I never played the video game Metro 2033 or even Metro: Last Light. They’re both horror games, so my natural reaction was to avoid them like the plague. However, when I heard that these games were based on a book, I was instantly intrigued about the book. I knew very little about the video games, other than they took place in a post-apocalyptic world where the inhabitants fled to the underground subway systems to escape nuclear fallout. And as video games do, there are monsters in the metro that need killing or something, and if they see you, they’ll kill you on sight. The games always reviewed okay, but they never really offered anything new. Yet, I still wanted to check out the book. I started the Metro 2033 book several times and then put it down, because Russian literature is the driest form of literature on the planet. This time I forced myself to forge ahead. I was going to finish it or rage quit it for good.
While I did finish the book, it’s incredibly difficult for me to recommend. On the one hand, the philosophy behind life in the metro is profoundly deep and can apply to everyone and everything. On the other hand, so much was not explained that I can’t let go. On top of that, Russian literature is extremely dry.
We don’t know exactly how long it’s been since the bombs fell in Russia, but there are enough elderly residents who remember the days on the surface to suggest it’s only been about 20 years. The protagonist, Artyom, does not remember life on the surface, although he most likely was there as an infant. He’s living as comfortably as possible at the VDNKh metro station, doing what he and the others can to survive day to day. As we can’t have an interesting story with Artyom hanging out in his comfort zone, he is tasked on a secret mission to travel several stations away and warn Polis of the impending problem with the “dark ones” around VDNKh. Throughout this insane journey, Artyom comes across all types of people, all types of governments, and several supernatural encounters that are never explained.
For instance, early on in Artyom’s quest, he travels with a young man who asked him to find out what happened to a few of his friends as they traveled to a neighboring station. Along the way, this companion suddenly starts to mutter nonsense and swivels his head around to Artyom so sharply, he breaks his neck. No one ever explains this incident. It’s never once investigated. No one has a reason for what happened or why it happened.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time something weird happens in the metro tunnels that is never once explained. The author may not have explained any of it because there is no explanation for the weirdness that would inevitably happen after a nuclear war. However, in a post-apocalyptic novel with a realistic setting, I really craved such logical explanations.
That aside, as I said earlier, the philosophy underlying the entire book was as fabulous as it was dark. The sad state of array across the metro stations, from the paranoid citizens to the fascists to the communist revolutionaries to the stations run by gangs to the stations trying to live in peace, is an incredible presentation of our own lives and nations above the metro. I could easily see how the politics of the metro reflect our own political situations, which is downright scary indeed.
In addition, the completely unexpected reveal at the end, literally at the very end, gobsmacks the reader in the face about the true nature of humanity. Humankind has been forced to run into the ground due to war and violence, and what does every station have in common? How does each and every metro citizen cope with a problem? It’s unfortunately the same reason why they live in the metro to begin with. It was only these last two pages of the novel that turned me away from disliking the book entirely.
I don’t regret my time with the Metro 2033 book, but I can’t recommend it either without a whole lot of caveats. Be prepared for it to start super slow. Be prepared for a boring writing style. Be prepared to have very few things explained. And be prepared for a dark, yet realistic look at mankind.