edgecase
"Only God can judge me!"
"Oh, I'm sure he does."
Author: StJohn Piano
Published: 2018-06-13
Datafeed Article 53
This article has been digitally signed by Edgecase Datafeed.
7079 words - 941 lines - 24 pages




[excerpt: page 25]


Over there's the ditch where the Slug kicked the bucket - you can make out something colorful in there, maybe some clothes of his. He was a lousy guy, rest his soul, greedy, stupid, and dirty; that's the only kind that get mixed up with the Vulture, those the Vulture Burbridge spots a mile away and gets his claws into. Although, to be fair, the Zone doesn't give a damn who the good guys and the bad guys are, and it turns out we gotta thank you, Slug: you were an idiot, and no one even remembers your real name, but you did show us smarter folks where not to go . . .

[end of excerpt]





[excerpt: page 91]


After leaving the Metropole, he hailed a cab and took it to the other side of town. He didn't know the driver, a new guy, some pimply beaked kid, one of the thousands who had recently flocked to Harmont looking for hair-raising adventures, untold riches, international fame, or some special religion; they came in droves but ended up as taxi drivers, waiters, construction workers, and bouncers in brothels - yearning, untalented, tormented by nebulous desires, angry at the whole world, horribly disappointed, and convinced that here, too, they'd been cheated. Half of them, after lingering for a month or two, returned home cursing, spreading news of their great disappointment to almost every corner of the globe; a rare few became stalkers and quickly perished, never having made any sense of things and turning posthumously into legendary heroes; some managed to get jobs at the Institute, the brightest and best-educated ones, capable at least of becoming lab assistants; the rest founded political parties, religious sects, and self-help groups and idled away their evenings in bars, brawling over differences of opinion, over girls, or just for the hell of it. From time to time they organized protests and petitions, staged demonstrations, went on strike - sit-down strikes, stand-up strikes, and even lie-down strikes - enraging the city police, administrators, and established residents; but the longer they stayed, the more thoroughly they calmed down and resigned themselves to things, and the less they worried about what exactly they were doing in Harmont.

[end of excerpt]





[excerpt: page 110]


Yes, I'd like to know how all this will end. By the way, about ten years ago I knew with absolute certainty what would happen. Impenetrable police lines. A belt of empty land fifty miles wide. Scientists and soldiers, no one else. A hideous sore on the face of the planet permanently sealed off . . . And the funny thing is, it seemed like everybody thought this, not just me. The speeches that were made, the bills that were proposed! And now you can't even remember how all this unanimous steely resolve suddenly evaporated into thin air. On the one hand, we are forced to admit, on the other hand, we can't dispute. And it all seems to have started when the stalkers brought the first spacells out of the Zone. The batteries . . . Yes, I think that's really how it started. Especially when it was discovered that spacells multiply. It turned out that the sore wasn't such a sore; maybe it wasn't a sore at all but, instead, a treasure trove . . . And now no one has a clue what it is - a sore, a treasure trove, an evil temptation, Pandora's box, a monster, a demon . . . We're using it bit by bit. We've struggled for twenty years, wasted billions, but we still haven't stamped out the organized theft. Everyone makes a buck on the side, while the learned men pompously hold forth: On the one hand, we are forced to admit; on the other hand, we can't dispute, because object so-and-so, when irradiated with X-rays at an eighteen-degree angle, emits quasiheated electrons at a twenty-two-degree angle. The hell with it! One way or another, I won't live till the end.

[end of excerpt]






[excerpt: page 112]


General Lemchen nodded his head with a look that suggested his worst suspicions had been confirmed, pressed his fingertips together in front of his face, and spent some time intently examining the resulting shape.

[end of excerpt]






[excerpt: pages 128-134]


"Listen, Valentine", said Noonan, cutting a piece of meat and dipping it in the sauce. "How do you think it's all going to end?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The Visit. Zones, stalkers, military-industrial complexes - the whole stinking mess. How could it all end?"

For a long time, Valentine stared at him through his opaque black lenses. Then he lit up a cigarette and said, "For whom? Be more specific."

"Well, say, for humanity as a whole."

"That depends on our luck", said Valentine. "We now know that for humanity as a whole, the Visit has largely passed without a trace. For humanity everything passes without a trace. Of course, it's possible that by randomly pulling chestnuts out of this fire, we'll eventually stumble on something that will make life on Earth completely unbearable. That would be bad luck. But you have to admit, that's a danger humanity has always faced." He waved away the cigarette smoke and smiled wryly. "You see, I've long since become unused to discussing humanity as a whole. Humanity as a whole is too stable a system, nothing upsets it."

"You think so?" said Noonan with disappointment. "Well, that may be . . ."

"Tell me the truth, Richard", said Valentine, obviously amusing himself. "What changed for you, a businessman, after the Visit? So you've learned that the universe contains at least one intelligent species other than man. So what?"

"How can I put it?" mumbled Richard. He was already sorry that he started the subject. There was nothing to say here. "What changed for me? For example, for many years now I've been feeling a bit uneasy, apprehensive. All right, so they came and left immediately. And what if they come back and decide to stay? For me, a businessman, these aren't idle questions, you know: who they are, how they live, what they need. In the most primitive case, I'm forced to consider how to modify my product. I have to be ready. And what if I turn out to be completely superfluous in their society?" He became more animated. "What if we're all superfluous? Listen, Valentine, since we're on the subject, are there answers to these questions? Who they are, what they wanted, if they'll come back . . ."

"There are answers", said Valentine with an ironic smile. "Lots of them, pick any you like."

"And what do you think?"

"To be honest, I've never let myself seriously consider it. For me, the Visit is first and foremost a unique event that could potentially allow us to skip a few rungs in the ladder of progress. Like a trip into the future of technology. Say, like Isaac Newton finding a modern microwave emitter in his laboratory."

"Newton wouldn't have understood a thing."

"You'd be surprised! Newton was a very smart man."

"Oh yeah? Anyway, never mind Newton. What do you actually think about the Visit? Even if not seriously."

"Fine, I'll tell you. But I have to warn you, Richard, that your question falls under the umbrella of a pseudoscience called xenology. Xenology is an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption - that an alien race would be psychologically human."

"Why flawed?" asked Noonan.

"Because biologists have already been burned attempting to apply human psychology to animals. Earth animals, I note."

"Just a second", said Noonan. "That's totally different. We're talking about the psychology of intelligent beings."

"True. And that would be just fine, if we knew what intelligence was."

"And we don't?" asked Noonan in surprise.

"Believe it or not, we don't. We usually proceed from a trivial definition: intelligence is the attribute of man that separates his activity from that of the animals. It's a kind of attempt to distinguish the master from his dog, who seems to understand everything but can't speak. However, this trivial definition does lead to wittier ones. They are based on depressing observations of the aforementioned human activity. For example: intelligence is the ability of a living creature to perform pointless or unnatural acts."

"Yes, that's us", agreed Noonan.

"Unfortunately. Or here's a definition-hypothesis. Intelligence is a complex instinct which hasn't yet fully matured. The idea is that instinctive activity is always natural and useful. A million years will pass, the instinct will mature, and we will cease making the mistakes which are probably an integral part of intelligence. And then, if anything in the universe changes, we will happily become extinct - again, precisely because we've lost the art of making mistakes, that is, trying various things not prescribed by a rigid code."

"Somehow this all sounds so . . . demeaning."

"All right, then here's another definition - a very lofty and noble one. Intelligence is the ability to harness the powers of the surrounding world without destroying the said world."

Noonan grimaced and shook his head. "No", he said. "That's a bit much . . . That's not us. Well, how about the idea that humans, unlike animals, have an overpowering need for knowledge? I've read that somewhere."

"So have I", said Valentine. "But the issue is that man, at least the average man, can easily overcome this need. In my opinion, the need doesn't exist at all. There's a need to understand, but that doesn't require knowledge. The God hypothesis, for example, allows you to have an unparalleled understanding of absolutely everything while knowing absolutely nothing . . . Give a man a highly simplified model of the world and interpret every event on the basis of this simple model. This approach requires no knowledge. A few rote formulas, plus some so-called intuition, some so-called practical acumen, and some so-called common sense."

"Wait", said Noonan. He finished his beer and banged the empty stein down on the table. "Don't get off track. Let's put it this way. A man meets an alien. How does each figure out that the other is intelligent?"

"No idea", Valentine said merrily. "All I've read on the subject reduces to a vicious circle. If they are capable of contact, then they are intelligent. And conversely, if they are intelligent, then they are capable of contact. And in general: if an alien creature has the honor of being psychologically human, then it's intelligent. That's how it is, Richard. Read Vonnegut?"

"Damn it", said Noonan. "And here I thought you'd sorted everything out."

"Even a monkey can sort things", observed Valentine.

"No, wait", said Noonan. For some reason, he felt cheated. "But if you don't even know such simple things . . . All right, never mind intelligence. Looks like there's no making heads or tails of it. But about the Visit? What do you think about the Visit?"

"Certainly", said Valentine. "Imagine a picnic - "

Noonan jumped. "What did you say?"

"A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras . . . A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about . . . Scattered rags, burnt-out bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp . . . and, of course, there are the remains of the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone's handkerchief, someone's penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow . . ."

"I get it", said Noonan. "A roadside picnic."

"Exactly. A picnic by the side of some space road. And you ask me whether they'll come back . . ."

"Let me have a smoke", said Noonan. "Damn your pseudoscience! Somehow this isn't at all how I envisioned it."

"That's your right", observed Valentine.

"What, you mean they never even noticed us?"

"Why?"

"Or at least they paid no attention."

"I wouldn't get too disappointed if I were you", advised Valentine.

Noonan took a drag, coughed, and threw the cigarette down. "All the same", he said stubbornly. "It couldn't be . . . Damn you scientists! Where do you get this disdain for man? Why do you constantly need to put him down?"

"Wait", said Valentine. "Listen. 'You ask: what makes man great?'" he quoted. "'Is it that he re-created nature? That he harnessed forces of almost-cosmic proportions? That in a brief time he has conquered the planet and opened a window onto the universe? No! It is that despite all this, he has survived, and intends to continue doing so.'"

There was silence. Noonan was thinking. "Maybe", he said uncertainly. "Of course, from that point of view . . ."

"Don't get so upset", Valentine said kindly. "The picnic is only my hypothesis. And not even a hypothesis, really, but an impression. So-called serious xenologists try to justify interpretations that are much more respectable and flattering to human vanity. For example, that the Visit hasn't happened yet, that the real Visit is yet to come. Some higher intelligence came to Earth and left us containers with samples of their material culture. They expect us to study these samples and make a technological leap, enabling us to send back a signal indicating we're truly ready for contact. How's that?"

"That's much better", said Noonan. "I see that even among the scientists there are decent men."

"Or here's another one. The Visit did take place, but it is by no means over. We're actually in contact as we speak, we just don't know it. The aliens are holed up in the Zones and are carefully studying us, simultaneously preparing us for the 'time of cruel miracles.'"

"Now that I understand!" said Noonan. "At least it explains the mysterious bustle in the ruins of the factory. By the way, your picnic doesn't account for that."

"Why not?" disagreed Valentine. "Some little girl might have dropped her favorite windup doll."

"Now cut that out", said Noonan emphatically. "Some doll - the ground is shaking. Then again, of course, it could be a doll . . . Want some beer? Rosalie! Come here, old lady! Two beers for the xenologists! It really is a pleasure to talk to you", he told Valentine. "A real brain cleansing - like someone poured Epsom salts under my skull. Otherwise, you work and work, but you never think about why or what for, grapple with what might happen, try to lighten your load . . ."

They brought the beer. Noonan took a sip and, looking over the foam, saw Valentine with an expression of fastidious skepticism, examining his stein.

"What, you don't like it?" he asked, licking his lips.

"To be honest, I don't drink", said Valentine with hesitation.

"Oh yeah?" said Noonan in astonishment.

"Damn it!" said Valentine. "There has to be one nondrinker in the world." He decisively pushed the stein away. "Order me a cognac, then", he said.

[end of excerpt]







[excerpt: page 139]


Valentine had apparently become tipsy. He was speaking louder, his cheeks had turned rosy, and the eyebrows above the dark glasses had risen high in his forehead, wrinkling his brow. "Rosalie!" he barked. "More cognac! A large shot!"

"I like nondrinkers", said Noonan with respect.

"Don't get distracted!" said Valentine strictly. "Listen to what I'm telling you. It's very strange."

[end of excerpt]






[excerpt: pages 195-209]





AFTERWORD

BY BORIS STRUGATSKY




The story of writing this novel (in contrast to the story of publishing it) doesn't include anything amusing or even instructive. The novel was conceived in February 1970, when my brother and I got together in Komarovo, a Russian town on the Gulf of Finland, to write The Doomed City. At odd moments during evening strolls through the deserted, snow-covered streets of that tourist town, we thought of a number of new plots, including those of the future Space Mowgli and the future Roadside Picnic.

We kept a journal of our discussions, and the very first entry looks like this:


. . . A monkey and a tin can. Thirty years after the alien visit, the remains of the junk they left behind are at the center of quests and adventures, investigations and misfortunes. The growth of superstition, a department attempting to assume power through owning the junk, an organization seeking to destroy it (knowledge fallen from the sky is useless and pernicious; any discovery could only lead to evil applications). Prospectors revered as wizards. A decline in the stature of science. Abandoned ecosystems (an almost dead battery), reanimated corpses from a wide variety of time periods. . . .



In these same notes, the confirmed and final title - Roadside Picnic - makes an appearance, but the concept of a "stalker" is nowhere to be seen; there are only "prospectors". Almost a year later, in January 1971, again in Komarovo, we developed a very thorough and painstakingly detailed plan of the novel, but even in this plan, literally on the eve of the day we finally stopped coming up with the plot and started writing it, our drafts didn't include the word "stalker". Future stalkers were still called "trappers": "trapper Redrick Schuhart", "the trapper's girlfriend Guta", "the trapper's little brother Sedwick". Apparently, the term "stalker" came to us in the process of working on the first pages of the book. As for the "prospectors" and "trappers", we didn't like those terms to begin with; I remember this well.

We were the ones who introduced the English word "stalker" into the Russian language. Stalker - pronounced "stullker" in Russian - is one of the few words we "coined" that came into common use. Stalker spread far and wide, although I'd guess that this was mainly because of the 1979 film of that name, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and based on our book. But even Tarkovsky latched on to it for a reason - our word must really have turned out precise, resonant, and full of meaning. It would have been more correct to say "stawker" instead of "stullker", but the thing is, we didn't take it from a dictionary at all - we took it from one of Rudyard Kipling's novels, the old prerevolutionary translation of which was called The Reckless Bunch (or something like that) - about rambunctious English schoolkids from the end of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century and their ringleader, a crafty and mischievous kid nicknamed Stalky. In his tender years Arkady, while still a student at the Military Institute for Foreign Languages, received from me a copy of Kipling's Stalky & Co. that I happened to pick up at a flea market; he read it, was delighted, and right then made a rough translation called Stullky and Company, which became one of the favorite books of my school and college years. So when we were thinking of the word "stalker", we undoubtedly had in mind the streetwise Stullky, a tough and even ruthless youth, who, however, was by no means without a certain boyish chivalry and generosity. And at the time it didn't even cross our minds that his name wasn't Stullky at all, but was actually pronounced "stawky".

Roadside Picnic was written without any delays or crises in just three stages. On January 19, 1971, we started the rough draft, and on November 3 of the same year we finished a good copy. In the interim we kept busy with a wide variety of (typically idiotic) pursuits - wrote complaints to the "Ruling Senate" (i.e., the secretariat of the Moscow Writers' Organization), answered letters (which, sitting side by side, we did fairly rarely), composed a government application for a full-length popular-science film called The Meeting of Worlds (about contact with another intelligence), wrote three shorts for the popular Soviet television series Fitil (or something like it), thought of a plot for the TV movie They Chose Rybkin, worked out a first draft of the plot of the new novel Strange Doings at the Octopus Reef, and so on and so forth - there were no follow-ups or ultimate outcomes for any of these scribbles, and they have absolutely no relation to subsequent events.

Remarkably, the Picnic had a relatively easy passage through the Leningrad Avrora (a Soviet literary journal), not encountering substantial difficulties and sustaining damage only during the editing, and minor damage at that. Of course, the manuscript had to be purged of various "shits" and "bastards", but these were all familiar trivialities, beloved by writers the world over; the authors didn't retreat from a single principal position, and the magazine version appeared at the end of the summer of 1972, practically unscathed.

The saga of the Picnic at the publisher Young Guard (YG) was only beginning then. Actually, strictly speaking, it began in early 1971, when the Picnic didn't yet exist on paper and the novel was only being offered in the broadest of terms in an application for an anthology. This putative anthology was called Unintended Meetings, was dedicated to the problem of humanity's contact with another intelligence, and consisted of three novels, two finished - Dead Mountaineer's Hotel and Space Mowgli - and one that was still being written.

Difficulties began immediately.


03/16/71 - AS: . . . the higher-ups read the anthology, but are hemming and hawing and saying nothing definite. By their request, the anthology was given to a certain doctor of historical sciences (?) to review - on the grounds that he really likes science fiction. . . . Then the manuscript, along with this review, will come back to Avramenko [the assistant head editor] (probably to give her a chance to reevaluate the existing, but secret, assessment?), and after that will make its way to Osipov [the head editor], and only then will we be apprised of our fate. Bastards. Critics.

04/16/71 - AS: I saw Bella at the YG. She said there's nothing doing. Avramenko asked her to try to be diplomatic about it: to tell us that there's no paper, and they are all booked up, and so on, so forth, but she told me straight out that somewhere in the upper echelons they suggested having nothing to do with the Strugatskys for the time being. . . . That's the hegemony bearing down!



And the Picnic wasn't written yet, and we're talking, essentially, about novels that have never caused a Big Ideological Disturbance, about little stories that are completely harmless and even apolitical. It's just that the higher-ups wanted nothing to do with those Strugatskys at all, and this overall reluctance was being superimposed on a difficult situation within the publishing house: this was right at the time that the change of leadership was taking place, when they were beginning to root out all the best things created by the then-editorial SF staff under Sergei Georgievich Zhemaitis and Bella Grigorievna Kliueva, due to whose cares and labors flourished the second generation of Soviet science fiction.

At the start of the 1980s, Arkady and I were giving serious thought to the project of gathering, organizing, and disseminating, at least by samizdat, "A History of One Publication" (or "How It's Done") - a compendium of genuine documents (letters, reviews, complaints, applications, authorial wails and howls in written form) related to the history of publishing the anthology Unintended Meetings, whose key novel turned out to be the Picnic. At one time, I had even begun systematically sorting and selecting the existing materials, but soon gave it up; it was dead-end work, a laborious task with no future, and there was a certain palpable immodesty in the whole project - who were we, after all, to use our own example to illustrate the functioning of the ideological machine of the 1970s, especially against the background of the fates of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Georgi Vladimov, Vladimir Voinovich, and many, many other worthies?

The project was abandoned, but we returned to it once more after the beginning of perestroika in the mid-1980s, during the dawn of the new and even newest times, when there appeared a real possibility of not merely passing around a certain collection of materials but of publishing it according to all the rules, with didactic commentary and venomous descriptions of the main characters, many of whom had retained their positions at the time and were capable of influencing literary processes. We were joined by indefatigable ludens [a Strugatsky term indicating a subspecies of humans with superior mental powers - tr.]: Vadim Kazakov, a science fiction expert and literary critic from Saratov, and his friends. I relayed all the materials to them - the compendium was for the most part ready - but pretty soon it became clear that there was no real possibility of publishing it; no one had the money for this kind of publication, which was unlikely to be profitable. Besides, things were happening at breakneck speed: the putsch, Arkady's passing, the fall of the USSR, the democratic revolution - a velvet revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. For a period of literally months, our project lost the most minimal relevance.

And now I'm sitting behind a desk, staring at three reasonably thick folders lying in front of me, and am aware of a disappointment mixed with uncertainty and a noticeable touch of bewilderment. Inside these folders are the letters to the Young Guard publishing house (to the editors, the managing editor, the head editor, the director), complaints to the Central Committee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (CC AULYCL), plaintive petitions to the Department of Culture of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU), and, of course, replies from all these organizations and our letters to each other - a veritable mountain of paper, by the most conservative calculation more than two hundred documents - and I have no idea now what to do with it all.

At first, I was looking forward to using this afterword to tell the story of publishing the Picnic: naming once-hated names; jeering to my heart's content at the cowards, idiots, informers, and scoundrels; astounding the reader with the absurdity, idiocy, and meanness of the world we're all from; being ironic and instructive, deliberately objective and ruthless, benevolent and caustic all at once. And now I'm sitting here, looking at these folders, and realizing that I'm hopelessly late and that no one needs me - not my irony, not my generosity, and not my burnt-out hatred. They have ceased to exist, those once-powerful organizations with almost unlimited right to allow and to hinder; they have ceased to exist and are forgotten to such an extent that it would be tedious and dull to explain to the present-day reader who is who, why it didn't make sense to complain to the Department of Culture of the CC, why the only thing to do was to complain to the Department of Print and Propaganda, and who were Albert Andreevich Beliaev, Pyotr Nilovich Demichev, and Mikhail Vasilyevich Zimyanin - and these were the tigers and elephants of the Soviet ideological fauna, rulers of destinies, deciders of fates! Who remembers them today, and who cares about those of them who are still among the living? So then why bother with the small fry - the shrill crowd of petty bureaucrats of ideology, the countless ideological demons, who caused untold and immeasurable harm and whose vileness and meanness require (as they liked to write in the nineteenth century) a mightier, sharper, and more experienced pen than my own? I don't even want to mention them here - let them be swallowed up by the past, like evil spirits, and disappear . . .

If I did, after all, decide to publish here even a simple list of pertinent documents with a brief description of each one, this list would look approximately like this:

04/30/75A->B (the editors have "serious doubts" about RP)
05/06/75A letter from A&BS to Medvedev with a request for an editorial response
06/25/75A letter from Ziberov explaining the delay
07/08/75The editorial response from Medvedev and Ziberov
07/21/75A reply from A&BS to the editorial response
08/23/75B->A (the anthology was touched up and sent to the editors back in July)
09/01/75A notification from Ziberov acknowledging receipt of the manuscript
11/05/75A letter from Medvedev rejecting the Picnic
11/17/75A letter from A&BS to Medvedev arguing against the rejection
11/17/75A letter from Medvedev to B expressing perplexity
01/08/76A letter from A&BS to Poleschuk with a complaint about Medvedev
01/24/76A notification from Parshin acknowledging the receipt of the letter to the CC AULYCL
02/20/76A letter from Parshin about measures taken
03/10/76B->A (proposing letters to Parshin and Sinelnikov)
03/24/76A letter from A&BS to Parshin with a reminder
03/24/76A letter from A&BS to Sinelnikov with a reminder
03/30/76A letter from Parshin about measures taken
04/05/76A->B (suggesting a letter to higher authorities)
04/12/76A letter from Medvedev rejecting the Picnic


And so on, so forth. Who needs this today, and who today would read it?

But if not this, then what is there left to write about? Without this tedious/boring list and the gloomy/spiteful commentary on it, how do you tell the story of publishing the Picnic - a story that is in a certain sense almost mysterious? Because this novel probably wasn't without its flaws, but at the same time it was also not without evident merits: it was clearly gripping, capable of making a reasonably strong impression on a reader (it did, after all, inspire a remarkable reader like Andrei Tarkovsky to make an outstanding film); at the same time it certainly didn't contain any criticism of the existing order and, on the contrary, seemed to be in line with the reigning anti-bourgeois ideology. So then why, for what mysterious - mystical? infernal? - reasons was it doomed to spend more than eight years passing through the publishing house?

At first, the publisher didn't want to enter into a contract about the anthology at all; then it did but for some reason revolted against the novel Dead Mountaineer's Hotel; then it seemed to agree to replace Dead Mountaineer's Hotel with the previously approved novel Hard to Be a God, but then it categorically revolted against the Picnic. . . It's impossible here to even give a brief account of this battle; it turns out to be too long - it was eight years, after all. There were unexpected repudiations of the publisher's own demands (suddenly, for no reason at all, down with Hard to Be a God!) and five or six renewals of the contract, and even sudden attempts to break off the relationship entirely (all the way up to court!). But mainly, and the whole time, and obstinately and invariably, from one year to the next, from one conversation to the next, from one letter to the next: take the reanimated corpses out of the Picnic; change Redrick Schuhart's language; insert the word "Soviet" when talking about Kirill Panov; get rid of the bleakness, hopelessness, coarseness, savageness . . .

I've preserved a remarkable document: the page-by-page comments on the novel Roadside Picnic by the language editors. The comments span eighteen (!) pages and are divided into sections: "Comments Concerning the Immoral Behavior of the Heroes", "Comments Concerning Physical Violence", and "Comments About Vulgarisms and Slang Expressions". I can't allow myself not to produce a couple of excerpts. And keep in mind: I am in no way selecting quotes, not looking for idiocies on purpose; I'm presenting the comments in order, beginning with a paragraph from the explanatory letter that accompanied the pages:


Of course, we [the editors] only copied out those expressions and words that, in our opinion, require either removal or substitution. These comments are first and foremost dictated by the fact that your book is intended for teenagers and young people, for members of the Young Communist League who see Soviet literature as a textbook on morals, a guidebook to life.


COMMENTS CONCERNING THE IMMORAL BEHAVIOR OF THE HEROES
[there are 93 comments in all; the first 10 are presented]

must stick your fat ass - p. 21

I'll walk on my teeth, never mind my hands - p. 21

crawling on all fours - p. 32

take out the flask, unscrew it, and attach myself to it like a leech - p. 35

suck the flask dry - p. 35

I need just one more sip - p. 35

I'll get plastered tonight. I gotta beat Richard, that's the thing! The bastard sure knows how to play - p. 38

And I need a drink - I just can't wait - p. 42

I would have been happy to drink with you to that - p. 42

. . . without saying a word pours me a shot of vodka. I clamber up onto the stool, take a sip, grimace, shake my head, and take another sip - p. 43 . . .


COMMENTS CONCERNING PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
[there are 36 comments in all; the last 9 are presented]

grabbed a heavy beer stein from the bar and smashed it with all his might into the nearest roaring mug - p. 179

Redrick felt in his pocket, picked out a nut that weighed about an ounce, and, taking aim, flung it at Arthur. It hit him right in the back of the head. The boy gasped [etc.] - p. 182

Next time I'll knock a couple of teeth out - p. 182

kicked Redrick in the face with his free leg, and wriggled and flopped around [etc.] - p. 185

convulsively kneading the head of this damned kid with his chest, couldn't take it anymore and screamed as hard as he could - p. 185

Now that cute little face appeared to be a black-and-gray mask made of ashes and coagulated blood [etc.] - p. 185

Redrick threw him facedown into the largest puddle - p. 186

may those bastards suffer, let them eat shit like I did - p. 202

He hit himself hard in the face with a half-open fist - p. 202


COMMENTS ABOUT VULGARISMS AND SLANG EXPRESSIONS
[there are 251 comments in all, an arbitrary 10 from the middle are presented]

he suddenly began to curse, impotently and spitefully, using vile, dirty words, showering Redrick with spittle . . . - p. 72

Put in your teeth and let's go - p. 72

the Butcher cursed - p. 74

You're scum. . . . A vulture - p. 74

asshole - p. 76

I'm dying of hunger! - p. 77

The Monkey was dozing peacefully - p. 77

he was dirty as hell - p. 78

To hell with this! - p. 82

beeped at some African - p. 85 . . .



I remember that upon receipt of this amazing document, I rushed straight to my bookshelves and joyously brought forth our beloved and unsurpassed Jaroslav Hasek. With what unutterable delight did I read:


Life is no finishing school for young ladies. Everyone speaks the way he is made. The protocol chief, Dr. Guth, speaks differently from Palivec, the landlord of The Chalice, and this novel is neither a handbook of drawing-room refinement nor a teaching manual of expressions to be used in polite society. . . .

It was once said, and very rightly, that a man who is well brought-up may read anything. The only people who boggle at what is perfectly natural are those who are the worst swine and the finest experts in filth. In their utterly contemptible pseudo-morality they ignore the contents and madly attack individual words.

Years ago I read a criticism of a novelette, in which the critic was furious because the author had written: "He blew his nose and wiped it." He said that it went against everything beautiful and exalted which literature should give the nation.

This is only a small illustration of what bloody fools are born under the sun.



Oh, how sweet it would be to quote all this to the gentlemen from Young Guard! And to add something from myself in the same vein. But, alas, this would be completely pointless and maybe even tactically wrong. Besides, as it became clear to us many, many years later, we had completely misunderstood the motivations and psychology of these people.

You see, we had then sincerely assumed that our editors were simply afraid of the higher-ups and didn't want to make themselves vulnerable by publishing yet another dubious work by extremely dubious authors. And the entire time, in all our letters and applications, we took great pains to emphasize that which to us seemed completely obvious: the novel contained nothing criminal; it was quite ideologically appropriate and certainly not dangerous in that sense. And the fact that the world depicted in it was coarse, cruel, and hopeless, well, that was how it had to be - it was the world of "decaying capitalism and triumphant bourgeois ideology".

It didn't even cross our minds that the issue had nothing to do with ideology. They, those quintessential "bloody fools", actually did think this way: that language must be as colorless, smooth, and glossy as possible and certainly shouldn't be at all coarse; that science fiction necessarily has to be fantastic and on no account should have anything to do with crude, observable, and brutal reality; that the reader must in general be protected from reality - let him live by daydreams, reveries, and beautiful incorporeal ideas. The heroes of a novel shouldn't "walk", they should "advance"; not talk but "utter"; on no account "yell" but only "exclaim". This was a certain peculiar aesthetic, a reasonably self-contained notion of literature in general and of science fiction in particular - a peculiar worldview, if you like. One that's rather widespread, by the way, and relatively harmless, but only under the condition that the holder of this worldview isn't given the chance to influence the literary process.

However, judging from a letter I wrote to Arkady on August 4, 1977:


. . . Medvedev has been dealt with in the following way: a) Fifty-three stylistic changes from the "Vulgarisms" list have been made - it's explained in the letter that this is done in respect for the requests from the CC AULYCL. b) Interpretations of corpses as cyborgs for investigating earthlings, and of the Sphere - as some kind of bionic device which detects biological currents - have been inserted; it's explained in the letter that this was done to be left in peace. c) The letter further states that the remaining demands of the editors (concerning violence and so on) are actually an ideological mistake, as they result in glossing over capitalist reality. Everything has been sent with a request for a notification, and judging from the notification, has been received at the YG on the 26th of July of this year. To hell, to hell . . .



That was the very height of battle. Much, much more still lay ahead: further paroxysms of editorial vigilance, attempts to break the contract with the authors entirely, our complaints and plaintive petitions to the All-Union Agency on Copyrights (AUAC), CC AULYCL, CC CPSU . . .

The Unintended Meetings anthology saw the light of day in the autumn of 1980, disfigured, massacred, and pathetic. The only thing remaining from the original plan was Space Mowgli; Dead Mountaineer's Hotel had been lost on the fields of battle more than five years before, while the Picnic had undergone such editing that the authors wanted neither to read it nor even simply to flip through its pages.

But the authors prevailed. This was one of the rarest occurrences in the history of Soviet publishing: the publisher didn't want to release a book but the authors forced it to. Experts thought that such a thing was completely impossible. It turns out that it was possible. Eight years. Fourteen letters to the "big" and "little" Central Committees. Two hundred degrading corrections of the text. An incalculable amount of nervous energy wasted on trivialities . . . Yes, the authors prevailed; there's no arguing with that.

But it was a Pyrrhic victory.

Nonetheless, the Picnic was and still is the most popular of the Strugatsky novels - at least abroad. It's possible that this is due to Tarkovsky's brilliant film Stalker acting as a catalyst. But the fact remains: some fifty editions in twenty countries, including the United States (three editions), the United Kingdom (four), France (two), Germany (seven), Spain (two, one in Catalan), Poland (six), the Czech Republic (five), Italy (three), Finland (two), Bulgaria (four), and so on. In Russia, Roadside Picnic is also fairly highly acclaimed, although it lags behind, say, Monday Starts on Saturday. Roadside Picnic lives on and maybe will even make it to the third decade of the twenty-first century.

Of course, the text of the Picnic presented here is completely restored and returned to the authors' version. But to this day, I find the Unintended Meetings anthology unpleasant to even hold in my hands, never mind read.

[end of excerpt]












[start of notes]



I have in my possession a paper copy of Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

Details from one of the first few pages:
- It was published in Russian in 1972.
- An English translation by A W Bouis was published in 1977.
- An English translation by Olena Bormashenko was published in 2012
- This copy is the 2012 version.
- The 2012 version was published by Gollancz in Great Britain, and printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd.

I obtained a starting text by the following process:
- Experiment with various search phrases and examine the results.
- Browse to sixth result of googling "roadside picnic pdf":
http://kupdf.com/download/arkady-and-boris-strugatsky-roadside-picnic-pdf_59f39260e2b6f5ac27b8d2a3_pdf
- Click "Download PDF".
- Click "Download PDF (1.2 MB)".

This PDF version contained text information, not scanned images, so I was able to copy the excerpted text directly.

The copied text was accurate, but I still had to clean it (e.g. by removing extra tabs, spaces, line breaks, and hyphens, by changing various non-ASCII byte sequences to ASCII ones, by reformatting). I was able to do a lot of this cleaning using the replace-and-find and replace-all capabilities of TextWrangler.



Changes from the original text:
- I have removed word-breaking hyphens.
- I have not preserved the original line breaks. I treat each paragraph as a single line.
- I have not preserved page divisions or page numbers.
- I have replaced the original indentation at the start of each paragraph with an empty line after each paragraph.
- I have substituted a hyphen with a space either side of it ( - ) for the em dash used in the original text. I have also made this substitution for every double em dash.
- In the original text, the single and double quotation marks were curled to indicate whether they were positioned at the start or end of a phrase / sentence / sentence_group. I have replaced them with straight quotation marks.
- I have replaced curled apostrophes with straight single quotation marks.
- I have moved punctuation out from between quotation marks if it is not relevant to the text within those quotation marks.
- When a sentence includes another sentence that is quoted to indicate speech, I haven't always included a final punctuation mark at the end of the quoted sentence.
Example: "Order me a cognac, then", he said.
- The blockquoted sections in the afterword were originally indented and set in a slightly smaller font than the default. I changed the indents to blockquotes in order to maintain a visual distinction between these sections and the main text.
-- One exception: The table that contains a list of documents and their dates.
- The "&" symbol in the phrase "Stalky & Co." was originally a more stylised version of the "&" symbol.
- The "s" in "Hasek" in the name "Jaroslav Hasek" originally had a caron above it.


[end of notes]