The aliens have already packed up and left as Roadside Picnic begins, but their brief and apparently pointless visit has left the earth irrevocably altered. And in writing this brief, beguiling novel of first contact, the Strugatsky brothers forever altered the terrain of science fiction; their book has gone on to inspire successive generations of artists and writers, most famously Andrei Tarkovsky and Jeff VanderMeer.
In my mind, the thing that really makes this edition essential for science fiction readers is the forward provided by another pillar of the genre, Ursula K. Le Guin. In a few short, pithy pages, Le Guin uses the numerous possible readings of Roadside Picnic--a parable of Soviet failure? a referendum on human intelligence?--to prompt a much broader meditation on the possibilities of the genre.