“Roadside Picnic” by Arkady Strugatsky – Book Review

I read this book because I watched a film based in it, “Stalker” (1979). As usual, the book is much better than the film, and in this particular case, the book has almost nothing to do with the film. Roadside Picnic is not regular easy fiction, with beginning, middle, end, and all the sci-fi tidbits already chewed up and spit there on the paper for the reader’s digestion pleasure. When you start reading it, it feels like you’re in the middle of a book and the first pages are missing, because you can’t quite understand: all these things that the characters are talking about, where do these come from? What are this things? What happened? These questions are slowly elucidated through the characters dialogues. There are only a few occasions in Roadside Picnic where things are actually openly explained to the reader.

Half way into the book I was starting to ask myself “why on earth is this called Roadside Picnic”? Am I missing some big obvious metaphor? Then the answer to my question came in the book’s greatest philosophical passage. And after that the reading only gets more interesting… until we get to the end, that leaves you with the same feeling you had when you started the book: there must be some pages missing. Which is not a bad at all. 🙂

  • P.S.: I tried to keep it completely spoiler-free. I think I made it.

  • Cary

    I know some people who hate that style of writing – not so much the gradual unveiling at the beginning (though some hate that too), but an ambiguous ending. Well, life’s like that, so I kind of have to wonder how those sorts of people cope. 😉

    • I was at first annoyed but the characters are very well written and that’s keeps it up, and the core of the book is philosophically *awesome*, and the end is like a flipped coin that you’ll never know whether it’s head or tails.

  • Actually I think this book is more philosophical than science fiction after all. But It’s interesting both ways

  • Lois

    I had to smile at the following comment in the piece entitled Norwegian Justice (24th July 2011) – “It is not like Norway is some banana republic rife with crime and
    corruption”   Recently, I have taken to referring to Norway as a ‘banana republic’ when discussing the country with my friends about the appalling corruption there.   I’m guessing you must have not actually lived in Norway?   (PS sorry to write in this column but the appropriate comments box is currently closed.)

    • Cary

      I assume since you asked if I’d lived there your experience with corruption in Norway is first hand, which is just another way to say anecdotal, in which case not to be considered good evidence. By any statistics I’ve seen Norway is at worst moderately corrupt for Europe. It is not even in the same ball park as most of south central Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

      It’s certainly regrettable that you were exposed to what seemed to be a lot of corruption there, but that simply does not translate into an objective measure of the country’s level of corruption.

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