Written by: Arkady Strugatsky , Boris Strugatsky , Olena Bormashenko (translator)
Narrated by: Robert Forster
Length: 7 hrs and 8 mins
Publisher: Random House Audio
Roadside Picnic is a classic of science fiction. It is also a testimony to perseverance on the part of the authors who wrote under Soviet censorship. The forward by renown science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin is a fantastic explanation of how the book was received when first published in the 1970;s. The afterward by Boris Strugatsky details the fight to get the book published by the Soviet censors.
The premise of Roadside Picnic is that the earth has been visited by aliens. In six areas of the world, they have come and gone, leaving only their debris or garbage behind. Five of these areas are on land. By the end of the day of the visit, the Zones are declared off limits. Eventually world scientific organizations set up on the borders of the Zones and begin to study the visible and invisible. Some of the items in the Zone are powerful energy sources. Some of areas of intense gravity that crush men and vehicles flat. There are also organic life forms that cannot be studied because they kill all who get near them. Thirteen years later they are still being studied.
No one except scientist are allowed into the Zones. The trade in the black market for items smuggled out of the Zone is huge. The money to be made makes it worth the risk for these smugglers or "stalkers" to enter the Zone at night risking their lives. They are also risking more. Stalkers who frequently run the risk of the Zones find they have severe mutations in their children born after they begin venturing into the Zone. The book prefigured many of the issues surrounding the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
It really is an amazing book that really must be read. Or even better, listened to. Robert Forster does a great job narrating the book. Roadside Picnic, although written by two Russian brothers, takes place in Canada. Forster keeps his voice in somewhat of a neutral accent but he conveys the toughness of the main character, Red. Red's frustration with the problems of living with the Zone and the issues it causes comes through very well in the narration.
Roadside Picnic is a great book. It has all the tension of a thriller, all the science of a science fiction, all the character development of a great literary novel and it is an exciting audiobook. The Forward by Ms. Le Guin is really important to listen to before the book itself. It helps put the importance of the novel in the listeners mind as they hear the incredible story of Stalkers and the risks they take to provide for their families.