Roadside Picnic (1971, trans. 1977) Some Questions for Class/Further Study These questions are

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The Brothers Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic (1971, trans. 1977)
Some Questions for Class/Further Study
These questions are not definitive. We won’t be able to cover them all in one class. They are selectively based on my reading of the novel – and some selected criticism. The interpretive nature of literary study ensures there are other angles/perspectives. Use the questions as a platform, from where to leap into your own Zone.
(NB: Page numbers refer to my copy, Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series, 2012.)

1. Read these two small excerpts. They contain several significant themes and issues from the novel. See how many you can identify. Note them down, with a view to discussing them at the start of the class.

  1. Red’s sudden vision/experience of ‘another world’. P.83 (Ch2). From: He had never felt this outside of the Zone […] before he even had the chance to investigate.”

  2. Noonan’s reflection on Harmont/the Zone, pps. 109-110 (Ch3). From He turned onto Central Avenue […] I won’t live till the end.”

2. To what extent do you think the Soviet context (of ‘the Thaw’ and the resultant freeze) is important for reading the novel?

3. Is this a ‘science fiction’ novel?

  1. What is the role of ‘science’ in the narrative? See, for example, pps: 18-19; 135-138; 140-141; 143. (You might also want to think of the import of Pilman’s interview at the beginning and Noonan’s declaration of exhaustion at the end of Ch3. p. 155)

  2. Is it not, as many critics have asserted, a ‘fairy-tale’? See, for example, 26-27; 32; 52-3; 76-77; 134; 140. If you are interested in this, read Lem’s essay/review of the novel and Csicsery-Ronay’s 1986 essay (module website).

4. Are the aliens/visitors at all significant? 4; 128-29; 130-136 (inc. the ‘Roadside Picnic’ notion.)

5. The Zone. Is it a literary device? 13, 16, 21-22; 26-29; 33; 85

- What do you think Red means in his outburst: “There’s no getting away from it [the Zone].”? (49; 51)

6. Are the Zone’s objects/artefacts specifically important? Or are they just ‘magically-oriented’ devices, secondary to the plot. (Empties, Hellslime; Shriekers, spinners; spacells, etc.) Or is their real import as commodities? 40-41; 69; 109; 136.
7. Is there an explicit and consistent social critique made in Roadside Picnic? 127; 128-9. Also, how do we read Red’s statement on Harmont as ‘a hole’? Ch1, p. 42.
8. What is the significance of the revenants or ‘zombies’? 61-2; 65; 91; 92; 92; 110; 138; 141

And of Red’s child, ‘Monkey’? 73; 78; 140-1; 155. See also, “the nonhuman illnesses of man.” P.69

9. The End. What is the significance of the Golden Sphere? 61; 113-114; 161; 165; 188-190. His final statement – is it a Utopian longing? Or do we understand it cynically, as a cry of despair and defeat? 193.

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