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Roadside Picnic - Boris Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky I'd previously tried watching "Stalker," the movie that was loosely based upon "Roadside Picnic" but quit it about 15 minutes in, the Soviet stylings and sensibilities still too bleak for my psyche. The only reason I did get to reading the actual book is because I recently learned that many fans considered it to be the inspiration for the SyFy miniseries, "The Lost Room" of which I am a devotee of epically-geek status.

I often read copious amounts of reviews and spoilers before I decide to delve into something out of my normal comfort zones but none of what I read prepared me for the interesting and fun writing style of the Strugatsky brothers. How the brothers developed an almost "noir" style in the mid 20th century Soviet Union is beyond me but it is evident nonetheless and parts could be easily mistaken for a Raymond Chandler novel.

The title of the book is derived from a proposed theory (within the story) on what the nature of the "zones" is, zones that contain objects with strange properties, seeming evidence of an extraterrestrial "visitation":

"...What do you think about the Visitation?"

"My pleasure. Imagine a picnic."

Noonan shuddered.

"What did you say?"

"A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car drives off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out of the car carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Gas and oil spilled on the grass. Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around. Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind. Oil slicks on the pond. And of course, the usual mess -- apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow."

"I see. A roadside picnic."

"Precisely. A roadside picnic, on some road in the cosmos. And you ask if they will come back."

But without going on to add any spoilers here, I'll just remark what a GREAT read this was. One of the best pieces of Science Fiction I've ever read, hence the newly rare 5 star rating. It's very short and can be found online free here: http://thomas-hersey.wiki.uml.edu/file/view/Roadside%2BPicnic.pdf

I promise on my Goodreads good name that anyone who reads it won't regret it. :)