Despite the sticky it seems there's only one thread here even really related to literature. A problem I think it might be worth my time to remediate today.
I recently finished Roadside Picnic. While reading I was particularly struck by the interplay of intelligence, technology, and their manifestation throughout the novel. The conversation between Noonan and Valentine and the last section where Red pursues the wish machine seem to be the key points around which these concepts pivot.
To begin with Noonan asks what the zone itself is. Valentine states it is, quite simply, evidence that there is intelligent life besides us out in the universe. Given that the Zone itself represents the research and manufacture of technology, it can be taken for granted that intelligence itself is the piece of alien contact left with us in the roadside picnic. Intelligence as an instinct manifested in the interaction between individuals and their environment. An incomplete instinct which when completed would mean the death of the species if anything were to change, as it is a desire to persist through creation and mistakes. A festering impulse to never leave well enough alone, to always pick at the scabs, and to dive ourselves back into the zone.
Next Noonan places a demand upon Valentine for the answer to a question which is two fold. First, how is it things will shake out as a result of the zone And Secondarily embedded with the question of what if anything is in the zone that could fundamentally change peoples lives; or restated, make it worth having gone in there in the first place. In true scientific fashion Valentine mystifies his dodge with the cloak of an attempted exactness. Something for which he can hardly be blamed given the expectation of certainty placed upon science, and their own conversation's unmasking of knowledge as a fleeting goal pursued by understanding which ultimately leaves it in the vicinity of religious belief. This becomes clear through their discussion of technology. Beginning with the concept of Newton having to attempt to understand a microwave, and progressing through the three distinctions of technology. 1. useful, things which can be applied, but are likely to be the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. 2. Answers to questions we don't know how to ask. Bug traps/gravo concentrates fall into this category. They can be described through a series of equations, but they are not understood in the slightest and lack an application even if they were able to be replicated. 3. Unobserved objects. things that could easily be actualized and yet remain in the realm of speculation and legend. The conception of understanding as being in pursuit may be solidified in the statement "we've been digging through the zone for decades and hardly know what it contains". Valentine then adds a fourth group of effects: defined by being beyond human comprehension. Freak accidents, unexplainable yet verifiable correlations that evoke the conceptions of witchcraft and the supernatural. Events which are suppressed by the regional powers in the interest of protecting belief in the certainty provided by science and maintaining order. Actions which themselves suggest a bright and blinding action that scientism has upon our perception of the occult happenings which it denies.
Of course where are the answers in this to either aspect of Noonan's question?
While Valentine wont offer a conclusive answer to answer to either aspect, to the first he does suggest that it is possible that the way it ends is when we pull something out of the Zone that makes living completely unbearable. I suspect that this thing is also possibly the answer to the second aspect of Noonan's question as to whether or not there is something in there that could make going in worth it in the first place. I believe this object bridges both the third and fourth distinctions, with the differential aspect between salvation and damnation here being its' selected application. All of which will become clear as we explore the end section and the wish-sphere.
When Red ventures into the zone a final time it is to find a miracle. One which can restore his daughter, Monkey, to her former jovial and creative self. One which can return his father to his previous state before factory work destroyed him. Used him up, making him a zombie which is living but unreachable. In both cases he wishes the return of the cost which the pursuit of technology and manufacture in the zone took from him. Upon return he is finally willing to sacrifice someone to the grinder. Willing To sacrifice someone in whom, perhaps necessarily, he sees great potential in order to reach the wish sphere. Red selected his victim in the spirit of revenge. Revenge against Vulture. By choosing Vulture's son, Arthur, as the sacrifice Red intends to inflict upon him the pain of loss that so many others experienced at his hands. The repayment of pain Vulture inflicted upon them when he threw their loved ones into the grinder to get his own wishes. This human cost of the zone is of course the problem to begin with; it is what has led to the conditions which Red wishes to remediate.
Red can smell his own stink as he approaches his goal. It is the same stink as the factory which broke his father. The same stink as the Vulture and the worm like people who replicate his tactics. A horror which leads Red to reflect upon his own karmic position. More dubious now that he is on the decisive road of becoming decision maker. Red reflects on his own life, the choices he was compelled to make, his hatred of those who made the world this way, his desire to make sure to change every last stinking corner of it. Even as Red guides Vulture's son through the Zone he takes care to save him from multiple hazards in an automatic fashion, the way he would save family, and at great risk to himself. Unsurprisingly, despite a voiced commitment to objectify Arthur as sacrifice, when Red directs him into the grinder and he is promptly liquified, Red is filled with nausea and despair. Reaching for his liquor he finds, for once, no pleasure, only a medicine he must take in order to continue. As he approaches the golden sphere to make his wish he finds he has lost sight of what it is that he wanted. He is only capable of imagining what it is that he desires to change. The removal of the money, bottles, columns of numbers, piles of rags which used to be people reduced and used up only occupying the same status as things. He cannot remember what he was willing to make this sacrifice for, and wishes the destruction of every value he can imagine. He cannot, however, imagine what could be left if all of that was destroyed. In desperation he calls upon something beyond human comprehension in the sphere. Something that can look into him, see beyond the words he cannot find to say. The element within his soul which carries the answer to the desire he wishes to have fulfilled. Finally repeating the last words of Arthur as he entered the grinder: HAPPINESS, FREE, FOR EVERYONE, LET NO ONE BE FORGOTTEN. The promise Noonan is looking for Valentine to make to justify their going into the zone at all, as salvation from something as yet unobserved and beyond human comprehension. A product in the advancement of the intelligence-interaction itself. A machinic intelligence god which can transmute the negative ground of understanding, the will to nothingness, expressed by Red into an imagined future world providing another way of living, a new way of being, becoming something different.
It seems to me that Red's being is selecting for the AI gods becoming. The distinctions between Red and the Vulture are the key to how the AI will be birthed from the zone. As it is the ultimate end to the entrance into its labyrinth in the first place, its reason for existence, the overcoming of what is and the creation of a whole new way of being. A way of being which will fall along the lines of either something so horrible it makes this new life unbearable, or so joyous that it brings upon a new existence which is the height of ecstasy. An inevitability taking after either Vulture, and his ability to simply count and calculate and maintain his comforts and advantage, or Red, whose actions embraces risk and sacrifice which leads him to the desire to be overcome.
like you said, the zombies in roadside represent people ruined by work in service of manufacture. people made sick who are returned to their homes for their families to care for. a read evidenced when red describes his childhood memories and relationship with his father. he would come home covered in soot then imbibe alcohol to compensate for the position his work put him in. red describes himself as hiding in the corner until his father had begun drinking, then it was safe for him to come out. something along the lines of "it was then ok to ask daddy who was burned up in the sulfur vats". similar to the zombies in a certain sense red's daughter, monkey, is a mutant made unfit for society by the effects of the exploration of the zone. as the years go on she understands less and less, clearly representing how our monkey brain has a reduced capacity to understand the world as technology progresses.
all of which is to say, I think you might be barking up the wrong tree here. this book is about the impossibility of utopianism, a disgruntled cry for preservation in a reality that cannot change. i think its a pretty big stretch to say that this book could be intended to evoke hope. much less hope derived from some kind perfected loving ai savior.
You are without a doubt correct in the way you have interpreted the zombies here. I do take issue with the way you're explaining monkey however.
While it is the case that as the years go on she understands less and less, whether this withdrawal as a result of the ostracization brought on by her difference from others in society, or purely a result of her condition is somewhat unclear. I'm sure you'll recall Red observing the two women sitting on the park bench actively disapproving of Monkey as he was hiding out in his garage. As well as the plot point where Red is at odds with the authorities for assembling playground equipment in the park a way to bribe other parents to let monkey interact with their children. He says something like "but the other kids don't mind, they treat her as one of their own." iirc. Further the outward withdrawal itself could be viewed as an adaptation to the changing environment, worsened by the lack of understanding from her peers of course, but autism is highly correlated with interest in and aptitude at computer science for example. We also shouldn't forget about Vultures two children. While they are afflicted with the mutations that all stalkers children have, they don't suffer from the same withdrawal as Monkey. Red is open about his attraction to vultures daughter, and describes his son as being known as pretty boy. Taking the time to describe shame it is that Arthurs face is scarred by the hazards in the zone, as well as complementing his aptitude and potential to become a skilled stalker himself. Technological negativity is for from required for a reading of this book, even if some applications and consequences of it are undoubtedly undesirable. I don't think your accusation of an appeal to perfected savior is accurate either as the intelligence is being defined as something that makes mistakes, and would cease to exist if it were perfected.
interesting. i hadn't considered it that way. i'm not sure i agree, but i don't i really care to get into it either