Matt Hill is a fiction writer living in Manchester. His first novel, 'Colin & The Strimmer Men' will be published in Spring 2009. You can read his blog here.
I'll admit I was tentative to read a 'Russian science fiction novel' at first -- my perception of the genre at the time apparently coloured by escapist hero stuff or by space operas and laser beams. But I'm hugely glad I went in for the recommendation, and it seems apt to pass it on.
Roadside Picnic picks up thirty years after an extraterrestrial visit, when the world's been left pocked with landing sites of curious debris, and where mercenaries called 'stalkers' are being sent into no-go quarantine 'zones' constructed around each contact. These men, risking their lives, are paid to retrieve these physics-defying artifacts for scientists and military men, who in turn hope to understand and exploit all 'The Visitors' have left behind. Narrated over ten years by one such stalker, a cynical chap called Redrick Schuart, the reader follows his experiences of a zone that threatens to destroy not only his health but his homelife.
Essentially Roadside Picnic's a thoughtful piece on the way humans might react to an alien presence that arrives without the flashing lights, explosions and general apocalypses that a lot of science fiction would have us fretting about. I mean, so far, so unexpected -- it's a common idea. But what makes this book different -- perhaps what made it so tangibly different to the Western European/American stuff I was used to -- is that it's not so much about the aliens' visit, or indeed about how we're meant to kill 'em all, but what happens afterwards; in their wake; how we try to apply our apparently primitive theories to a new science we can barely understand. It's also become something of a parable for Chernobyl, which happened a few years after its release.
It's a short, humane and brilliantly written novel that exposes and laments our need to tinker with things we should leave well alone, and it's easily one of my favourites.
- Wiki page for Roadside Picnic is here.
- Wiki's author page is here.
- A bit about the film adaptation here.
- Amazingly you can download a free copy here.
- If you fancy a new copy then here or second hand here.
A video of the game, loosely based on the film that is loosely based on the book...