Roadside Picnic

Posted by : atcampbell | On : December 2, 2013

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Twelve people attended the meeting tonight at the North Village library. Of those, ten started the book, while seven finished the book. Two people had read the author before, one person had met the author, one had seen the movie made from this book and one had played the video game.  Two people read the book electronically.

In Roadside Picnic alien beings stop by Earth while traveling. They have a long picnic then take off again, but leave behind their trash, which causes extreme complications for earthlings. The trash turns out to be technology that is “advanced enough to be indistinguishable from magic,” one group member commented. Not understood by humans, this “magic” creates multiple problems, reminding one reader of “themes from The Gods Must be Crazy” movie.

Opinions about the book were mixed. Those who liked it felt that it was smartly written,  more “literary” than some books we have read.  Someone commented that they liked that the authors did not “lead the reader around by the nose.”  Several people liked the ambiguities of the story.

Some readers did not enjoy the book quite as much, though no one seemed to think that it was poorly written.  People noted that there was not a strong plot, that it felt “episodic”, as if it was more of a “compilation of vignettes” than a “cohesive story. This bothered several group members though others thought this was fine as the story was strong.  Several group members commented about the unusual structure of the end of the book.  Some people felt it worked quite well, but others were disappointed. Everyone was in agreement that this was not a feel good novel and cautioned against reading it while in a vulnerable state.

Additionally, the translation read seemed to make a difference in the reader’s enjoyment of the book. People who read a recent translation felt the prose was good and appreciated that it included “idiomatic language.” Those who read an earlier version felt that it was most likely not as “poetic” as the original work.

There was a discussion about Russian politics and censorship at the time this book was originally released.  Some group members felt it was possible that some elements to the story, especially the ending, might have been affected by what the authors had to do to  get the book past the censors.

After the meeting several of us went out to dinner at Elevation Burger.

— Carol Campbell