Alien wasteland

Roadside Picnic

This Russian literary sci-fi novel by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, initially published in 1972 and now in a new translation by Olena Bormashenko, reminds us of how well science fiction explores humanity. In Roadside Picnic (Chicago Review Press, $15.95) Red Schuhart was only a boy when the aliens stopped by—and then departed, leaving a dangerous wasteland full of odd debris and weird spatial effects behind them. Now, he’s a “stalker,” making his living by venturing into the forbidden alien sites in search of technology—or industrial waste—to sell on the black market. And what does it mean that humanity’s best minds are the equivalent of insects at a barbecue to the visiting aliens?