Sci-Fi Group Book Club discussion

Roadside Picnic
This topic is about Roadside Picnic
41 views
Archived Group Reads > Roadside Picnic

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Greg, Muad'Dib (last edited Oct 06, 2017 01:36PM) (new) - added it

Greg | 812 comments Mod
This is the discussion thread for the second book of the month, or group read, for October. Please remember to use the spoiler tags where necessary. The other group read topic for this month (The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.) can be found here.


message 2: by Greg, Muad'Dib (last edited Oct 07, 2017 08:50AM) (new) - added it

Greg | 812 comments Mod
I just read an interesting review of Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation (soon to be released as a film) where the reviewer states that 'Lost and Roadside Picnic/Stalker seem to be the most common reference points I’ve seen (in addition to the slightly less convincing Heart of Darkness, which I suppose is just a common signifier for “journey into a menacing landscape”), which work well enough as quick and easy pointers'. Does anyone else see such parallels with Annihilation (or Stalker for that matter)?


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments I read Annihilation (and the other 2 books in the trilogy, Authority and Acceptance) last year, Greg, and heard about the comparison with Roadside Picnic then. It's been on my TBR ever since, so I'm looking forward to reading it at last. It'll have to wait though. Like your good self, I've yet to finish Perdido Street Station.


message 4: by Greg, Muad'Dib (new) - added it

Greg | 812 comments Mod
Donna Rae wrote: "I read Annihilation (and the other 2 books in the trilogy, Authority and Acceptance) last year, Greg, and heard about the comparison with Roadside Pi..."

I'd say you'll finish it before me! :P

Must get my hands on the Annihilation trilogy too. The movie looks interesting.


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments Greg wrote: "Donna Rae wrote: "I read Annihilation (and the other 2 books in the trilogy, Authority and Acceptance) last year, Greg, and heard about the compariso..."

I really enjoyed them, although I have to admit to finding the middle book, Authority, not as good as the other two. But that could just be me.


Marvin Flores | 64 comments I'm already beyond 50% with this novel. It's fairly short!


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments Marvin wrote: "I'm already beyond 50% with this novel. It's fairly short!"

Hi Marvin! I've just finished Perdido Street Station and moved straight into Roadside Picnic about 1 hour ago. Already at 7%, so - yes - must be a short novel this time.

There's a good foreword by Ursula Le Guin in my copy, where she makes a brief but interesting comparison with Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. Basically, she refers to the idea humans have of themselves as an advanced species: in Lem's novel, humans try and fail to communicate with the oceanic 'alien', whereas in Roadside Picnic, the aliens have already come and gone, with humanity being "of absolutely no interest to a 'more advanced' species". In other words, a rather different perspective on the human race from these Russian/Polish scifi writers in relation to their western counterparts who, at the time, were more generally focused on human elitism. Interesting.


David Lutkins | 0 comments Still waiting for my copy of Roadside Picnic to get in, and am really looking forward to it. I'm also looking forward to seeing how the book's ideas compare to Solaris. Hopefully the copy I get from my library has theLe Guin Ursula K 1929- forward.

I never read Annihilation or the other books in that trilogy.


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments Hi David! I'm reading on kindle, but the copy is an S.F. Masterworks title, published in 2014. It's probably the most likely edition you'll get from a good library. The GR link for the edition I have is https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2..., so when you get it, you can always match it up.

Saying that, if you go to the GR link for the edition, then click to find that book on Amazon, you'll find Amazon has a 'Look Inside' feature for Roadside Picnic. If you then click on that, it'll throw up a window in which you'll find the Ursula Le Guin foreword at the beginning. It's only short, so you'll be able to read the full foreword for free from there ;-)


David Lutkins | 0 comments Hi Donna Rae,

Thanks! I hadn't thought of that. I will take a look at the foreword on Amazon.

David


David Lutkins | 0 comments I finally got the book and am about 20% through. So far, its a very interesting read, quite different from the movie Stalker.


message 12: by Tara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tara | 3 comments Donna Rae, thanks for that advice on the forward. I am able to read most of it, and I hadn't really thought about the novel in that context.


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments Tara wrote: "Donna Rae, thanks for that advice on the forward. I am able to read most of it, and I hadn't really thought about the novel in that context."

You're welcome, Tara!

I've finished it now and really enjoyed the writing style which, in some ways, reminded me of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's writing - wonder if that style is a Russian trait or an effect of Russian-English translation? Anyway, I felt Le Guin's comments held good. I can also see why Vandermeer's Annihilation is often compared to Roadside Picnic too, although the style and syntax are very different.


message 14: by David (last edited Oct 23, 2017 07:03PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

David Lutkins | 0 comments I've finally finished as well, and thought the book was pretty good. I'd give it a solid 3 stars for writing style and plot. My only problem with it was that, if one were to categorize it as a first-contact novel, it wasn't nearly as interesting to me as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood's End or Rendezvous with Rama, or even Solaris. I didn't get the sense of awe that I get with a lot of Arthur C. Clarke novels, but perhaps that's an unfair criticism.


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments David wrote: "I've finally finished as well, and thought the book was pretty good. I'd give it a solid 3 stars for writing style and plot. My only problem with it was that, if one were to categorize it as a firs..."

I think the 'underwhelming' aspect, compared to other first-contact novels, is part of Le Guin's point: in Roadside Picnic, the aliens are simply not interested in humans as a species and have no interaction with them other than to litter a particular zone of the planet with their leftover detritus. I haven't read a lot of Arthur C. Clarke, but in those sort of novels (which are indeed in the majority), 'awe' is built into the subtext via the human-alien interaction, for good or bad, when humankind encounters the unknown.

I think both styles have merits that depend greatly on the reader's frame of mind, but as so much 'first-contact' sci-fi focuses on the latter, with a tendency towards pure spectacle, I found the Strugatsky brothers' version refreshing for its difference, and more intimately humanistic. David's point, though, does illustrate how labelling a novel as one type of sci-fi or another does sell a genre short when it doesn't convey the full spectrum of possibilities i.e. Clarke's novels and Roadside Picnic occupy the same genre, but are vastly different books.


message 16: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments The problem for a novel with with "first contact" is, then what? As Donna notes, leftover detritus loses interest fairly quickly, and after several novels on the topic, awe is not going to be easy, and ten minutes later the reader is thinking, "So what?" I wrote a trilogy called "First Contact", but my aim was to deal with the consequences of the party making the contact getting a message they did not want to hear, and the basic stories were merely what was going to happen anyway, but modified by that message. The net result was, critics argue it isn't really what they expected. I suspect this is a mini-category where the author can't win now.


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments Ian wrote: "The problem for a novel with with "first contact" is, then what? As Donna notes, leftover detritus loses interest fairly quickly, and after several novels on the topic, awe is not going to be easy,..."

That's true. Reader expectations - or rather, how a publisher interprets reader expectations - plays a major part in defining a genre. Personally, I prefer it when categories overlap, or the writer involves something completely unexpected or writes from an original perspective. Anything that makes the novel less 'samey'.


message 18: by Jim (last edited Oct 26, 2017 03:07PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim  Davis | 48 comments I honestly don't see all the philosophical meaning and depth that this book is suppose to have. From reviews I’ve read it seems that the book is just vague enough for people to attach their own meaning to it. Until the end, the book was a good fast paced read that kept me interested. The concept was interesting but by 1971 when it was written, it wasn't mind boggling. When I got near the end and Red's last trip into the zone I started to get annoyed with his guilt and vodka aided soul searching that never seemed to make a point and seemed a little strange in a man who was so independent. After all that the ending was a big disappointment. I can understand there is suppose to be a deeper philosophical meaning beneath the plot that's driving the story; but I need more of a hook since I'm not good at building any deep meaning from a few vague and sometimes contradictory hints.

Once things slowed down I started to see some plot holes in the earlier parts that I didn’t notice because it keep you moving along quickly. Considering the types of things that were found in the “zones” the idea of trash leftover from an alien “roadside picnic” didn’t hold up that well. Why would this debris turn out to be sophisticated ways to kill humans? I didn’t see the result of any large scale impact on humans in general from the fact that they had been visited by aliens which should have had a major effect. The localized effect dealt mostly with government and military attempts to keep the general public away. The scientists involved seemed more interested in technology than the concept of aliens actually existing. And the main character, Red, just used it as a way to assert his independence, assert his inherent machismo and make some money without being tied to a 9 to 5 job.

It finally dawned on me that Roadside Picnic has many of the attributes of noir fiction or, more accurately, neo-noir fiction but in a SF setting. It makes a little more sense to me that way than as deeply philosophical Russian literature.

I was also reminded me of Rogue Moon by Algys Budrys when I first started reading it.


David Lutkins | 0 comments Jim wrote: "It finally dawned on me that Roadside Picnic has many of the attributes of noir fiction or, more accurately, neo-noir fiction but in a SF setting. It makes a little more sense to me that way than as deeply philosophical Russian literature...."

I definitely agree that the book is in the noir fiction tradition. It reminded me of some David Goodis novels, like Shoot the Piano Player, with its shady barfly characters.

You make an interesting point that many of the characters were more concerned with what was left behind and how they could exploit it than with the fact that we had been visited by aliens. Its kind of ironic that the aliens were totally uninterested in the humans, and the humans were not very interested in them.


Donna Rae Jones | 115 comments JuniperGreen ~ Halloween Bunny (fluffy & homicidal) ~ wrote: "Donna Rae wrote: "Hi David! I'm reading on kindle, but the copy is an S.F. Masterworks title, published in 2014. It's probably the most likely edition you'll get from a good library. The GR link fo..."

Yes, I would agree with that, too; it's very noir. I wonder though if the 'rubbish' left behind by the aliens was intended to kill humans - it seems to me that that was the unintended effect of a completely unknown technology discarded on Earth, much like the way our plastics today - with innocuous purposes - end up in the ocean, killing marine life. And with that analogy in mind, consider the general human behaviour towards marine and wildlife - we know it's there, some of us study it, but very few of us actually interact with it. I feel this is what the alien (non)response is alluding to. And as for the human response towards the alien technology - well, isn't it typical of human society to commercialize everything?


message 21: by Jim (last edited Oct 26, 2017 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim  Davis | 48 comments Hi Marvin! I've just finished Perdido Street Station and moved straight into Roadside Picnic about 1 hour ..."
Donna mentions le Guin's comparison of the Strugatsky brothers and Stanislaw Lem. I have seen this comparison in other places. My copy didn't have the le Guin intro but instead had one by Theodore Sturgeon (more on that later) so I don't know the details. My only experience with the two authors are Solaris and Roadside Picnic. The only commonality I see is they both question whether humans can truly understand aliens but the premise and writing styles are very different.

In Solaris there is actual contact but that doesn't help with comprehension. In Picnic we are trying to gain comprehension from a few scattered and often dangerous artifacts that may have been left behind casually from a stopover. Maybe it's because there are relatively few writers who wrote good SF under Communist domination and the better ones really stand out.

Lem claims that the difference between him and American SF writers is that he writes literature first and SF second while Americans skip the literature part. I think Lem had a huge ego but many people around the world seem to agree with him. In Roadside Picnic the Strugatsky brothers wrote a very literate form of SF but I don't consider it better than Simak or Sturgeon or many other American SF writers.

Back to the Theodore Sturgeon intro in my copy. Sturgeon wrote "the Strugatskys' deft and supple handling of loyalty and greed, of friendship and love, of despair and frustration and loneliness, and you have a truly superb tale, ending most poignantly in what can only be called a blessing." That is pretty close to what I saw except that I don't think the handling was as quite as deft or quite as supple as Sturgeon did, especially near the end.

Whether the last statement by Red was blessing or wishful thinking will never be known. Or maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the whole point was that just saying that was a major change in Red's thinking brought about by the things he did and saw in the Zone.


Jim  Davis | 48 comments David wrote: "I've finally finished as well, and thought the book was pretty good. I'd give it a solid 3 stars for writing style and plot. My only problem with it was that, if one were to categorize it as a firs..."
I think the first contact category may be a little too broad. I think that novels that concern gaining some knowledge about aliens without any actual contact stands alone. You have roadside Picnic but not Solaris. In 2001 you don't have direct contact but some sort of long range guidance. There have been numerous novels over the years concerning archaeologists looking at the remains of dead alien city or world or in Rama, a spaceship and trying to understand their culture from their 'stuff'. in some cases I think we may be comparing Martian apples with Venusian oranges when we lump it all into a first contact genre.


message 23: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 45 comments Jim, I would suggest that attempting to put all novels into a very limited number of boxes must inevitably lead to the apples and oranges going into a fruit box.


Jim  Davis | 48 comments Good point Ian. Do you think any of the stuff in the Zone was actually fruit? Hope they didn't leave the alien equivalent of a banana peel. Just one more thing for a stalker to worry about.


back to top