I love science fiction. i love grand space operas, post singularity tales, and epics of mankind getting out there and doing business with, dominating, or even just competing on a more-or-less level footing with alien civilisations.
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky offers a completely different view of frst contact - the aliens stopped by on their way to somewhere else, they didn’t notice us, they left some of their crap behind, they went.
Roadside Picnic paints a picture of how incredibly unimportant are the struggles of mankind and individual men (and women of course, but this was written in the 70s, so…). In the aftermath of the visitations, research institutes are set up to study incomprehensible alien artefacts, while stalkers steal and sell the same artefacts to the highest bidder. No-one understands the artefacts even if potential uses can be devised or derived.
The zones themselves are a nightmare of alien weirdness. Physics works differently in the zones: the biological effects can be deadly and bizarre. No-one knows why.
If you ever pondered on humanity’s place in the universe and suspected that as a species and a planet, we are insignificant dots on the asshole of creation, Roadside Picnic is the book for you.