What do you think?
Rate this book
145 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1972
¹It was hard for me to believe that this book was written years before the catastrophic explosion at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station - an explosion that left a "Zone" full of deadly invisible poison affecting those in it or near it, with ghost city that once was full of people and now is just a shell of a disaster.The disheartening insignificance of the contact goes well against the well-established rules of science fiction. There was no communication, no contact, nothing. It appears that despite the hopes of all the science fiction writers over decades, we were not that interesting to the other intelligence - actually, we probably weren't even worth noticing. Just a matter-of-fact quick purposeless roadstop and a bunch of refuse - which still proceeds to affect the lives of people around the mysterious Zones.
No wonder that in popular culture Chernobyl and Strugatsky's "stalker" became intertwined.
“A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras … A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about… Scattered rags, burntout bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp… and, of course, there are the remains of the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone’s handkerchief, someone’s penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow…”Echoing the insignificance of humanity is the apparent insignificance of the main character. Red Schuhart is a "stalker" - a "riffraff" taking frequent quick forays into the Zone to smuggle out the alien artifacts that are valued on the black market, undeterred by having to live on the outside of the law, always at risk of horrific side effects or death inside and imprisonment outside. He does what he does not for any noble purpose but simply because there's little else to do. He is a common guy, ordinary, inconsequential, average, hard-hit by life. His goals are not noble - just survival. He’s vulgar, a drunkard, a cynic. In life, he is a bottomfeeder. It's underscored many times how inconsequential Red is - and maybe it's precisely why his plight has such an appeal to us. After all, despite the bravado, most of us carry no illusions of our own significance in the grand scheme of things.
¹ The story is apolitical but not free from pursuing the human truths and showing the good and bad of humanity. It’s just that Strugatskys see human nature without resorting to overt and obligatory politicizing that’s often so tempting.
As great Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in the foreword to the excellently translated edition:
“The Strugatsky brothers were not blatant, and never (to my limited knowledge) directly critical of their government’s policies. What they did, which I found most admirable then and still do now, was to write as if they were indifferent to ideology—something many of us writers in the Western democracies had a hard time doing. They wrote as free men write.”
And he was no longer trying to think. He just kept repeating to himself in despair, like a prayer, "I'm an animal, you can see that I'm an animal. I have no words, they haven't taught me the words; I don't know how to think, those bastards didn't let me learn how to think. But if you really are — all powerful, all knowing, all understanding — figure it out! Look into my soul, I know — everything you need is in there. It has to be. Because I've never sold my soul to anyone! It's mine, it's human! Figure out yourself what I want — because I know it can't be bad! The hell with it all, I just can't think of a thing other than those words of his — HAPPINESS, FREE, FOR EVERYONE, AND LET NO ONE BE FORGOTTEN!"
The houses in the Plague Quarter are peeling and lifeless, but the windows are mostly intact, only so dirty that they look opaque. Now at night when you crawl by, you can see the glow inside, as if alcohol were burning in bluish tongues. That’s the hell slime radiating from the basement. But mostly it looks like an ordinary neighborhood, with ordinary houses, nothing special about it except that there are no people around.
He laughed a happy laugh, crouched down, and beat the ground with his fists as hard as he could. The tangle of hair on the crown of his head trembled and swayed in an odd and funny way, clumps of dried dirt flew in every direction. And only then did Redrick raise his eyes and look at the Sphere. Carefully. Apprehensively. With a suppressed fear that it would be all wrong – that it’d disappoint, raise doubts, throw him out of the heaven he’d managed to ascend to, choking on shit along the way…
You come to a campfire in the grey light of the early morning, tired, your mind numb from a firefight in the dark, having stumbled into the midst of a group of nervous men who fired at the half-seen movement. A twig snaps and bodies lie still. There is a misting rain. You sit quietly for a moment, watching the grass waving, just letting everything fall away. You approach the fire. There, on the ground beside you, half buried in the dirt is a skull, a pelvis. "Yeah. Me, too." you think.
مشکل اینجاست که گذر سال ها رو متوجه نمیشیم. لعنت به گذر زمان. متوجه نمیشیم همه چیز چه طور تغییر میکنه. میدونیم تغییر اتفاق میافته، از بچگی تو گوشمون کردن همه چیز در حال تغییره. خودمون هم تغییر پیدا کردن خیلی چیز ها رو به چشم دیدیم. با این حال درک کردن لحظهای که اتفاق میافته کاملا از توانمون خارجه. شاید هم توی جاهای اشتباه دنبال تغییر میگردیم.