Gollancz, 2005, 458 pages
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory.
Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion.
VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro's best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.
This book actually takes place in Moscow, but I can't resist sharing my favorite Berlin tune. (It was the 80s! Don't judge!
Metro 2033 takes place after a nuclear war wiped out civilization. The survivors living in the Moscow subway tunnels believe they are the only humans left alive. Infested with giant rats, invaded by mutants and "Dark Ones" from the surface, each station in the old metro is now its own little city-state. A young man named Artyom is sent on a quest to another station. Along the way, he meets Nazis, communists, Satanists, monks, cannibals, and mutants, each station being a twisted microcosm of some element of the old world.
Metro 2033 is apparently a best-seller in Russia, having spawned sequels, fan-fiction, and an XBox game. Translated into English, it reads like an old-fashioned post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, with a man of the new world journeying through the wreckage of the old one, the sorts of stories that inspired games like Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha.
Being essentially a dungeon crawl, there are a lot of interesting encounters and some fun moments, but after a while I found Artyom's endless series of escapes followed by new disposable traveling companions to be a bit repetitive.
The writing translates well enough into English; while some of the prose and dialog seemed a bit clunky, the characters, even the minor ones, all had a degree of psychological depth that I've noticed seems to be a hallmark of Russian fiction.
Verdict: There seems to be a lot of good SF and fantasy coming out of Russia nowadays. Metro 2033 isn't terribly original and it gets a bit long, but it's a dark, violent, underground ride that should entertain any fan of post-apocalyptic fiction.
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