Metro 2033 is actually a remarkably good read, despite my initial scepticism. I was introduced to the book by my housemate who suggested I read it, saying it was probably my cup of tea, even though they have since based a first-person shooter game on it – hence my concern*. The book is Russian in origin and has meticulously been translated into English – although by the end of the book you begin to see more and more typos as the translator clearly got bored and began slipping up. As you would expect from a Russian author, the book is set in Russia – Moscow to be specific, and is set in a world where nuclear obliteration has wiped out most of mankind and the remaining humans have been forced to adapt to life underground due to the deadly amounts of radiation present on the surface. The story is based around the survivors living in the various stations of the Moscow metro, where life varies from station to station dependant on resources, geographical position within the metro and political and religious ideologies and governments, as well as the various hazards the metro possesses. Humans have adapted to life in the metro in many ways, including the adjustment to near-darkness – with eyes now unable to handle the blinding light that daylight would pose, and a diet of mainly mushrooms and other fungi, mosses and pig, which they have managed to farm below ground in minimal light. The tunnels linking the metro stations are still feared by most inhabitants, with very few men braving the journey from station to station except for trade or matters of greatest importance.
Our plot follows a young man named Artyom who has spent most of his life in the metro and has been raised by a man named Sukhoi who adopted him after his mother was killed while fleeing a station which was overrun by tides of giant, mutated, carnivorous rats – one for your nightmares. Our story begins in a station called VDNKh which is where our protagonist has lived most of his life and whose day-to-day activities include helping the station survive by working at the tea factory – the stations main export which is a bitter tea made from dried mushrooms – and doing shifts guarding the station borders from increasing attack from the ‘Dark Ones’ – mysterious creatures who appear vaguely humanoid, but with black skin, wide eyes and a seeming resilience to pain and attack. Artyom (and everyone else’s) fear of the Dark Ones is great, as they emerge from the pitch black tunnels and wreak havoc, while being exceptionally difficult to kill. The threat seems to be increasing and the station is beginning to fear for its own survival.
Early into the book we are met with the arrival of Hunter – a mysterious traveller who is good friends with Sukhoi and has come to investigate the impending threat of the Dark Ones. Sukhoi believes that mankind’s slow demise is inevitable and there is little point left in fighting it, where as Hunter believes that mankind should always fight to survive and wishes to find a way to prevent the destruction of VDNKh and possibly the whole metro. Hunter discusses this with Artyom and manages to convince Artyom to agree to take a message to Polis – the station at the heart of the metro, known for being a haven of civilisation – if Hunter fails to return from a mission of investigation down the tunnel which the Dark Ones appear from. Shock, shock, Hunter does not return and Artyom is thrust into an adventure through the metro to get to Polis – carrying a warning about the Metro’s impending doom.
*spoilers* During this quest Artyom is met by friends and foes, encountering crazy religious gurus, military men, communists, neo-nazis, giant worm worshipping cannibals, mutants, druggies and a plethora of more normal people with various beliefs about life and death – forcing Artyom to question his beliefs about God and the purpose of his life and mission. He also encounters the dangers of the metro itself – bizarre, half supernatural occurrences such as whispering pipes that turn people crazy – seriously creepy, horrific monsters with hypnotic powers and a sinister presence that lurks and attacks in various parts of the metro.
Eventually we have the world above revealed to us as well, encountering an overgrown wasteland of a semi-destroyed city. Artyom’s encounter with ‘The Librarians’ – a species of creepy, lanky, mutant creatures who hunt in packs throughout the Moscow library is truly scary, as are several of the other new species he encounters on the surface. I’ll not spoil the ending, but I was alas a bit unsatisfied – it was as though the writer was bored and just wanted to get the book wrapped up. The one good thing about the game adaption to the book is that apparently you can choose between two endings – the real one, and the one that I would prefer.
Metro 2033 is really a very good book. Several bits of it genuinely freaked me out a bit, and there is a huge variety of characters, lifestyles and beliefs that makes the book diverse and constantly fresh. The Metro is both creepy and enticing and some of the creatures and oddities that are revealed really catch your interest. Any criticisms would have to include my inability to really follow where Artyom was travelling from and to – even with a metro map printed out next to me (courtesy of my housemate) I’m sure certain parts of the book and the environment would make more sense to me if I were Russian, but overall the book is good and deserves to be read.
Apparently a sequel of the book has been written, featuring Hunter, however it is yet to be translated from the Russian, so I guess I will have to wait.
*I’m not a massive video game fan, especially not first-person shooters – I fail in my ability to aim, shoot, change weapon and walk all at the same time, and then I panic…
Written by Liz 🙂