People of a Post-Nuclear Russia: The 'Metro 2033' Series

Metro 2033 (Метро 2033) tells the story of the 40,000 survivors who escaped to the subway tunnels of the Metro beneath Moscow when nuclear conflict escalated to war between Russia and the United States in 2018. For the survivors, life went on, in a fashion. Precious ammunition counts as currency in the Metro, where people live day-to-day cultivating mushrooms, tending to pigs, and defending their home stations from mutated creatures and hostile invaders from other stations on the line. Now, a new threat has arrived: Dark Ones – neither creature nor man but some strange psychic being in-between – have started to encroach on VDNKh Station. Artyom, who was only five years old when the missiles struck, and who remembers the surface world only as a vague dream, is entrusted with a dangerous mission to destroy the Dark Ones. But that means leaving VDNKh, making his way through the warring factions of the Metro, and confronting the horrors on the surface. Along the way, he will discover a secret about the Dark Ones that could change the course of humanity forever.

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My ‘Metro 2033’ collection of novels.

First published online by young Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky in 2002, Metro 2033 was followed by Metro 2034 in 2009, and Metro 2035 in 2015. A videogame adaptation of the first book came in 2010 from developer 4A Games, which, admittedly, was my introduction to the series, with a follow-up sequel in 2013. [If you are only familiar with the game/s, but you liked the world presented there, and if you’re dedicated enough to make it through some dense Russian fiction, I recommend the books.]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy_noGX3GpM?rel=0?ecver=1&w=560&h=315]

While the author was born and the books themselves take place well after the Cold War, all three include critical – at times even damning – observations on communism and fascism. These two ideologies are on display throughout the books as the primary warring factions, the Reds and the Fourth Reich. A third group, Hansa, is a free trade coalition, while the sub-stations that comprise Polis at the center of the Metro map represent a kind of intellectual oligarchy. Artyom’s interactions with all of these small nation-states (nation-stations?) form the backdrop of the Metro’s bleak survivalist landscape.

I’ve just finished reading the third book, but I could almost go back and re-read all three of them again right away. Not because they’re great masterpieces, but because I simply felt for this story, both on the page and beyond it. I’ve seen a lot of frightening similarities to the “old Moscow” told in these books to the current world in which we live, and I hope we don’t make the same mistakes the killers and the survivors in these books do.

The first book is definitely a freshman work; Glukhovsky wrote it when he was only eighteen. The reader – especially a non-Russian-reading one – will feel the lack of a professional editor. The text is also incredibly dense, with long passages of history and exposition. But, the world and the characters of the Metro are so damn compelling, and the situation so close to the reality we’re experiencing today, that I was willing to forgive the writerly missteps, and just enjoyed being swept along Artyom’s journey through this speculative-future-Moscow and its subterranean tunnels.

The second book (Metro 2034) is more polished, with fewer characters and tighter story arcs; the third (Metro 2035) even more so. There’s something about that first book, though, that really spoke to me. The characters feel like people one could actually meet in this bleak, nihilistic situation. Each man (the cast is overwhelmingly dominated by men) has his own story. Some of them, like the Marxist Revolutionaries, we glimpse only for a few pages; others, like the young Brahmin who befriends Artyom in the sprawling Library station, we grow to care about. They all have their own goals, fears, and conflicts, and create a greater world with their individual stories.

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These books are not short. My edition of Metro 2033 clocks in at 460 pages; Metro 2034 runs 283 pages; Metro 2035 is a whopping 496 pages. A professional editor would, no doubt, carve out a lot of the characters and scenes, for reasons of time and space. But I’m glad they got to stay intact in the author’s vision. The books would definitely feel lesser for their loss.

I’ve always enjoyed speculative and science fiction, though most of my long-standing favorites are farther flung in time than the world of Metro 2033. And, much of my pleasure reading over the last few years has centered firmly around detective fiction. But I had a great time reading these books; I’m glad that the recent bundle sale of the games prompted me to look up the story that inspired them, and I’m grateful to have read a young author’s journey through a world of his own making.

Glukhovsky published the first book online, on his personal website, for free. No editor, no publisher; the book distribution came three years later, after it had already been read by thousands of people in Russia and overseas. It gives me hope that there are still people – “regular” readers – who are willing to take a chance on something new, something different, something personal that doesn’t necessarily have the stamp of a big-name publishing company on it. Hope for me as a writer…and for me as a person in the real world who doesn’t want to live someplace like the Metro.

What have you been reading lately?
If any of you have read these books, let me know! I’m dying to talk about them with somebody. 🙂
Happy reading!

I wish. I wish. I wish.

IDontReally

I wish I didn’t care whether other people like my stories or not.

I wish I didn’t care about reader responses or hit statistics or any of that pointless crap.

I wish I could tear out this part of me that does care, if only so I wouldn’t feel like such a useless, no-talent shit all of the time when my numbers don’t go up, and nobody says anything, and I feel so Goddamn alone.

I wish that part of me would go away. I wish that part of me would die. I wish I could just kill that part of myself, because I’m just so fucking tired of it all, and I know that if I didn’t care, all of this would be so. Much. Easier.

Howling

April 20 is the birthday of sweetpea Alawa, the wolf my family adopted/sponsors at Wolf Conservation Center. Happy birthday, Alawa!

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Our beautiful Alawa howling!

We first learned about Alawa via 4amwriter’s “Save El Lobo Writing Competition”, which put out the challenge to write an original piece showcasing wolves in a positive light, as both a learning and writing experience. I wrote a piece for the competition…but I also fell in love with the wolves at WCC, and with one wolf in particular: Alawa (ai-lay-ewa), whose name means “sweetpea” in Algonquin. You can read more about why in this earlier post.

Alawa is part of the Ambassador Pack of wolves under protection and care at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, about an hour outside of New York City. She lives there with her littermate Zephyr and their younger brother, Nikai. Alawa and her brothers descend from the Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolf. You can occasionally see one or more of them walking or roughhousing around their part of the conservation center on the WCC’s webcam.

Follow any of the wolf links above to learn more about the ambassador wolves or the Wolf Conservation Center in general. They offer tours, support opportunities, even camping nights under the stars with their wolves! You may even decide to adopt one of them, too. 🙂

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The adoption package for Alawa, from Wolf Conservation Center.

Update:

Alawa is doing well. She has even been recorded as having the “laziest” howl! 😀 Listen to her lazy howl here:

Giving Makes Me Feel Good

Last week, Kate Johnston, AKA 4amwriter, posted a writing contest on her blog. The contest involved writing a 250-word (max) story featuring wolves in a positive or hopeful light. Three entrants will be chosen as winners by Kate’s panel of judges on April 10, 2017.

It had been a while since I’d participated in a good, old fashioned writing contest, and this one was for such a good cause, I had to put down my editing/rewriting pen and give it a try. I’ll post my entry after the winners have officially been announced on the 4amwriter blog, so as not to potentially skew any of the judges, for good or ill. Not that anybody reads this blog anymore, let alone those judges, but I need to decide how to present my entry anyway (first draft with changes, or just final submission version?).

Part of Kate’s contest involved her donating $5 for every entry received. I was so touched by that endeavor, I decided to check out the site that prompted her to offer the contest in the first place. That site turned out to be the Wolf Conservation Center, a private, not-for-profit environmental education organization located in South Salem, NY. Per their webpage, the Wolf Conservation Center teaches people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and the human role in protecting their future.

I clicked through a bunch of the pages on the site, when I came to the Adopt a Wolf section. Now, I love looking at pictures of animals, and wolves have been a long-standing animal love of mine since the days of reading about the Wolfriders in Elfquest. I scrolled down the list of wolves, and then I saw her:

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It seemed so fitting. Those sparkling eyes, that wily smile, and her name: Alawa, meaning “sweetpea” in Algonquin. For those of you who have read my “Finding Mister Wright” series, you’ll know that one of the principal cast characters, Paige, has several nicknames, most of them involving the letter P: peanut, pickle, and, as her grandparents call her, sweetpea. Nobody else would remember that little detail, but I did. The word sprung out at me from the screen, making me think of all of the happiness I’ve felt sharing Paige’s and her family’s stories. And so, I just had to adopt this gorgeous girl.

I’ve felt weighted down for a long time. Even my writing has lacked a certain spirit. But, this adoption made me feel good. Not just for the charity, but for the feeling of being connected to a greater whole. It’s naive to think that my writing can connect people that way, though that is certainly something I strive for. What this good feeling of giving gave me was a breather, a moment of openness to a world made more beautiful for this creature’s presence in it. I can only hope for me and my stories to mean as much, someday.

Did you do a wolf-write for 4amwriter’s Save El Lobo contest? What version of my own entry might you like to see? Who are your favorite wolves from stories?

Nothing Special, But Why I Do It

A few years ago, we went to visit my in-laws. My mother-in-law, a professor at the time at a small, prestigious higher education institution, was talking about her students: young men and young women fortunate enough to be favored by talent as well as privilege. She spoke about how impressed she was by these students – deservedly so – but she also said, very specifically, how these young people were special. And, how we were – how I was – decidedly not special by comparison. How I was “mundane”.

Intellectually, I knew she was right. I’m not an Earhart, a Da Vinci, or a Hawking. I’m not epic; I won’t change the world; I have no revolutionary ideas. But, damn it, if hearing those words didn’t twist my guts around my spine and make me want to stab a stake into my hand.

I’ve also never completely gotten over that feeling of being called mundane.

I write all this without fear of repercussion or rebuke because (A) it’s true, and (B) nobody from that side of the family has ever read this blog, or anything I’ve written, actually. There’s a (C) reason in there, too, though. Because, while I might never be special, I still get up every day, and put forth my strongest effort at my job, support and care for my family the best that I can, and give my damnedest for every story I write. They’re not epic; they won’t change the world; they have no revolutionary ideas. But I still do it. Because if we don’t make the effort, what’s the point of any of it?

I wrote this year’s holiday story not to prove to anyone how special I am, or to force down anyone’s throat how special I think my stories are. I wrote it because I love these people and the little life situations they find themselves in. It’s a story about family, and love, and how we’re all worth it, even if we’re part of the mundane. Click the link if you’re interested (will open in a new post).

“Actually and Indeed”
A holiday “Finding Mister Wright” fic by Mayumi Hirtzel (c) 2016
~3400 words / 14 pages

Is there a type of story you like to write best: fantastic or ordinary? Maybe some combination of both?

Hope, courtesy of a birthday

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Timehop’s Abe wished me a happy birthday! (He forgot the comma, but that’s okay – he’s a dinosaur.)

I like birthdays. They are unique celebrations of an individual. Every other holiday and anniversary we share with one or more people, but a birthday is often for one person alone. Twins – or family or friends who otherwise share the same birthday – have a slightly different perspective, but there is still a uniqueness to a birthday, encompassing specific wishes for good health and good fortune for a person.

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Google got in on the action, too.

I wrote for my birthday, as a kind of a gift to myself. While I didn’t write about an actual birthday, this time, tapping out that short story made me think about all of the birthday scenes and chapters I have written over the years. Turns out, there are quite a few:

  • Peter, in 2007’s NaNoWriMo “Sixes and Sevens”
  • Larry (and Sally, too), in the Doctor Who-Lite Songbirds series short story “Slave Girls and Shining Knights”
  • Yousuke, in 1 More Chance! chapter 22, and Chie in chapter 25
  • Rob, in the “Finding Mister Wright” series short story “Thirty-Nine”
  • Ross, in chapter 19 of Fearless (a somewhat do-nothing chapter but which I’m loathe to lose all the same, for its lightheartedness among the rest of the story’s heavy emotional weight)
  • and Hell, in the Borderlands short story “Whack”
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Not to be left out, here’s Twitter’s note.

Birthdays represent hope. Thinking back on it, all of those chapters and short stories were about life and the role hope plays within it, whether it’s hope for the future, hope to be a better person, or hope simply to share more days with the people we love. It’s a toss-up whether any of those stories actually worked the way they were conceived to do…but the joy of writing them gave me purpose, at least for a little while.

I hope good things for you, dear reader, today and every day, especially if you, too, are a writer looking for purpose. Because why wait for a birthday to share that?

Do you like writing birthdays in your stories? If so, do they tend to be happy events, or sad ones? What present did you give to yourself on your last birthday? Let’s all have cake!

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