I’m reading Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and translated by Olena Bormashenko.

In this book the word “spacell” is used and I cannot find a definition.

Heavy clouds were hanging over the city, it was muggy, and the rst hesitant raindrops were spreading into little black stars on the pavement. Throwing his raincoat over his head and shoulders, Noonan trotted along the long row of cars to his Peugeot, dived inside, and, tearing his raincoat off his head, threw it into the backseat. He took a round black spacell out of a side pocket of his jacket, inserted it into a jack on the dashboard, and pushed it in with his thumb until it clicked. Finally, wriggling his rear, he made himself comfortable behind the wheel and pressed on the gas. The Peugeot silently rolled into the middle of the street and raced toward the exit from the restricted area.

  • If you don't get an answer here, you might consider asking this on Science Fiction & Fantasy. Also note that this is a translation of a Russian word (itself possibly a new coinage), since the original novel was in Russian. Jun 23, 2023 at 13:54
  • Whether or not a candidate is accepted into the lexicon depends on how many people use it / understand it. Strugatsky being quite a well-known author, this may well be worded, but I don't think it has as yet. EE ('Doc') Smith's 'dextrobope' (if I remember it correctly) doesn't seem to have made it even after many years. Jun 23, 2023 at 14:09
  • 1
    I’m voting to have this question closed on ELU because it is far from being about mainstream English usage; Science Fiction & Fantasy is probably the best place to ask. Jun 23, 2023 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


Apparently, this is a sci-fi novel and sci-fi writers are wont to coining new words. This appears to be one such word.

A cursory internet search gave this result:

Most of what’s recovered out of the Zone is still poorly understood, and much of it appears to have no purpose. However, there are a few alien artifacts that have a profound technological impact, particularly the so-called spacells, small batteries that generate an enormous amount of energy and are capable of reproducing themselves.


Per zerogravitas.net, which is a SciFi lexicon, spacell means:

A perpetual power source of extraterrestrial inception.

Portmanteau of ‘space’ and (power-) ‘cell’.

Roadside Picnic

The definition is quite ambiguous, but the entry is tagged with tool, so that implies that the 'power source' is, in fact, coming from a tool or implement.

Another review of the book notes:

One of the most beneficial treasures salvaged by the stalkers is a small portable machine called a "spacell" ("so-so" in the original translation). This cannot be back-engineered by human scientists, but it can be made to reproduce itself. A spacell can be plugged into an electrical or mechanical device of any kind and it provides free, unlimited, clean and safe power for it.

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