Dmitry Glukhovsky is possibly the best dystopian author I have ever read. Oh aye, I’ve read several of the classics: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, War of the Worlds by Orson Welles, and others; to a lesser dystopian degree, Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden, and the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I’ve also played many dystopian games, such as the Crysis series, Left for Dead (less mood than gameplay, unfortunately), Mass Effect, and others…
But nothing comes close to the sheer setting of Metro 2033. It’s perfect: the world powers tipped their deadly hands and lit the earth up with nuclear weapons. The only survivors were those in especially-protected untargeted buildings and people who were in the Russian (or in this case, in Moscow’s) metro system. The surface was rendered uninhabitable: the air turned and remains toxic, the radiation lingers indefinitely, and the sun glares down through a damaged atmosphere.
The setting is (almost terrifyingly) plausible. I’ve traveled in Moscow’s metro myself, and its surviving a nuclear surface strike looks very likely (although I am not sure what the physical blast radius of a nuclear missile is). Most of the metro is more than sixty meters deep: the deepest part is seventy-four meters below the streets above. Some stations have two long escalators between the entrance and the trains; others have an escalator and several stairways.
In the book, the metro stations have been turned into towns with city-state roles (many of them are slums, but a few flourish with trade). Trade between these miniature city-states revolves around food and fuel and firearms. Cattle is nonexistent; pigs and chickens are the only livestock, as they can survive on scraps of just about anything. Rats make poor-man’s meat. Farming is minimal, due of the lack of sunlight.
Insanity and terror abound. The tunnels between stations are smotheringly dark, and people rarely dare to travel alone. An unwritten rule states that unless three or more people go, the trip is doomed. Cut-throats and bandits stalk some of the tunnels, but more often it is mutants, creatures, or madness that turns travelers around. Some of the most remote stations have turned primal.
In terms of writing, Dmitry demonstrates strong imagination (and quite a bit of originality, too). His descriptions are fantastic and gritty. Every station is slightly different, as Artyom, the main character, notices. Some of them are worse off than his own, with poorer lighting and more terrifying shadows. A couple are so brightly-lit that he must wear shaded glasses to protect his eyes. Most stations are grimy. Some abandoned ones are layered with dust. Dmitry even breathes dystopian life into tiny outposts.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as excited by the story. Although Artyom sets out on a perilous journey, the majority of the conflict is either internal or psychological (the latter being caused by the “oppressive” darkness. Political – man versus man – conflict also features, but for me the setting begged for the tunnels to contain something more dangerous than darkness and ghosts. Rats (although not during Metro 2033‘s timeline) seemed to be the most dangerous creatures in the tunnels. Story-wise, I preferred the computer game; there, mutant creatures haunt the caverns – and ignoring any noise is dangerous.
Human nature goes beyond wrong. Dystopia in all its glory. The metro system is rife with insanity and darkness, and chief among the problems is the phoenixes of the Nazis and Communists. To a slightly lesser extent, satanists and cannibals prey on people who stray near or into their territory.
I mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again: Dmitry Glukhovsky has the perfect setting for his dystopian story. I almost envy him – but as a fellow writer, I congratulate him. I learned much from your novel and the book-inspired game, Dmitry, and I will make use of that knowledge. You have my thanks.