One wonderful thing about having friends with different literary tastes, or being part of a book club is that you can change the genre quite often, and be sure you start with something fantastic. I think every reader has a favorite genre, style of writing or subject, and tends to stick with it.
Sometimes you want something new, and instead of spending hours on finding a book that seems good, you can just ask a friend, and go with it. Or if you are a member of a club, you will have some variety from meeting to meeting.
But if you do not have someone to ask, a useful review is more than welcomed.
So if you are someone who wants to begin reading Science Fiction literature, or just wants to change the genre, just bear with me for a couple of lines to find out about Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
Brothers Strugatsky are two of the most iconic figures of the Science Fiction genre. Their books inspired many movies or games, with Roadside Picnic being the most influential one. You might have heard the name in games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, or the movie Stalker, by Andrei Tarkovsky.
What is so good about this book?
1st thing: the way it was written. By far, the thing that struck me the most is the way it was written. The book is short but full of details. It is comprehensible because the writers tried to make things as simple as possible. There is also a good balance between mystery and science, which makes you read the book, and be completely amazed by it.
The four chapters (or sections) are linear, and a bit cyclical. These things give the book a well-rounded story and good development.
It is not a book written to empathize with the characters, but rather to image a ‘what if’, and let you be immersed in the world.
2nd thing: the story. The story revolves around the life of a stalker, Redrick ‘Red’ Schuhart who goes into the Zone (a part of the city that is visited by aliens, and then strange things begin to happen). A stalker is a person who goes illegally into the Zone to take artifacts and sell them to people who want them for all sorts of purposes.
The premise is set from the start and kept until the end. It is not about a scientist, but about a normal human being who explores a world that humans cannot comprehend. But it is kept on realistic grounds, without info-dumping scientific concepts that not even the writer understands.
It is almost a story that is placed in a science-fiction background, but it speaks about ideas and life rather than fancy machines or formulas.
3rd thing: descriptions. The book is mostly written using dialogue, monologue, and a bit of narration. But within the dialogue, you can see a magnificent description of the Zone. The Zone is the focal point, and you will be fascinated by its complex nature and events that disobey the law of psychics.
It is dangerous, attractive, and full of mystery. Yet sometimes, some things, are explained by science.
Of course, for those of you who prefer hidden messages or ideas in books, I think you can find some interesting connections with our society or political regimes. I would not go to explain this as it feels like going too much into spoilers.
Is there something bad about it?
I think that is up for debate. In my opinion, I cannot pinpoint something that felt odd, or bad.
You might find it lacks character development if you are familiar with more intricate plots, premises, and rounded characters. Or if you like to empathize and find yourself within characters.
For me, they did the job, and that is all that matters. Besides, I do not consider them the point of the novel.
Maybe you are not a fan of a fast-paced novel, but I did not see any problem with that.
All in all, I recommend this book if you are a beginner, and you do not know where to start. It is also a pleasant reading for people who do not want to feel their heads with overcomplicated science fiction ideas and machines. Moreover, I find it quite fit for people who enjoy a mystery.
Should you want to be make to-read-list, check this too.