The Snail on the Slope takes place in two worlds. One is the Administration, an institution run by a surreal, Kafkaesque bureaucracy whose aim is to govern the forest below. The other is the Forest, a place of fear, weird creatures, primitive people and violence. Peretz, who works at the Administration, wants to visit the Forest. Candide crashed in the Forest years ago and wants to return to the Administration. Their journeys are surprising and strange, and readers are left to puzzle out the mysteries of these foreign environments. The Strugatskys themselves called The Snail on the Slope "the most complete and important" of their works.
The Strugatsky brothers (Monday Starts on Saturday) wrote this intensely surreal science fiction picaresque in the 1960s, but its complete text was not published in Russia until 1988; since the Kafkaesque bureaucratic maze that takes up half the book can easily be read as a parody of Soviet Russia, its censoring is unsurprising, but there's much more to this novel than satire. The Administration, a massive and convoluted agency, exists for the purpose of studying the Forest, an unearthly no-man's-land where strange creatures live and biology seems to work very differently. Peretz, a visiting consultant, roams the Administration trying to find a way to either leave or meet with the Director, only to be stymied at every turn. Meanwhile, in the Forest, the crashed aviator Candide attempts to find his way back to the Administration, confounded by the Forest's odd effects on memory, dangerous creatures, and villages filled with people behaving strangely. The journey is intentionally confusing and disorienting, throwing standard narrative techniques and conventions out the window in favor of wild experimentation. This is both one of the book's greatest strengths and an amazing source of frustration. Eventually, each man's struggle sheds light on the other's society, and the plot comes together. Approached as a meditation on the human inability to comprehend more than a very small part of the universe, this is a surprisingly satisfying, if often perplexing, work.