Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a “full empty,” something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems.
This is a classic Russian science fiction novel from 1972, with a new translation and reprinted by Chicago Review Press. This is a short, quick read without a lot of fluff or technical jargon. Though, I wish there was more explanation/descriptive of the alien Zones and artifacts than there was. This is a unique story in that aliens have visited and already left. The areas they visited are now called Zones where they have left behind dangerous and advanced technology that humanity cannot grasp. Though, they do try to use the alien technology for fuel and novelty. Which is where the stalkers come in – the only ones brave enough to venture in these uninhabitable areas to sell artifacts. But there are consequences for prolonged and repeated attempts to enter the Zones. The story is often choppy and the characters have little depth. But it was certainly exciting and suspenseful at times. And there was a fun twist with why the characters believe the aliens came. Roadside Picnic is an interesting read for those interested in classic scifi.