The core concept is one I enjoy, it deals with a first contact situation but in an unusual way. In this instance the aliens don't seem to notice or care about our presence as they pass through. The analogy of the roadside picnic is a fun one. It also touches on an excession event (Ian M Banks covers a similar topic in his fabulous 'Excession') where the technology we discover from the alien's passing is way beyond our understanding. And this generates an interesting dynamic to how the world tries to deal with it in different ways.
The focus on the story is about a stalker - someone who enters the zones looking for alien technology to recover and sell. For the most part the story comes from Red, one of the stalkers and is told in an almost stream of consciousness fashion which brings you close to his thoughts. He's a well rounded character, but not particuarly likeable and represents the underbelly of mankind's attempts to take advantage of the visitation.
The writing is crisp and the pace quick making this a surprisingly easy read considering the subject matter. I would have liked to have discovered a bit more about the visitation itself. The drunken conversation with a scientist lays some tantalising clues and ideas. However the lack of detail maintains the mystery and also the danger in the process. Overall this is an excellent read and deserving of its classic status.
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Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those misfits who are compelled, in spite of the extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artefacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. Even the nature of his mutant daughter has been determined by the Zone and it is for her that he makes his last, tragic foray into the hazardous and hostile territory.