought the main character was so well written. Also, this whole affair with these made-up words for the artifacts in Zone surely must have created a nice translational challenge. They were pretty well done in Estonian, but I for example have no idea how these things would sound in English.

    Have you seen the movie by Tarkovsky? I really want to see it now.

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    1. Oh, yeah, it's this type of book which makes me pity translators :)

      I haven't seen the movie, and they say watching Tarkovsky is not what you would call a pleasant pastime, so I'm hesitant...

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  3. I've been telling myself to read this one for years and still nothing. But! This year is all about catching up on that Russian lit, so who knows? My boyfriend (who is not Russian) was actually just watching some video about Russian urban explorers on YouTube and they blew his mind. :) Now I am super intrigued!

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    1. It was the same with me - I couldn't believe I haven't read it. The year of Russian lit is great in this sense!

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  4. I am adding this to my Secret Santa wish list. Thanks.

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  5. I really enjoyed this when I read it a few years ago. I played a bit of the video game adaptation (My son played a lot more and is an ardent fan.) but have yet to see the movie.

    I keep thinking I need to look for more of the authors' work in English translation.

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    1. It's a pity Russian Sci-Fi is not very widely translated into English. It's much better known to the countries of Eastern Europe, for example. But finding Strugatsky's books is not that difficult, so good luck! :)

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  6. I read this one in Russian a long time ago. I think I would like to read it in English (especially since they published a new translation in 2012), just to see how it is. Definitely a classic and a must have.

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    1. It's great to know that there is a new adaptation! Yes, it would be really interesting to see how all the Zone slang is translated!

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  7. Also, it looks like Chicago Review Press, the folks who published the new translation of Roadside Picnic in 2012, are continuing with their Strugatsky publications with Hard to Be A God in June.

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    1. Ow! That one is even better! So great to know somebody is bringing their books closer to the readers!

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    2. You are right, I've checked it! http://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/hard-to-be-a-god-products-9781613748282.php?page_id=21
      A nice cover, actually!

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