Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review of New "Roadside Picnic" Translation at io9

I posted here on New Year's Day about the legendary Soviet-era sci-fi novel, Roadside Picnic. It's an eerie, unsettling, and haunting work. I first read it in the Eighties when a friend turned me on to it, and to this day I can still say I've never read anything quite like it. To those who are about to read it for the first time, I say, "Abandon all preconceptions, ye who enter here."

This new post is occasioned by the publication of a new translation that I just found reviewed at the popular io9 sci-fi site. The forward is written by Ursula K. LeGuin, who was one of the first to review it on this side of the Iron Curtain many years ago.

Roadside Picnic was written behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War era by two Russian brothers, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. The new thing for me in this review was some discussion of the struggles they had in getting the story past Soviet censors:

Russian authorities had no problem with the ideology of the book, which can be interpreted as anti-capitalist and depicts Western life as a horror show. Instead, they were angered by the idea that kids might be harmed by reading a book that was so dark, full of violence, drinking, crime, and cursing. They gave the brothers a list of hundreds of scenes and phrases that had to be changed before the book would be published... 

One of the brothers later commented that ideological censorship was less troubling than the censors' attempts to render all literature banal and reassuring. Fortunately the original, uncensored story survived their efforts.

An older English translation is available here on the Web.

The developers of the popular S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games were inspired by Roadside Picnic. Andrei Tarkovsky adapted the novel to film titled Stalker in 1979, reviewed here in the Guardian newspaper in 2009.


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