In 1972, the Soviet Union was at the height of the Cold War, the space race was in full swing, and the world was still grappling with the aftermath of World War II. Against this backdrop, brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky published a novel that would become a classic of Soviet science fiction: Roadside Picnic.
First published in 1972, this novel has captivated readers and inspired countless works of fiction, film, and video games. Roadside Picnic transcends the science fiction genre and speaks to something deeper that resonates with our understanding of the world and our place in it. In this article we will look at the plot and influence of Roadside Picnic. Be forewarned that there are spoilers ahead.
Humanity’s Relationship with the Unknown
At its core, Roadside Picnic is a story about humanity’s relationship with the unknown. The novel takes place [SPOILERS] in a world where aliens have visited Earth and left behind mysterious and dangerous Zones. These Zones are filled with strange and unpredictable phenomena that defy explanation These include invisible and deadly objects, areas of altered physics, and inexplicable anomalies.
The protagonist of the story is Redrick Schuhart, a “stalker” who illegally enters the Zones to gather valuable artifacts for sale on the black market. Redrick is a tough and cynical man who has lived his entire life in the shadow of the Zones. As he grows older, he begins to question his purpose in life and the morality of his work. This introspection drives much of the novel’s exploration of the human condition, the nature of existence, and the meaning of life.
Dangers of Greed and Ambition
But Roadside Picnic is much more than just a philosophical treatise on the human condition. The novel is also a social commentary, with much to say about the dangers of greed and ambition, and the consequences of human curiosity. The title of the book is a metaphor for the aliens’ visit to Earth. Just as a roadside picnic is a casual and thoughtless act of consumption, so too were the aliens’ actions towards humanity. They visited our world, took what they wanted, and left us to deal with the aftermath.
The Strugatsky brothers were writing in the Soviet Union, a time and place where ideas about individuality and personal freedom were tightly controlled by the state. As such, it is not surprising that Roadside Picnic contains subtle critiques of the Soviet system. The character of Redrick is a classic antihero, a man who lives on the margins of society and is driven by a desire for personal gain. His actions can be seen as a reflection of the black market economy that thrived in the Soviet Union, where scarcity and restrictions on goods and services led to a thriving underground economy.
Despite the novel’s social and political commentary, Roadside Picnic remains first and foremost a work of science fiction. The Strugatsky brothers were pioneers in the field, and their novel is a masterful example of the genre. The Zones that they created are a masterstroke of imagination, filled with strange and wondrous phenomena that defy explanation. The sense of mystery and wonder that pervades the novel is one of its most compelling features, drawing readers into a world that is both familiar and alien.
Over the years, Roadside Picnic has inspired countless works of fiction, film, and video games. One of the most notable works is the 1979 film “Stalker,” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film tells the story of a group of individuals who enter the Zone, seeking a room that is said to grant the wishes of those who enter it. The film was loosely based on the book and explores many of the same themes, such as the dangers of human curiosity and the impact of the unknown on humanity.
The video game series “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” also takes place in the fictional Zone, a dangerous and unpredictable area that is filled with anomalies, mutated creatures, and other dangers. The player takes on the role of a “Stalker,” a person who illegally enters the Zone in search of valuable artifacts to sell on the black market. The games are heavily influenced by Roadside Picnic and Stalker, featuring similar themes, concepts, and settings.
Roadside Picnic has also had a significant influence on the post-apocalyptic video game and novel series “Metro 2033,” which is set in a post-apocalyptic world where survivors live in the Moscow Metro system following a devastating nuclear war. The author of the “Metro” novels, Dmitry Glukhovsky, has cited Roadside Picnic as one of his major influences, and has said that he was inspired by the Strugatsky brothers’ ability to create a vivid and detailed world that is both fantastical and grounded in reality.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Jeff Vandermeer is an American author and editor who has been described as one of the leading voices in the “new weird” literary movement, which combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and surrealism. He is best known for his Southern Reach Trilogy, which includes the novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance.
Vandermeer has cited Roadside Picnic as a major influence on his work, particularly in its exploration of the unknown and the strange, as well as its philosophical and existential themes. Like the Strugatsky’s book, the “Southern Reach Trilogy” features a mysterious and dangerous Zone known as Area X, which has been sealed off by the government and is populated by strange and unpredictable phenomena. The novels follow a group of scientists and government officials as they attempt to explore and understand the Zone, and grapple with the implications of their discoveries.
In an interview with The Paris Review, Vandermeer stated, “For me, the real literary hero of the twentieth century is the Strugatsky brothers. They were writing things that were very subversive and asking questions that no one else was asking, like ‘What is the meaning of life?'”
Grab a copy of Roadside Picnic from our favorite Sci-Fi bookstore, Space Cowboy out in Joshua Tree, CA.