(Full disclosure: this is cross-posted over on my writing blog)

Boris Strugatsky, one (and the surviving) half of the legendary writing team the Strugatsky Brothers, passed away yesterday at the age of 79 (his brother Arkady died in 1991).

They were barely known in the US, but these Russian authors were, in my opinion, among the finest SF writers of the 20th century, writing thoughtful, original, compelling stories.

If you’re interested in checking them out, I highly recommend their most famous work, the novel Roadside Picnic (which was made into a Tarkovsky film called Stalker). The latest US edition is a trade paperback that includes a fascinating afterword by Boris, describing the novel’s torturous route to publication in the former USSR.

The book tells of a slightly-future world, in which aliens have abruptly descended and just as suddenly left, with no explanation of their brief presence. In their wake are large areas in several parts of the world filled with their leavings; strange alien technology. Only scientists are legally allowed into the zones to retrieve items for study, but most of the scientists (and some private collectors) are happy to hire stalkers, men who are reckless or desperate enough to enter and face things that make no sense in a human world and have no application they can figure out. Many of them end up dead, zapped by objects they can’t understand.

The novel follows one particular stalker, and through him shows us the most poignant part of the story: that even the surviving stalkers don’t escape unscathed; in fact, their children pay the price for their parent’s exposure to the zone.We must watch as our main character’s daughter slowly devolves (evolves) into something less (or more?) than human.

It’s an amazing book, but is also just one amazing story among many the Strugatskys authored. Give them a chance, and you’ll be sucked in as surely as I was.