[Arkady and Boris Strugatsky] Roadside Picnic

  • Title: Roadside Picnic
  • Author: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (translated by Olena Bormashenko)
  • Published: 1972
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (printed 2012)
  • ISBN: 978-1-61374-341-6

The movie “Stalker,” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, has captivated movie enthusiasts. The movie is well known as its complex and enigmatic images as well as philosophical blendings with everybody’s intrinsic psychological tendencies – fantasies, fears, desires, impulses, and memories.-

The movie is loosely based on the Russian SF novel “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady And Boris Strugatsky. It is easier to follow the plot in the novel than the movie because the background or conditions of the place and time, which the story is unfolded, is presented to you.

The central point of the novel is the “Zone,” where aliens visited. The contact is very different from what we usually see in SF novels. There is no actual contact between humans and aliens. There are only remnants and residues, which no human understands. In “Solaris,” Stanislaw Lem depicts our naïve assumption of easy communication with other intelligent life forms. – Lem called it “the myth of our cognitive universalism.” Lem and Strugatsky brothers question our mechanism of understanding – how we know and what we know.

In “Roadside Picnic,” we, human beings, are of total ignorance of the situation, only speculations. The signification – meanings – is one of the most important aspects of human psychology, and we literally live inside of interconnected symbols. Without making and connecting symbols, we do not make sense of our world. Lacanian psychology suggests that the lack of symbolization or the hole that is not symbolized is the point of mental problems. Human beings tried to give meaning or excuses to everything – we call this process as reasoning.

[Spolier alert]
It is interesting to find out why the title of the novel is “Roadside Picnic.” In the novel, everyone tries to find out why aliens visited the Earth, why they stayed, what they did, why they left some remnants behind. No one finds the answer (only YET). One suggestion, not accepted, is that aliens just stayed on Earth briefly without special reason while traveling and left some garbage behind. It is the same as we stop at someplace during our road trip, stayed a little bit, threw away some leftovers, left the place, and maybe even forget what happened after that. Did we care about any bugs while we were staying? Just some annoyance. That is all.

The SF novels from US writers in the mid 20th century are, in general, pretty interesting. They have insights into human behaviors and the impact of technological progress. However, they are, in general, base on reason. Meanwhile, “Roadside Picnic” questions this basic assumption “Reason.” Sometimes we might need to see the world more directly. The answer might be simpler than we think.

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