Last night I finished Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (translated by Olena Bormashenko). It took me four days to read the book. As a slow reader, that’s pretty quick. It was one of the most imaginative and engaging science fiction pieces I’ve ever read. The Strugatskys focus not on the aliens in their story, and thereby necessarily humanizing them and making them seem less strange, but on the very alien-ness of their existence.
No alien makes an appearance in the book. Instead, a reader is presented with a world in which aliens have come and gone, unaware or disinterested in the humans who inhabit it, and left materials dangerous and fantastic. The story revolves around a stalker, the name for illegal explorers of the alien visitation zones, who makes his living pillaging the dangerous and bizarre areas for incomprehensible artifacts.
At the forefront of the story is the strangeness of the items. One never comes to understand them, which underscores the otherness of the beings who left them behind. This is the first story I’ve read in which the aliens didn’t seem like humans in another form, where the aliens truly lived up to their name.
I’m also a fan of strange landscapes. One of my favorite parts of any given video game is exploring the world the programmers have created. The affected areas in this book are fantastically strange and one is left thinking about and formulating ideas on them long after he’s put down the book.
I highly recommend reading it.
My own story is coming along as well. I’m happily surprised that I haven’t been terrible influenced by Roadside Picnic. I was worried that the next week would see my story changing into an imitation thereof, but I think I have and had a clear enough idea of what I wanted from my piece not to be pulled off route.
I really need to come up with a name. The working title is “Adam waits for a train,” and that stemmed from its origin as a writing exercise. More than 10,000 words later, I think it deserves something a little better suited. At least something simpler and more memorable.
A title will come eventually.
Tomorrow I have a series of engagements, and thursday I leave for Otakon. I’ll be quite busy until next tuesday and it may take that long for me to collect my thoughts.
All the same, I’m looking forward to the preoccupation.