Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Roadside Picnic

Arkady & Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic is a bit of an odd book - it seems to be trying to make a point, but I couldn't quite work out what that point was. It is set in an abstract time period, probably the near future of the 1960s, after aliens had landed on earth in four locations, dropped a pile of assorted stuff, and left. It's set in Canada, but it's a Canada with a very Russian feel to it - all heavy drinking and institutional oppression. Redrick Schuhart is a stalker - a person who makes a living sneaking into the Zone (where the aliens landed), and stealing their artifacts for sale. The Zone is a deadly place, full of random deadly items and occurrences, and most stalkers end up dead. Red is one of the veterans of the trade - he has been doing it a long time, and has strong survival instincts in the zone.

As the story unfolds, the reader finds out more about the nature of The Zone - what the various items are capable of doing, and the effect it has on people who venture inside. Red's deformed child, Monkey, is an example of these effects.

Roadside Picnic is an interesting meditation on the possible effects of contact with an alien civilization, one so advanced that we just have no understanding of how far ahead of us they are, and how their tech works. But it is also very much a product of its time and place, the strange and somewhat alien (to my eyes, now) world of the Cold War.

No comments: