Next up: “Metro 2033” by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
This is a Russian post-apocalyptic novel, the first of a series; it is followed by “Metro 2034” and the upcoming “Metro 2035”. There is also a video game based on the first book, and the third book is rumored to be an expanded novelization of the second video game (Metro: Last Light). I bought the first game for my husband, who has a lot of interest in Russian things, and then we got the book when we realized the game was based on one.
In 2013, the Doomsday Clock hit midnight and nuclear war erupted. The Moscow Metro was designed to function as a fallout shelter as well as public transportation, so people who took refuge in it survived, for the most part. Now, twenty years later, the Metro has become a microcosm of civilization. Stations have become sort of city-states, groups of them unified under the rule of various factions. Gun bullets have become the new currency.
But they are not completely safe in the underground. The fallout has created terrifying creatures that sometimes attack stations, the world above is still lethally radioactive, there is a plague in the Metro, and the factions are violent towards each other. Enter into this world, our protagonist, Artyom. Artyom is a 20-year-old security guard at VDNKh station, a small independent station that is currently experiencing hardships. The terrifying Dark Ones are coming closer and closer to the station, threatening all that live within, and all that live further down the line.
The plot is Artyom’s journey to Polis, a powerful central station/faction to ask for help against the threat. Artyom travels to many stations in his quest, interacting with several factions, and gaining and losing several companions. Over the course of the novel, Artyom also learns a strange truth about the mysterious and frightening Dark Ones.
I enjoyed this better as a video game than a novel, for a couple reasons. First, the emotions in the novel are kind of lacking; I didn’t feel much for the characters while reading it, but the game puts you in a first-person position, so it’s you facing down Fourth Reich soldiers, it’s you running from the Dark Ones, it’s you watching your companions get killed. It makes it more immediate and thus stronger. Second, in the book, Artyom is incredibly passive. Almost everyone he meets pushes him around and he just goes along with it. I’ve never been a fan of that type of protagonist. Making Artyom the game’s avatar, the character you control, makes him more active because you make him more active. Third, this book is so Russian oh my god. I’m not sure quite how to describe it, but the style of narration, the way sentences are constructed, the way ideas are conveyed seems incredibly Russian. If you’ve read other Russian literature, you probably know what I mean. It’s… thick. It’s a little hard to read for long periods of time.
The story is interesting, though it is very dark (happy ending? Hope? Hahaha!). I was a little disappointed that the world wasn’t as explored as much as I had hoped; there are still a lot of things left unexplained at the end, though probably the sequels address at least some of those questions.
If you like first-person shooter video games, definitely grab this one (I think they’ve made a ‘redux’ version with both games and improved gameplay). If you can handle very dry writing, give the book a try.