Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Read: 19 January, 2013

My first introduction to this story was watching the 1979 film Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. It’s a weird movie and distinctively Russian in its “let’s just give up and go home” mentality. I found it boring and silly the first time I watched it, but it stuck with me. Finally, I decided to watch it again and I fell in love. It’s an interesting movie and well worth watching if you come across it. Just be forewarned: Nothing happens. I mean that. Nothing happens. If you expect stuff to happen in movies, you’ll be disappointed.

Next, I played some of the games. Same world, same concepts, but totally different. For one thing, all those dangers that the stalker warns his guests about in the movie but that never amount to anything actually happen in the game. Between the three of them, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had. Gameplay is good (especially after the long-awaited patch for Clear Skies), storyline is interesting, environment design is amazing. Also worth it if you’re into FPS games.

All this is just to say that I’ve been familiar with the the Stalker setting for many years, so I was excited to see where it all began.

The book follows Redrick Schuhart, a stalker, over the course of about a decade. A stalker is an individual who goes into the Zone illegally to collect alien artefacts for black market sale. Through Schuhart, we get to see the threat and terror of the Zone, and of the people who seek to profit from it at all costs.

It’s a very short novel, but a slow read. The translation wasn’t particularly good, keeping idioms and word orders from the original Russian, but the story was very interesting and compelling. And, of course, the novel is sprinkled through with philosophical discussions, often about how absurd people are and how futile are their aspirations – it is a Russian novel, after all!

If you are into science fiction or Russian literature, I highly recommend giving this book a read!

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The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Read: June, 2004

The devil has arrived in Moscow, and he’s there to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, a writer obsesses over Pontius Pilate while a young woman obsesses over him.

I read Master and Margarita for a course I was taking in university, and it was one of my favourite books of the whole year. I found the obsession with Pontius Pilate to be rather contagious. I was taking another course on the New Testament, so I was able to get it out of my system by writing a rather lengthy essay on him.

This was all a couple years ago, so my memory of the book is a little hazy, but I remember finding it very funny and interesting, mixed in with that depressingly lethargic outlook on life, society, and government so common to Russian writing.

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Read: 20 February, 2009

In this infamous classic, young Alex is an ultra-violent teen who revels in rape, robbery, and in beating up members of the older generations. When a robbery goes sour and Alex is betrayed by his closest droogs, he finds himself in jail with a very long sentence for murder. But there is still hope for our young narrator. Alex is given the opportunity to test a new system that promises to end all crime by turning the most depraved devils into perfect angels. But the prison chaplain has his reservations. Is it right for the government to keep the peace by creating clockwork oranges?

POSITIVE: The language play is amazing. I have the benefit of knowing a little Russian, but this is by no means necessary. Alex’s switches between Nadsat and his “gentleman’s goloss” add a great deal of layering to the novel. Burgess is also able to preach without bogging down the story. Finally, the humour is fantastic and, at times, very clever.

NEGATIVE: All that violence can be hard to read and Burgess’s writing style makes it all the more vivid. I spent much of the novel in a cringe. Had it not been for the distancing provided by Nadsat, I might not have been able to make it through. Even so, the violence does serve a purpose to the story and cannot be said to be gratuitous.

Overall, I would say that this is a very readable novel and would be most appropriate for scholars and teens. Those with more sensitive dispositions may wish to stay away!

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