Monday, 14 March 2011

Metro 2033

"Fear the Future"

A quick disclaimer, this a rveiw of the novel Metro 2033 and not the video game which I have not played, though a friend who has tells me the plot is fundamentally the same, so this may get into spoiler territory for both.

Metro 2033 by Dimitry Glukovsky is on one level the standard fiction tale of a young man growing up in a back water being a “chosen one” who must journey to the far corners of his world in order to save his home and by extension the rest of the world from a great external threat. That we've all seen in dozens of works for years. While on another level it is a complex, at times darkly comedic satire of Russia’s political history. Some stations are the run by Communists on the “red line” in clear reference to the Soviet Union, there’s also a Trotskyist station and a run in with some funny extremely dedicated but weird Trots. Three stations have been overrun by Fascists in a clear comment on the depressingly large “national Bolshevist” movement and the trend of Ultra nationalism in current Russian politics. The dominant faction in terms of stations under its control are the Hansa (short for Hanseatic league) a cabal of merchants who have embraced market capitalism, another critique of the rise in neo-liberalism in the 90’s. Some stations are run overtly by Mafiya’s and Caucasian gangs again a transparent comment on the rise of organised crime throughout the Russian Federation. Smaller factions include Jehovah witnesses again a group that has caused a bit of a stir in contemporary Russia.

The setting is of course the Moscow underground after a nuclear war in the near future hence the title, we never find out why the war was started and who exactly was involved, but we do know that humans cannot survive on the surface without environment suits and shielding without suffering extreme mutation. The Metro survivors subsist on a diet of moss, mushrooms and chicken, pig and rat, the only stable currency is ammunition meaning that you literally shoot money in a fight, which might explain why there have been so few overt takeover attempts between the factions, with the only one of note being a war between the reds and the Hansa that was resolved before the events of novel start.

Artyom our protagonist accidently opened a route to the surface as a child and now in his twenties it appears that large numbers of psychic mutants “the dark ones” have been entering the Metro and have begun encroaching on his home station VDNKH. Hunter a stalker embarked on a mission to seal the doors Artyom opened but presumably did not succeed. This means that Artyom via Hunter’s last request must journey throughout the Metro to Polis the closest thing to a city left underground and seek aide from the government there. Though initially a simple task the politics of the Metro force Artyom to take a painfully long and circuitous route to Polis frequently getting side tracked with some travelling companions. He frequently comes close to death particularly when being hung for shooting a Fascist officer only to be rescued by the aforementioned Trots. After finally making to Polis Artyom is forced to agree to a scheme by the cities scholars whom suspect him of being a prophet who can find them a sacred tome. This tome is located on the surface within the Moscow library a place infested with a type of mutant known only as the “librarians”.

After surviving the journey to the surface Artyom is given the information he seeks. It seems the key to his salvation is the location of a missile silo that was spared in the Great War, however getting there will require both a “rocket man” (a missile commander) and the location of a secret entrance to that Silo’s bunker found only on the hidden government underground Metro-2.

After a run in with a cult of cannibals Artyom and a group of Stalkers in the company of one of the few remaining “rocket men” discover Metro-2 and get to work on setting up the Missile launchers. Artyom is then tasked with aiding the missile targeting and must journey back on to the surface to a lookout post in order radio in coordinates. And the novel ends shortly after.

Before I get much further I should point out that there is a sequel cleverly named Metro 2034 however as far as I am aware that one has not yet been translated into English, it has however been translated into German so those who speak it or its original Russian might want to give it a try.

I have also omitted quite abit from the above synopsis because despite having the standard overall adventure plot Metro 2033 does have quite a few twists on the established tropes that would be ruined when spoiled. Also the first two chapters are easily the worst, the book has a lot of back story to establish and does so in the worst way, the first 40 pages out of a total of 459 are almost all flashbacks triggered by snippets Artyom hears whilst by the camp fire. Fortunately by the final half of the second chapter the writing gets immeasurable better, there are still frequent cases of exposition and background info being given to Artyom and by extension the reader but in those instances you not only have an established feel for the world of the Metro and have to come to grips with much of the establishing back story, and the fact that they take place in a more organic way in settings that make more sense given Artyom has never left his station before and needs information on the changing nature of the Metro particular its politics an area where the young man is especially clueless.

The tone of the book is very similar to Roadside picnic by the famous (to Russians anyway) Strugatsky brothers(they even have characters called stalkers) and of course the film it inspired though perhaps the comparison most well known to a Western audience would be the Ukrainian video games series S.T.A.L.K.E.R. not unsurprising given that both they and the game Metro 2033 share some of the development team.

I would definately recommend Metro 2033 to anyone intersted in the dystopian after the end style survival genre, as well as those who have an interest in Russian history and politics as well as Sci-Fi fans in general as aside from those first chapters and some translation hiccups it is an highly intelligent and enjoyable read.

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