I have recently been reading Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The short science fiction novel is set after an extraterrestrial event called the Visitation that affects the ecology of certain areas of the planet. At first it is intriguing, exciting and captivating, but after a well it gets a little…well, I don’t want to hold myself back too much on this, but essentially the book grows preachy, boring and soulless. You wouldn’t expect it from a science fiction story about aliens, but the Strugatsky’s were strangely able to turn a quirky science fiction plot into a Russian soapbox.
Why do so many authors do this? They create an elaborate story that holds themes and subtle nuances that indicate a more sophisticated and complicated theory, but then stop the fictional side of things completely and just write about their uninteresting gripes and groanings. Roadside Picnic indicates certain political standings in its characters and their circumstances, but then two of these characters suddenly stop what they’re doing to drink in a pub together and discuss a heavy load of political and scientific issues. Pages and pages go on like this before the plot is resumed, and quite frankly it’s self-obsessed, infuriating and downright dull.
I absolutely adore Nineteen Eighty-Four, but Orwell also managed to fall into this trap halfway through writing. Unlike Roadside Picnic, however, Orwell’s ramblings are interesting and inserted in a way that doesn’t affect the overall flow of the novel, but it’s still a large chunk of text that has nothing to do with the story so much as Orwell’s personal political agenda.
Literature is all about opinions, politics and experiences, but why make them so blatantly obvious? It seems as though some writers panic that their message has not been entirely understood and so set out in making an impossible-to-miss manifesto right slap bang in the middle of an otherwise entertaining read. I want to know the Strugatsky’s opinions on their soviet society, governmental censorship and a whole host of other communist-related matters, but if I wanted it presented to me in a such an eye-wateringly straightforward manner then I would read their autobiographies. I primarily began their novel for entertainment purposes, and I think it should be my decision whether I come away with more than that or not.