I first became aware of this novel, as did most of the non-Russian world, because of the video game. I haven’t played it yet, but I hope to do so at some point in the future. Anyway, I ran across a short interview some gaming magazine did with Glukhovsky about the follow-up game Metro: Last Light, and determined that this was a book I had to get my hands on. How could I pass it up? I have a weakness for post-apocalyptic stuff in general (or at least I’ve liked most of it I’ve encountered thus far), and the premise was intriguing.
In 2013, the world ended in nuclear fire. The only survivors are those lucky few who managed to escape to the Moscow Metro system, which acts as a massive fallout shelter. (Other authors, with Glukhovsky’s blessing, have explored the Metros of other major cities across the world, which are ostensibly serving a similar function. I wouldn’t know personally, since so far none of the other material has made it into English.) Twenty years later, humanity still huddles in the tunnels of the Metro. Those who remember the surface are growing fewer every day, through the ravages of time, radiation sickness, or the depredations of bandits and mutants. Each station on the Metro has taken on the character of individual countries, with several empires and alliances being forged in the darkness. There’s a group of stations that have reverted to Communism, some that have taken up fascism, a group that have embraced capitalistic trade and the riches it brings, and a whole bunch of other stations caught between the quarreling powers. Above it all stands Polis, perhaps the only place in the Metro that they at least attempt to remember how man once lived. Artyom knows all this only from stories, of course; as long as he can remember, he’s never been further from his home station of VDNKh than the guard post at the three-hundredth meter. Well, except for that one night when he and a couple friends sneaked over to the abandoned station down the line and ventured to the surface, just for a moment. They got scared stiff by noises in the dark, and the door refused to close behind them….In the days since, a steady stream of nigh-indestructible mutants, the Dark Ones, has slowly assaulted the station, with the attacks growing more frequent with every passing week. Now Artyom has to leave VDNKh behind, venturing to legendary Polis with an urgent plea for help, before the Dark Ones overrun first VDNKh and then the entire Metro….
My reactions to this book were mixed. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the book. It was very atmospheric, placing you deep inside this darkened world and the head of Artyom, a young man who has never seen the sun or (at the start) walked under the stars. The world itself is very developed, even if we don’t always get a lot of information on certain sections. On the other hand, I get the impression that the translation was very hurried and sloppy, undertaken on a deadline to meet the game’s release date. Dialogue often felt very stilted and didn’t flow well (I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt and blaming the unnamed translator for this out of professional courtesy), and there were a small number of typos and similar mistakes embedded in the book–always surprising to find in a professionally-published work. Other elements I felt more ambiguously about. The plot reads like an old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and is honestly pretty repetitive at times, but every step of the way we are treated to philosophical musings on everything from religion to human nature. I was also surprised at the level of mysticism present in the novel. I don’t have any real objection to that kind of thing, I just wasn’t expecting it here. Its not something usually found in conjunction with the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaust. Am I sorry I read it? No. I do think it would benefit from a better translation though, a proper one this time.
CONTENT: R-rated language. Some sexual innuendo, including a mother attempting to sell her son’s company to Artyom, much to his disgust. Frequent, occasionally gory and disturbing violence, both of the human and monster/unexplained varieties. There’s a strange mysticism underlying the novel, from a conversation with two mysterious old men in a station that is supposedly uninhabited to possible sightings of a god that was supposedly made up by a cannibalistic cult up to and including a battle with a hypnotic slime monster. Yes, you read that right.