Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Redrick (Red) Schuhart

Redrick (Red) Schuhart, the protagonist, a daring, competent, and roguish “stalker” from the Visitation town of Harmont. He is nicknamed “Red” because of his bright red hair. A laboratory assistant at the Harmont Institute for Extraterrestrial Cultures at the age of twenty-three, with time he deals more and more in illegal Visitation Zone contraband. By the age of twenty-eight, he has only his illegal career. He remains insatiable in his desire to face the hidden terrors of the Zone and to find value (both material and spiritual) among the alien remains, despite being imprisoned twice for illegal activities and despite many brushes with death. He frequents the Borscht, a stalker bar, where he finds oblivion in drink. He is contemptuous of priggish authority, talkative greenhorns, and stalkers who break the code. He is hot-tempered but can be calm and cool when necessary. He has quick reflexes, a basic instinct for survival, and a knowledge of the peculiarities of the Zone that comes only from experience, but he is always a physical wreck after his excursions there. A loner who talks tough and acts tough, he has a soft heart for friends and family; beneath his protective shell and surface hate is a deep-seated, though intermittent, humanism. After sacrificing his companion to his quest, he requests from the hard-earned magical Golden Ball “Happiness for everybody, free, and no one will go away unsatisfied.”

Buzzard Burbridge

Buzzard Burbridge, an infamous, avaricious old stalker, a survivor known for his desertion of companions in trouble. Schuhart rightly calls him “a rat.” He is a wife-beater and a sadist. Buzzard loses his legs on one trip (they melt) and thereafter tries to bribe Schuhart (who brought him back alive) into going after a booby-trapped Golden Ball, reputedly an Aladdin’s lamp that will grant any truly wanted wish. His only redeeming quality is his love for his two handsome...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Red Schuhart’s basic trait is his independence, which derives both from his extraordinary skills as an illegal explorer of the Zone and from his stubbornness. It is this strain of roguish autonomy and heroism in the face of a larger, constricting world which places Red in a long tradition ranging from the wandering hero of the Spanish picaresque novel in the Renaissance to the modern Jewish schlemiel. It is not difficult to see the Soviet reality behind the protagonist’s struggles with his bureaucratic and formalistic environment.

Nevertheless, Red’s independence is portrayed as being problematic. On the one hand, Red’s special abilities award him the privilege of carrying out his naturally idealistic ethical behavior. Thus, in defiance of the regulations of authority, Red is able to bring up his mutant daughter, Monkey, and keep at his table the mute corpse of his father, which the forces of the Zone have strangely reconstructed. Red’s individualism also has its bad side. Because he is accustomed to working alone, he fails to warn Kirill about the alien web which when he accidentally touches it causes the scientist’s death. In his deal with the agents of the state, Red agrees against his better instincts to trade, for his family’s sake, a small and well-secured portion of witches’ jelly fordubious military research.

Roadside Picnic’s finale is powerful because Red must face the principal problem embodied in his own character. As a loner, Red has decided to use Arthur as his key to personal happiness but has to fight his own better instincts. Throughout his...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Griffiths, John. “Retreat from Reality,” in Three Tomorrows: American, British, and Soviet Science Fiction, 1980.

Le Guin, Ursula K. “A New Book by the Strugatskys,” in Science Fiction Studies. IV (July, 1977), pp. 157-159.

Lem, Stanislaw. “About the Strugatskys’ Roadside Picnic,” in Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1984.

Zebrowsky, George. “Roadside Picnic and Tale of the Troika,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. LVII (July, 1979), pp. 33-35.