It’s been a while since I read anything other than my students and my own writing. When returning to the hobby, not many books came to mind. Luckily, the one I chose was exactly what I needed. A grim atmosphere made harsh and interesting with the inclusion of sinister scientific anomalies; the Strugatsky brothers did not disappoint.
With that said, welcome to my disorganised and somewhat biased review on Roadside Picnic!
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Roadside Picnic is a Russian Novel written by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky. It went on to be translated and sold around the world, which should tell you how much of a success it was commercially.
However, that’s not the topic of this review. Seeing as this is my first official book review, I wanted to make sure I wrote it in a way that best conveys my thoughts on the novel. For that reason, I am speaking as I write, as if I were discussing the novel with a friend.
First, Roadside Picnic takes place after an alien visitation on earth. Although no aliens were seen, the places they visited have changed in strange ways and deemed uninhabitable. Everyone decided to call these 6 specific locations ‘Zones’.
The Zones hold strange anomalies, strange objects with strange properties. In short, every science boffin’s dream project, alien artifacts to mess around with. Only one problem, the Zone is filled with many invisible forces which could incinerate or goo-ify a person almost instantly. Only the brave or stupid dare enter the zone, few return with their lives, fewer still return with any loot to sell.
The story surrounds Redrick Schuhart, one such explorer, whose life soon surrounds the Zone, it’s dangers and it’s mysteries.
What I was most concerned about when I started reading was the translation quality. Many books I have read which have been translated from one language into English have been spoiled by poor translation. It only takes a funny word to spoil a good scene. Once more, I was in luck. Most likely due to its popularity, Roadside Picnic has been expertly translated and it made for a fantastic read.
Without giving too much away, the plot is investing, harsh and realistic. It’s difficult to write realism while including disturbing anomalies and alien litter, but the brother’s who wrote it did a fantastic job.
It’s a story of average people fuelled by their ambitions, who suffer common problems just as much as uncommon ones. Even though nobody lives in the Zone, people are still affected by its presence in many terrible ways. The atmosphere is suitably dark, made brighter only by the enduring spirits of every character.
It was easy for me to become invested in Red as the story progressed and by the end I could understand him and the decisions he made.
The only negatives I have on the plot are it’s construction. While the plot is sound and I don’t mind time jumps, I did mind the third chapter which shifted the spotlight to another character who I had little interest in. The chapter was used to explain aspects of the story in-depth, provide a fresh perspective and make the second time-jump a little smoother.
Which is understandable, but personally, not something I was thrilled to read. I was more than happy to see the spotlight return to Red and stick with him until the end of the story.
The ending was something I expected from science-fiction, but as always, I still found myself pacing my home in silence making sense of it.
While there aren’t many characters who receive development, or even earn much interest, I found each one written well. Their personalities were unique and believable. Something that added to the reality of the situations.
Of course, the bulk of the story rested on Redrick. His personality and it’s make up is one of the most important aspects of the story. A character which you constantly feel anxious to read. The decisions he makes are logical in some situations, emotional in others.
The story as it went was full of 'unpredictabilities' and you are left surprised with how he deals with all of them. Throughout the story, you are kept on your toes. You don't quite know what will happen next.
A feeling that is maintained with Red’s actions.
Personally, I didn’t find his character likeable, or unlikeable. Yet, I could understand him, empathise with him, which made him that much more investing.
Roadside Picnic is not a breakthrough in literature, it contained elements we are all familiar with. I could draw parallels with other science-fiction novels with ease, which is not a bad thing.
For me it was a fantastic story. A short, simple read you can finish in a day or over the weekend. It’s because of it being so short that I felt that I might have got more out of it had the story been taken further, or at least the bits in the middle expanded upon.
Seeing as this is my first book review, I’m not sure how to end it. I could give it a rating out of ten, but that is pretty worthless. Everyone has their own tastes in literature after all and I particularly enjoy these kinds of stories where others don’t, so I don’t want to be biased.
Instead, I will say this!
If you enjoy strange stories about living in strange times, with strange people and even stranger objects left behind by strange visitors from a strange corner of the universe, you will enjoy this book.
If you have read this book yourself, I would love to hear your thoughts on what happened in the plot, be sure to tag it as spoilers first! If you provide book review reviews, I would like to hear your suggestions on what aspect of a book or it’s writing I should cover in a future review.
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!