Classic SciFi 10: Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic

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Roadside Picnic, Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Feature

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  8 September 2017

Classic SciFi 10: Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic 1977


Vladimir Putin is sometimes treated as a bit of a joke in the West. This is a dangerous delusion, Putin has resurrected the oligarchy of the old Soviet Union. The uncontrolled Mafia and free market millionaires are gone. The Kremlin wants its cut of everything. If one resists, ruin or death may follow. If you cease to be useful or know too much, you can end up face-down in your own swimming pool.

The poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in the UK in 2006 with polonium-210 seemed extreme, but it sent a powerful message to other Russians.

Denise and I have recently read two books on the new Russia and would recommend them to you.

Everything is True and Nothing is Impossible by Peter Pomerantsev 2014 covers the changes in Russia from the early 2000s to 2010. Pomerantsev, a UK born journalist of Russian descent, worked in Russia for around eight years making documentaries for Russian television, beginning in the midst of an oil boom. In the process, he covered much of the weird and wonderful in Russia at the time. The portrait is amazing and idiosyncratic. It documents the rise of Putin’s Russia and the strange consequences in Russian Society. It is amusing but also chilling and rather frightening. Returning to the UK in 2010, Pomerantsev discovered that many of the beneficiaries of the Russian system had moved to Britain and were continuing life in the UK, as if in Russia — an internationalising of the wealth and the excess, but still firmly controlled by Putin’s Russian oligarchy.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller 2011 is a novel in microcosm of the things revealed in Everything is True and Nothing is Impossible. It is a fictional first person confession by Nick to the woman he is going to marry about his time in Russia. Nick is a young banker in the cowboy environment of oil boom Moscow. A snowdrop is Moscow slang for a corpse that lies buried in winter to be revealed in the spring thaw. There are two plots: one is his job as a banker where huge amounts of money are loaned on projects without much due diligence; the other is a love story leading to a minor crime.

The novel is well-written and engrossing. It is reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in the tense portrayal of the minor crime that slowly grows more sinister and awful, as its total lack of any moral compass is revealed.

These books are a great introduction to a new reading of Roadside Picnic. In this context, in addition to being classic science fiction, Roadside Picnic provides an educative insight into the old Soviet Union during the cold war. Much has changed in Russia but the old mores seem to have been resurrected by Putin. Although we live in a world of accelerating pace of change, mores resist change and culture barely changes at all over decades.


Roadside Picnic is one of the most remarkable science fiction books ever written. It is a classic in every sense. The main character, Red Schuhart, is difficult but his psychology and motivations are opened to us. Schuhart is a stalker whose skills and courage make us admire him. Hence he is a sympathetic character, but he is also equivocal, because his moral choices are complex.

The alien visitation and its consequences are vividly described though difficult for us to accept.

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Posted from Canberra

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