Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic (Russian: Пикник на обочине, ) is a science fiction short novel written in 1971 by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, published in 1972 and since deemed a classic. The film Stalker directed by Andrei Tarkovsky is loosely based on the novel.

Plot summary

Aliens have visited the Earth, and departed, leaving behind a number of artifacts of their incomprehensibly advanced technology. The places where such artifacts were left behind are areas of great danger, known as "Zones." The Zones are laid out in a pattern which suggests that they resulted from the impact of an influence from space which struck repeatedly from the same direction, striking different places as the Earth rotated on its axis.

A frontier culture arises along the margins of these Zones, peopled by "stalkers" who risk their lives in illegal expeditions to recover these artifacts, which do not obey known physical laws. The one most sought after, the "golden sphere", is rumored to have the power to fulfill the deepest human wishes.

The name of the novel derives from a metaphor proposed by the character Dr. Valentine Pilman, who compares the visit to a roadside picnic. After the picnickers depart, nervous animals venture forth from the adjacent forest and discover the picnic garbage: spilled motor oil, faded unknown flowers, a box of matches, a clockwork teddy bear, balloons, candy wrappers, etc. He concludes that humankind finds itself in a situation similar to that of the curious forest animals.

Analogies with the Chernobyl disaster

In the former Soviet Union, the area of the Chernobyl disaster has become analogous to the Strugatskys' novel.

Humans are not supposed to live within 30 km (19 miles) of the disaster site, giving rise to a 1,400 square mile region formally referred to as the Zone of alienation, informally known as "The Zone", hence the analogy. The Zone, straddling the Ukraine-Belarus border, contains the two ghost cities Prypiat and Chernobyl as well as many ghost villages. It has unwittingly become a major nature reserve. As in the novel, the Zone attracts some illegal scavenging. Some scientists investigating the area nicknamed themselves "Stalkers".

Awards and nominations

  • 1977 Special jury of "Writers of Sci-Fi literature of the USA" association has awarded brothers Strugatsky with the John W. Campbell Award for the best book of the year, published in English (novel Roadside Picnic).
  • 1978 After the publication of Roadside Picnic in the USA brothers Strugatsky are accepted as honourable members of "Society of Mark Twain" (USA) with formulation "for the outstanding contribution in world Sci-Fi literature".
  • 1979 On the Scandinavian congress of Sci-Fi literature Strugatsky novel Roadside Picnic is marked by the premium of Jules Verne "For the best book of the year printed in Sweden".
  • 1981 On the Sixth festival of the French Sci-Fi literature in Metz brothers Strugatsky has been awarded as the authors of the best foreign book of the year.


  • Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker is loosely adapted from the book.
  • In 2003, the Finnish theater company Circus Maximus produced a stage version of Roadside Picnic, called Stalker. Authorship of the play was credited to the Strugatskys and to M. Viljanen and M. Kanninen.
  • While not a direct adaptation, the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl has a very similar background idea and terms from the book such as "Stalker" and "The Zone" as well as a wish granting Monolith similar to the Golden Sphere of the novel, or The Room of the Tarkovsky film, as it is loosely based on the novel. Also it has other "artifacts" which defy laws of physics.
  • A Roadside Picnic film based on the novel is now in development by Columbia TriStar, to feature John Travolta, with a 2008 release date.
  • A role playing game Stalker by Ville Vuorinen (published 2008 by Burger Games) is based on the book on the courtesy of Boris Strugatsky.

English releases

  1. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic / Tale of the Troika (Best of Soviet Science Fiction) translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Macmillan Pub Co, 1977, 245 pp. ISBN 0-02-615170-7. LCCN: 77000543.
  2. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic. London: Gollancz, April 13, 1978, 150 pp. ISBN 0-575-02445-3.
  3. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic / Tale of the Troika. New York: Timescape (Pocket Books), February 1, 1978. ISBN 0-671-81976-3.
  4. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic. London: Penguin Books, September 27, 1979, 160 pp. ISBN 0-14-005135-X.
  5. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic. New York: Pocket Books (Timescape), September 1, 1982, 156 pp. ISBN 0-671-45842-6.
  6. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic (SF Collector's Edition). London: Gollancz, August 24, 2000, 145 pp. ISBN 0-575-07053-6.
  7. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Roadside Picnic (S.F. Masterworks). London: Gollancz, February 8, 2007. ISBN 0-575-07978-9.


See also

External links

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