Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Author: Dmitry Glukhovsky.
Release date – Original Russian language: 2005
Release date – English translation: 2010
Known formats: Physical copy, digital copy, audiobook.
Recommended age rating: 16+
Pages: 458 – English edition.
Metro 2033’s title is as simple and as descriptive as a title can get. It is set in the year 2033, and takes place in the Moscow Metro. If only more titles were as succinct.
The main story of Metro 2033 takes place roughly 19 years after a nuclear holocaust has reduced Russia to a nuclear wasteland. Russia, and perhaps the whole world, has been plunged into a Nuclear winter.
The surface is too cold and irradiated to be habitable by humans. Nature however, "has found a way", and the surface world is infested with horrifically mutated creatures.
Stations have become isolated from each other due to the dangers in the tunnels, and many have become de-facto city states in microcosm. This fragmentation has resulted in the rise of many differing ideologies. Some stations are run by Trotskyists, others by devil worshippers, some by orthodox Christians, and some are even the home to cannibal cultists and bandits.
This fragmentation has resulted in radically different levels of wealth between stations.
Unlucky stations, such as those close to the surface, have descended into anarchy, or have been abandoned completely. Stations left vacant by humans soon become occupied by rats, mutants and other ‘tunnel trash’.
This clash of ideals occasionally brings these groups into armed conflict, such as the skirmishes between the communists of the Red Line and the Neo-Nazis of the Fourth Reich. The rather bleak underlying message of the Metro franchise is that the world may have changed, but people always stay the same.
It is in this world that we meet the story’s protagonist, Artyom. He is described as a young and somewhat naive everyman, who has very little knowledge of the world before the Metro, or what the Metro is like beyond his home station.
Glukhovsky’s story telling artfully describes the intense claustrophobia and isolation of life in the Metro. For most of its residents, the dimly lit platforms and corridors of the Metro has become their whole world. For some residents their world is even more restricted, as they have never left their home station. What goes on beyond the tunnel checkpoints at ‘the 200th meter’ is completely unknown to them. This feeling of the world becoming smaller and the people within it regressing to a more primitive state of existence is palpable throughout.
Events conspire to propel Artyom from being a mere everyman to the carrier of a vital message, which must be delivered in person to Polis, on the other side of the Metro.
Image from Flickr Creative commons by Purple Wyrm
His journey from his home station of VDNKh to Polis involves travelling through many stations, and even across the surface. Through his interactions, observations, conversations and experiences he learns about the wider Metro, and the reader learns with him. We see his naivety slowly stripped away, as he sees the depths that humans can sink to, but also the heights they can reach.
Metro follows the Eastern European and Russian literature trope of mixing the surreal with the mundane in believable settings. Metro does this exceptionally well, rivalling Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic and Sergei Lukyanenko,’s Night watch.
Metro deliberately leaves the supernatural aspects of the story ambiguous. These phenomena which Artyom and Co encounter might be supernatural in origin, or they might have completely rational explanations. Both viewpoints are provided, usually by separate characters who each have their own opinions, but it is left very much up to the reader to decide for themselves what has transpired.
Reading Metro 2033 was a refreshing experience after so many Anglo-American centric novels. Metro has an unapologetically Non Anglo-American viewpoint. It was created by a Russian author, depicted a Russian setting and was written in the Russian language for a Russian audience.
The English translation of the earliest editions was passable, but imperfect. I noticed a number of errors here and there. Thankfully, later editions and the audiobook version appear to have rectified any errors. As such I have no problem in highly recommending Metro 2033 to a mature audience.
Metro 2033 Spawned a multi-media franchise, including graphic novels, audiobooks and video games.
The video games are integral to the story arc, which is both a blessing and a curse. The chronology is as follows:
Metro 2033 (game) follows the plot of Metro 2033 (book.)
Metro – Last light (game) follows on from Metro 2033 (game or book) and features Artyom and co.
Metro 2035 (book) takes place after both Metro 2034 (Book) and Metro: Last Light (game). Its story follows on from both, and combines their lead characters – Artyom and Homer.
The upcoming video game Metro: Exodus appears to take place after the events of Metro 2035, with Artyom and several others abandoning Moscow to seek out other survivors on the far side of Russia.
Although this multi-media mixing of mediums is an interesting and novel idea, it does have a major drawback. To experience the Metro story arc in full, a reader must also be a gamer, and a gamer must also be a reader. Non-gaming bookworms and non-reading gamers may miss significant parts of the story, which can lead to some confusion.