Despite the pleasant sounding title, Roadside Picnic is easily one of the darker science fiction novels to come out of the East Bloc in the mid-20th century, and has some scenes that will keep you up at night:
- What happened to the residents of the Plague Quarter after the Visitation is never explored in detail. What we are told, though, isn't pretty. In the first chapter, Red describes a math teacher he had while growing up in Harmont who lived in the Quarter. The plague apparently caused the loss of his skin and fingernails. Most of the victims who weren't elderly apparently didn't die, but this may or may not be a good thing depending on whether and to what extent they recovered.
- Hell Slime is a poisonous blue goop that can slowly liquefy a person's body after even minor contact. This is apparently a very painful process, accompanied by plenty of screaming and requiring amputation of any affected body part. It can also turn some materials into more of itself which ends in tragedy for the unscrupulous lab looking to weaponize it.
- The fate of children born to parents who spend too much (or possibly any) time in the Zones. While they may initially look unusual but behave normally, they slowly become more animalistic until they reach the point where they are no longer really human.
- The reanimated corpses. The Zone is capable of bringing a person buried there back to life, but only in the sense that their body gets up and moves. They're bloated, decomposing, stinking horrors made harmless but maybe more terrible by the fact that they only want to go home. In a later chapter Red's father comes back like this, leading to a scene where Red pretends that he is still alive while his old friend Noonan is in the room. The corpse even tries to drink a small amount of alcohol from a glass cup (and eventually succeeds).
- The sound sometimes made by the corpses and by children mutated by the Zone. The sound is enough to drive the protagonist to a week long drinking binge although the fact that it comes from his own father and daughter doesn't help.
- The Meat Grinder. An artifact "guarding", probably by coincidence, the Golden Sphere. It kills its victims by slowly ringing them, like a wet towel being drained of water, and melting them into solid black putty. Its only survivor, a man named Gopher, is mangled physically and mentally beyond recognition and forced into service to the man who fed him into it.