Sunday, January 15, 2017
The Book I Read: Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
This unique science fiction story follows a world where earth has been visited by alien spacemen. Their ships randomly landed in a number of cities, stayed briefly and then left without any type of fanfare or aggression. But the mark they left was devastating. Many of those trapped in the Zones as they came to be called died a horrible death where their skin rotted off. Those who managed to escape were rounded up to be studied. After the aliens left the Zones, nothing was the same inside them. Gravity would misbehave and forces unknown to modern science could kill in an instant and seemingly at random, Stranger still, the aliens left behind a number of unknown items that could do amazing things. Also, previously nondescript items in the Zone, like a simple pushpin, suddenly contained massive power sources. The Zone was dangerous and avoided at all costs, but with treasures to be found and sold there is always going to be a market for those willing to risk it all. They are called stalkers, and it is a stalker named Red that we follow throughout his life in Roadside Picnic.
Stalkers are part gangster, part Indiana Jones, part cool heads under pressure and general bad asses, Red is one of the best. The Zone is where he was born and raised so he knows the territory better than anyone else. He has also paid attention to the many ways that stalkers before him perished in the Zone, therefore being able to avoid their fates. He also has the fire deep down inside him to be patient and out wait some of the dangers, even if that means lying face down in the mud for days while some form of gravitational death trap moves all around you. The book follows Red's life, beginning with a young man in his early twenties and ending with his search for the ultimate alien artifact when he is in his fifties. There are many trips into the Zone and lots of underground sales of his alien booty. There is jail time spent, a family made, and political ties explored. It's a fantastic story and you can't help but root for Red and his stubborn willingness to do what it takes to keep himself and his family alive.
In 1979 Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky made the movie Stalker based on the Strugatsky brother's book. I have not had a chance to watch it yet, but it looks creepy and eerie enough to suit the book and The Zone. Another great science fiction story to take your mind off of current events, or at the very least remind you that things could be much much worse.
On a personal aside, you may have heard that William Peter Blatty passed away this week. While I imagine that most of you know of him from the book he wrote that inspired the film The Exorcist, he also wrote one of my all time favorite books, Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane, or as it is also known as The Ninth Configuration. I watched the film first and then sought out the book when I was in College. Like many of us when we are young I was searching for some kind of meaning and questioning what I wanted to do with my life. Because of this I really connected with Captain Billy Cutshaw in Blatty's book. If you listen to our radio show, then you have probably heard me at one time or another talk about this movie. So if Russian science fiction isn't your thing, maybe try this book.
By the way, Scott Wilson plays Captain Billy. You probably know him better as Herschel from The Walking Dead.