Science fiction has lost another giant. Boris Strugatsky died yesterday in St. Petersburg at the age of 79. In collaboration with his brother Arkady, who died in 1991, he wrote 27 novels and I don't know how many short stories. Their work was translated and published around the world. Together, they were the most famous Soviet science fiction writers ever.
The quality of the translations of the Strugatskys' works into English varies. But fortunately their single most famous novel novel, Roadside Picnic, has just received a new English language edition.
The premise of Roadside Picnic is that in the recent past powerful and incomprehensible aliens visited several sites on Earth, causing panic and evacuation . . . and then, after doing nobody knows what, departed. Leaving behind a lot of strange artifacts, some of them valuable and most of them extremely dangerous. These zones are fenced off by the government but, because there's profit to be made, criminals go in anyway. Red, the protagonist, is one of these desperate men, these "stalkers," and he is one of our genre's great creations.
You can read io9's enthusiastic review of the new translation here. The book has an introduction by Ursula K. Le Guin and an afterword by Boris Strugatsky in which he details the heartbreaking process by which he and his brother submitted the book to the censor over and over again, removing or rewriting sections of it not for ideological reasons but because the censor thought of science fiction as a children's literature and thought Red should behave in a more uplifting fashion.
The new edition restores the original material, making a great book even greater. If you haven't read Roadside Picnic, then you really should. Be sure to pick up the the Chicago Review Press version, with the cover image (right) taken from Stalker, a movie based on the novel.
I am sure there will be many memorials posted across the Web and around the world in days to come. In the meantime, you can read the Locus notice here.