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Roadside Picnic is a 1971 science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (commonly known as the Strugatsky Brothers), widely considered to be one of the most important Russian creations in the entire genre.[source/verification needed]


Recent English translation publication cover

The book begins a decade after something alien, (called Visitors by human scientists) very briefly (approximately 12-24 hours) landed at 6 different locations around Earth (called Visitation Zones by human scientists). Neither the Visitors themselves nor their means of arrival were ever seen, but the people who lived in those areas reported explosions and loud noises that blinded some and caused others to catch a type of plague. Some areas of the Zones later became labeled by scientists as the 'First Blind Quarter', 'Plague Quarter', 'Second Blind Quarter' based on the effects the Visitation had on the population. These 6 areas (some populated towns) became infested with deadly phenomenon and littered with mysterious objects with various properties whose original purpose was incomprehensible by humans and so advanced that it bordered on the supernatural. Each Zone was perhaps the size of a few square miles in size, with abandoned buildings, railways and cars, some slowly decaying while others looking brand new. The Visitation Zones became extremely deadly areas to all forms of Earth life containing space-time anomalies, and random spots capable of killing by fire, lightning, gravity or other bizarre ways. The laws of physics sporadically worked in the Zones.

Armies surrounded the Zones with strict orders to arrest or kill anyone attempting to sneak inside or out. Governments feared that some artifact could be found inside the Zones with enough power to cause a plague, permanently damage or even destroy the planet. A frontier culture arose along the perimeter of the Zones, men known as "Stalkers" who risked their lives to illegally recover alien artifacts (called swag) from within the Zone for large profit. This was extremely dangerous work since one wrong move inside the Zone could be deadly. Stalkers could only work during the night since the Zone was observed during the day by soldiers and scientists. Only one out of three Stalkers made it out alive. Even though the original purpose of the artifacts recovered was not understood, some objects had beneficial properties like a round black stick (called so-so) that produced endless energy and used to power vehicles. Others artifacts were deadly like the "Death Lamp" which emitted rays destroying all life around it. Most artifacts had no known function either because they were broken and discarded by the Visitors as trash or because their purpose was too advanced to be understood by scientists. The most desired and legendary artifact was the "Golden Sphere", which was rumored to have the power to make any wish come true, but was located so deep inside the Zone and surrounded by such deadly 'traps' that only one Stalker knew the route to reach it.

Plot synopsisEdit

The story revolves around Redrick "Red" Schuhart, a tough and experienced Stalker who led and survived multiple expeditions into the Zone, gathering valuable artifacts (called swag) for profit. Eventually Red becomes employed as a lab assistant at the International Institute for Extraterrestrial Cultures, near the edge of the Visitation Zone in Canada. The Institute studies the items recovered from the Zone as well as attempts to form theories about the entire Visitation event. Red along with his friend from the Institute legally enter the Zone to recover a specific artifact which leads to the death of his friend. This event, which Red felt he could have prevented, leads him deeper into alcoholism and depression.

Red's girlfriend Guta is pregnant and decides to keep the baby. The frequent expeditions to the Zone by Stalkers cause a high chance of mutations in children. Guta gives birth to a beautiful, happy and intelligent daughter. A clone of Red's deceased father returns from the cemetery, now located inside the Zone, as clones of deceased have returned. Red's daughter, initially a normal, happy girl, becomes more and more reclusive while evolving into a strange creature who resembles a reclusive, furry monkey who screams when asleep.

Red goes into the Zone one last time in order to make a wish in front of the "Golden Sphere", to make his daughter normal. He has a map to safely reach the sphere, given to him by the father of the young man who joins him on the expedition. Red secretly assumes that the youth, whom he begins to like, will be sacrificed before the sphere is reached. A phenomenon named the "Meat Grinder" must be deactivated by taking the life of the first person who approaches it. After the death of the first person, the second may pass safely and make a wish. After they get to the location, surviving many obstacles, the teenager rushes forward towards the "Golden Sphere", praying to the sphere for "Happiness for everybody, free, and nobody will go away unsatisfied!" before being brutally killed by the "Meat Grinder". Red, wracked with guilt at the teen's death and his selfless wish, approaches the sphere, repeating the boy's wish. The book ends at that point without letting the reader know if the sphere granted the wish or killed Red.

Parallels with the STALKER seriesEdit

The STALKER series borrow a great deal of elements from the novel, to the point that they can be considered a loose adaptation. Below is a non-exhaustive list of similarities.

  • The term stalker is used to refer to the illegal scavengers combing the hostile Zone in both the novel and the games.
    • The factory and handmade hazmat suits were also present in the novel.
  • Both the Chernobyl Zone and the Visitation Zones are filled with deadly anomalies of various nature. In fact, the games borrow most of the anomalies straight from the novel;
Game anomaly name Book Anomaly name
Burner «выжигатель»
Burnt Fuzz «жгучий пух»
Electro «разряд»
Fruit Punch «ведьмин студень»
Vortex «комариная плешь»
Whirligig «Мясорубка»
  • Artifacts (valuable anomalous objects from the Zone) are a key element of both the STALKER series and the novel.
    • In fact, the Spring artifact is a perfect small scale replica of the Full-Empty artifact discovered by Schuhart in the first chapter of the novel.
    • The Golden Sphere artifact is identical in function, both as a plot device and as an artifact, in both the novel and the game series.
    • The theme of illegal smuggling of artifacts and peddling them on the black market is prevalent in both the novel and the game series.
  • As are the vain attempts by the government to crack down on this trade.
  • The idea of using bolts to check the way for anomalies is lifted directly from the novel by the game series.


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