The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #9 Metro 2033
Read more of this review (along with other apocolyptically bad writing at my blog)
I genuinely do like end of the world narratives, there’s something riveting about seeing what people will do when thrown into desperate situations, and rather than conduct unethical experiments with real human subjects, I’ll satisfy my curiosity with engaging fictional story telling. After all, what is Gulliver’s Travels if not the story of a man–deprived of the world he knew–surviving in a world beyond it? What is Candide if not one hapless student’s effort to endure cataclysmic events. What is The Wizard of Oz if not the story of a girl who survives a cataclysmic event only to discover the world a strangely mutated place? Into that tradition comes Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033.
The modern Russian novel has developed a cultish following around the world. Set in a post-nuclear war landscape, the plot requires one man (Artyom) to deliver dire news of dangerous mutants to the last vestiges of society–inside the labyrinthine Moscow subway system. So Artyom sets out from the only home he has known and struggles to navigate the complex political context of a world gone mad. Trudging through bureaucracy, ganglands, crazed cults, fascist prisons, communist rebel camps, and pseudo-metropolises.
While it might seem odd, I could not help but connect Metro 2033 to those canonical throughout the reading of it. A foreigner confronting strange customs and ideals in new lands–Gulliver; a young man striving for calm in the face of perilous situations–Candide; unusual alliances and a desperate desire to just go home again–you aren’t in Stalingrad any more Dorothy. As Artyom slogs through the tunnels of Moscow, his literary forerunners slog along with him.
Slog is the right word for it because Metro 2033 moves every bit as slowly as your typical Russian novel, without the same amount of character development. While the central conceit of surviving in a subway system after nuclear war is interesting, it never really moves beyond the obvious challenge of diverse philosophies complicating life in a confined space. While Gulliver, Candide and The Wizard of Oz spin and spoof human nature, ideologies, and political perspectives through cheeky, subtle satire; Glukhovsky riddles the pages of Metro 2033 with blunt, literal representations of easy satirical targets. Not everything has to be artful–but if you could merge action with artistry–that’s where great things happen, and while I love the potential in Metro 2033 I’m a little disappointed by the execution.