cover image Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, trans. from the Russian by Olena Bormashenko. Chicago Review, $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-61374-341-6

Since its 1972 appearance in Russia, the Strugatsky brothers’ novel has been published worldwide, inspired Andrei Tarkovsky’s memorable film Stalker, and been the basis for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games. As this vivid new translation demonstrates, it also remains a powerful study of human behavior in the presence of superhuman power. The action takes place in and near a Visit Zone, one of six areas suddenly scattered with incomprehensible artifacts and disturbing phenomena; one baffled scientist ruefully suggests that aliens visited Earth like careless tourists and dumped their trash here. While cautious people keep their distance, furtive explorers called “stalkers” enter the Zones to retrieve objects that are wonderful but unpredictably deadly. Over-lapping narratives show stalker Red Schuhart’s struggle to master the Zone’s inexplicable treasures and terrors. Boris Strugatsky’s afterword describes how uneasy the manuscript made myopic Soviet bureaucrats; it has survived triumphantly as a classic because it expresses humanity’s inarticulate rage and wonder at life’s frustrations and promises. (May)