This book, which I read in Estonian, contains two stories from Russian/Soviet Union sci-fi heavyweight Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky - Definitely Maybe and Roadside Picnic. It was a re-read.
How to even begin with these... First of all, these are very different stories. Definitely Maybe is not everyone's cup of tea - basically nothing happens. The major studies of the leading Russian scientists are threatened by something or someone, as are perhaps their lives, and the whole story basically consists of intellectuals discussing matters of mostly extraterrestrial nature while consuming wide variety of alcoholic beverages and event-appropriate foods, like caviar and pickles. The atmosphere is wonderful and the humour really funny - it is, I think, something very characteristic to Russian sci-fi, so if you know you like this kind of stuff, feel free to pick up this story. As far as the atmosphere goes, there was something very similar to The Master and Margarita (one of my all time favourite books) - it's this kind of Russian spirit thrown into the situation where things don't make any sense but at the same time, nothing is lost as long as you have vodka, cigarettes and caviar.
The real pearl here is Roadside Picnic, which I think is a story that every fan of older science fiction has at least heard of. I find it hard to say anything about Roadside Picnic for the mere reason that I feel my skill with words will do it very little justice. It's a highly captivating story full of wonderful yet humane characters and intriguing theories, it manages to be at the same time entertaining and thought provoking, examining the innermost corners of what it means to be a human.
Aliens have already visited and left behind places called Zones - places where your regular people do not go and those who do, called Stalkers, do so under extreme carefulness and often do not come back. Because there is some really weird stuff happening in Zones. None of the characters are black and white, which I always love in a book. Stalkers are intriguing; they are like some kind of reckless pirates of the post-alien-visitation world. Well, seemingly reckless, as the best Stalkers are always those who are extremely careful and never, ever underestimate the Zone. Or think that they know everything that there is inside.
The descriptions of the Zone are wonderful, the dialogue is very poignant and characters in this story are the best - even the ones that are "bad" are not bad without a reason. It is a sad story and a funny story at the same time - the best kind of story for me. Highly recommended to all the sci-fi lovers out there.
I'm starting Roadside Picnic today! It's such a shame I haven't read it before, but never late than never! The cover has reminded me how unlike any of the languages I know Estonian is - I can't understand a word out of the four on the cover!ReplyDelete
I think they ran out of room on the cover, because they have put only one story title there - directly translated "Billion=miljard years=aastat before=enne world's end=maailmalõppu" (so that goes better with the Russian title than Definitely Maybe, which is a bit of an odd translation in my opinion...) I really hope you will enjoy Roadside Picnic!Delete
I read a few stories by Strugatsky and enjoyed Roadside Picnic the most, although it was pretty depressive at times, just like their other works. :)ReplyDelete
Depressive wasn't actually my first emotion (I guess that says something about my own general state of mind :p), but of course you are right - these stories are depressing once you get to the end. Which is not a bad thing! :)Delete