Science Fiction book review – Metro 2033

Metro 2033 English book cover
“It had been possible to develop a route by considering only the length of the journey and not how it would change the traveler walking it.”

While I don’t have a good enough PC to play the computer game, I was quite eager to read the Metro 2033 book that spawned it, being the post-apocalyptic fanboy that I am. Reading around the net, I managed to go into the book with relatively high expectations, starting on it right after Christmas and expecting to finish it around New Year’s. That was not the case, however.

Fortunately, the delay was caused in part by lots of fun to be had playing a bunch Game of Thrones and other board games, as well as preparation games of Warhammer Ancient Battles for an upcoming tournament. Unfortunately, the delay was also caused by the fact that, especially around the middle, the book tends to get quite tedious. To make matters a little bit worse, the English translation is quite crappy as well, at times brimming with false friends, and other times just plain confusing.

But enough about the bad stuff. Overall, I enjoyed the book (and am kinda pissed that I can’t play the video game too). Dmitry Glukhovsky created quite a lot of interesting characters (though he also seems adept at giving life to some perfectly clicheic ones as well) and managed to weave their stories and fates together entertainingly enough. Some of them die, some of them manage heroic feats, some are just plain lucky or simply disappear in the middle of the story. In short, most of what happens in the story is perfectly reasonable and, essentially, like in real life. There are some moments when the story goes off to bizzaro-land, but most of that is due to the whole thing being recounted from Artyom’s unreliable perspective, and the author manages to make his nightmares penetrate his waking reality quite seamlessly most of the time. Then there are also the gem-like tidbits of life outside the metro, from both before and after the nuclear strike, glimpses of

Of course, like in any decent sci fi book, there has to be plenty of philosophizing, and Glukhovsky seems to rather enjoy this part. As Artyom journeys through the metro and encounters various communities that divide the new, underground world like a shrunk mirror of the world-that-was, the author never misses the occasion to subtly (more or less) expand on his own opinion regarding each of them (making it painfully obvious for instance how little he thinks of religion). While this is normally a good thing in most books, the Russian diatribes tend to add to the tediousness of the book (especially around the middle part).

But once you make it past the middle point, the best part of the book begins, and the action really picks up. The author’s philosophizing will still follow Artyom like a shadow, but you begin to see more than just tunnels and stations – characters go up to the surface, encountering the strange new inhabitants of the Earth, sometimes fighting them off, other times running, and all leading up to a finale that will leave you going ‘huh?!’ and pining for the next book (Metro 2034, not yet translated into English). It’s not a cliffhanger, not like Martin’s Dance with fucking Dragons, but it leaves quite a lot of room for interpretation on what happens next, and I for one am eager to get the next book in my fingers.

Oh, and if you’re going to read the book, I heartily advise keeping track of Artyom’s journey using a map of the Moscow Metro. It helps a bit with all the somewhat confusing Russian station names (after a point most of them sound the same).

I’ll leave you with a few more lovely quotes I highlighted while reading the book:

“Humans had always been better at killing than any other living thing.”

“But the attitude of the people at the station towards books was such that they wouldn’t rip even one page out of the silliest pulp fiction. People revered books as though they were relics, as a final reminder of the wonderful world that had sunk into oblivion.”

“People tamed it, shackled it into pocket-watches and stop-watches – and for those that fold time on a chain, time flow evenly. But try to free it and you will see: it flows differently for different people, for some it is slow and viscous, counted in the inhalations and exhalations of smoked cigarettes, for others it races along, and they can only measure it in past lives.”

“He now viewed man as a clever machine for the decomposition of food and the production of shit, functioning without a hitch throughout a life without meaning”

“Time here did not pass according to the usual twenty-four-hour day; it passed along like a slug, in the seconds of an unending nightmare.”

“The difference between them was that the trip through the metro had force Artyom to see the world as if through a multi-faceted prism, but Ulman’s spartan life had taught him to view things simply: through the sight of a sniper’s rifle.”

“Any faith served man only as a crutch supporting him.”

“I have a safe full of dollars and roubles and nothing to do with them. That’s strange. It turns out they’re only bits of paper.”

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