Roadside Picnic

by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Redrick Schuhart, or "Red," begins the story as a lab assistant for the Harmont branch of the International Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures. He is also a "stalker" who sneaks into the Zone, the area where aliens landed thirteen years ago, and steals items that they left behind. He's a pretty tough guy, and he drinks a lot to deal with his demons. He eventually goes to jail for his involvement in the illegal black market for these items, and when he gets out, he learns that he is really the only old stalker left. The others are either dead or maimed or mentally damaged so badly that they cannot function independently anymore. He makes a last mission into the Zone to search for a legendary item said to grant wishes.

Kirill is Red's friend and boss. He goes on a mission with Red that seems to rejuvenate him and make him feel as though he has some purpose; he sees the Zone not as a scary place, but as a place full of possibility and hope for humankind. While in the Zone, he steps into a silvery web that is not visible to him (though it is to Red), and he dies "of a heart attack" that night.

Guta begins as Red's girlfriend but becomes his wife. She loves him and their daughter, nicknamed "Monkey," because she is looks so much like a monkey (covered with fur and possessing big black eyes without whites). Children of people who go into the Zone regularly are typically abnormal, and Monkey is a good example of this. As Monkey ages, she begins to understand human speech less and less.

Burbridge is another stalker Red saves from the Zone after the bones in his legs dissolve. He isn't a nice guy, but he loves his kids. Red doesn't particularly like Burbridge, but Burbridge is the one to tell Red about the Golden Ball, a legendary item said to grant wishes. It is Burbridge's son, Arthur, who accompanies Red into the Zone to look for the Golden Ball, and who Red must sacrifice in order to figure out the path to it.

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