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!

Love and Marriage, for all

Overnight station shifts often meant solitude while he waited for a call to come in, a trial Scott considered a lonely necessity at its best and a nerve-wracking tedium at its worst. Some of the other men on the squad appreciated the quiet away from wives and children. Not Scott. Noise and commotion had become a part of his life these last seven months, but it was worth it for the blessing of little Emma.

Finchy wasn’t nearly as exciting to be around as his daughter (or his wife), but he was company to keep the silence and boredom at bay well enough. And, he seemed lonely, of late. He was also a more than passable cook, so his offer of bringing supper to the station to hang out was one Scott couldn’t refuse.

“That was great, mate,” Scott said as he eased back a bit from the duty desk. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Finchy replied easily, and took a long swig from his water bottle.

Looking at his empty plate, Scott chuckled. “I love my wife, but I’m lucky she knows how to use a microwave. You’ll make some lady very happy, some day.”

Finchy blew a snort from around the mouth of his bottle. “I don’t think there’s any woman to satisfy me that much.”

“You just haven’t found the right one, yet.”

“Yeah,” Finchy muttered in a lazy drawl. “Rub my nose in it.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Scott told him. “There’s a lot more than just this village, you know. I mean, I didn’t meet Venus here.”

“I know,” Finchy said. “I was there, too.”

Scott fell silent, reminded of that flashy, crowded club on the first night of Newquay’s Blue Surf competition almost three years past, where Finchy had spotted that Black beauty with the killer smile and unflappable attitude. Every member of their crew – save Neville – had tried to pull her, with no success. Of course, the next day, they’d found out she was a surfer in her own right: Vee, they called her, “for Victory,” though she’d introduced herself to Scott in particular as Venus Pritchard. Thinking back on it, now, his scores that comp had been shit…but he’d had a hell of a night in her bungalow to make up for it.

Lost in those memories a moment, he didn’t notice Niall swoop in from the outside and plant himself in the other seat across the desk until he opened his mouth:

“Did you know Nev is-” He dropped his voice. “-a poofter?”

Scott looked at him in mild surprise, while Finchy furrowed his brow and said, “Yeah, I know. And don’t call him that.”

“Whuh-!” Niall said, leaving his mouth hang open a second. “You knew? How long have you known?”

Finchy shrugged. “He told me, like, two years ago.”

Niall pointed at Scott. “Did you know?”

Scott nodded, feeling a bit lame. “Yeah. He told me and Venus a while ago, too.”

Niall fell back against his chair. “Did everybody know but me?” He turned to Finchy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why?” Finchy said, and raised his brow with sudden interest. “Are you gay, too?”

“No!”

“So, if you’re not interested in him, why should you care?”

Niall paused a second, his face gone blank; Scott figured he hadn’t thought that far. Of course, he didn’t usually think at all….

“Well,” Niall struggled out, now. “What if…What if he fancies me?”

“He doesn’t,” Finchy replied readily.

“How’d you know?”

“Because no self-respecting human – gay or straight – would ever fancy you.

“All right,” Scott muttered, extending one hand. “That was a little uncalled-for. We all have to work together.”

“That is exactly my point!” Niall said, pointing one finger around at them again, as he half-stood from his chair. “I-! I mean, we all are in…very close quarters…a lot, and…well, sometimes, I don’t wear anything under my suit, and what if, you know, when I take it off, that’s, like, too much a temptation for him? Or something?”

“Jesus!” Finchy said, scolding. “He’s not a rapist.”

Niall went from looking ill at ease to pained. “No, I’m not saying that, but-!”

“Listen,” Scott told him in a low voice, leaning across the desk. It felt a bit like speaking with a special needs child, but Niall did have some special need, at the moment. “Nev’s always been this way. You’ve known him for years, and it’s never bothered you before.”

“Well, I didn’t know before!”

“What difference should it make? He’s still Nev. He’s still ace on his board, and he’s still our mate! The way you feel about him shouldn’t change just because you suddenly found out he’s gay.”

Niall paused, as though thoughtful. Scott couldn’t easily tell; the look of contemplation on his face was so foreign.

“Yeah,” Finchy said then. “You’re an idiot, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you.”

Shooting him a guarded look, Niall murmured cautiously, “How do you feel about me?”

“You’re an idiot,” Finchy repeated, making Scott snort a chuckle under his breath. Then, sitting up from his lackadaisical lean, he added, “And another thing: Whenever you go straight skins under your suit, you don’t take that off in front of any of us. Nobody wants to see that!”

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By Luistravasso (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, news came of the passage into law in England and Wales the ability for same-sex couples to marry. Some stipulations still apply, of course, because government doesn’t make anything easy, these days. But, it’s a step forward toward the equality that should have existed for couples of all variations years ago. Here in the US, the status of a person in general – including marriage – is determined by the individual states, so it creates a much more divided issue, depending where you happen to live.

I won’t get into any controversy of marriage – or laws associated with it – here. The news did prompt me to scribble down this bit of free writing, though, which I always appreciate, no matter what the impetus.

I’ve always seen Scott as “the dad” of the crew. Because he is one, but I also thought his perspective – coming from being in an interracial relationship – gives him an extra insight into other less traditional romances. And, I like the idea of hearing from some of the supporting characters in the story.

As for Niall…. Poor Niall. At heart, he’s a good guy. He’s just…not terribly quick. I hope his struggle with his own articulations, here, paints a picture of someone who’s just a little confused, not truly bigoted, especially against a friend.

Now, it’s stiflingly hot, here, so I’m going to grab my own wetsuit and head for the beach. And maybe I’ll go skins, too.

How do love and marriage figure in your stories, if at all?

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