It is a mysterious city whose sun is switched on in the morning and switched off at night, bordered by an abyss on one side and an impossibly high wall on the other. Its inhabitants are people who were plucked from twentieth-century history at various times and places and left to govern themselves, advised by Mentors whose purpose seems inscrutable. This is life in the Experiment.
Andrei Voronin, a young astronomer plucked from Leningrad in the 1950s, is a die-hard believer in the Experiment, even though his first job in the city is as a garbage collector. As increasingly nightmarish scenarios begin to affect the city, he rises through the political hierarchy, with devastating effect.
Mysterious idealists trample individuality in a Kafkaesque world where disillusioned humans are taken from the 20th century and brought to a strange city where they're reduced to components in a maddeningly undefinable system. In a city where the sun is controlled by the rulers' whim, garbage collectors Andrei and Donald are forced by the possibly alien Overseers to obey the daily demands of the Experiment, run according to a dictatorial philosophy demanding complete faith. This is a world without food, logic, or identity. Restless Donald's suicide pushes Andrei to brave vicious animal uprisings, human rebellions, and abandoned ghost towns on a quest to discover the origin (and sinister motives) of the Overseers. The Strugatsky Brothers (Roadside Picnic) criticize not only Communism but all tyrannical governments in a startlingly original microcosm that captures humanity's despair and resolve. Andrei is the novel's heart's blood, embodying both maddening trust and relentless questioning. The City is the novel's greatest character, breathing misery and distortion upon its inhabitants. This unsettling and intelligent novel's chief terror resides in its underlying ideas.