I'd heard a lot about Metro 2033 by Dmitry Gluvhosky. Looking back, it wasn't critical reviews, but a lot of talk on the internet and in gaming magazines. At any rate, I haven't read any sci-fi in years that's really grabbed me and excited my imagination, and this sounded like the book to do it -- after all, it's been hailed as a "sci-fi classic," but it only first came out in 2007.
I began reading sci-fi at a young age, at about 11 or 12, and for a long time, I loved it, but I always felt it was missing something. Later on, I was able to look more critically at the genre, and I saw male writers writing a male perspective, hardcore science, a lack of females (sexy robots and aliens notwithstanding), and a real dearth of any emotional connections. Most sci-fi reads to me as very one-dimensional. It's difficult for me, the reader, to engage with the characters.
Metro 2033, unfortunately, is all of the above. The (male) protagonist follows a very linear journey from beginning to end, not making any real connections as he goes along. Females are rarely mentioned; there is Artyom's dead mother, a hazy -- at best -- figure from his memories, a young girl who is the sister of a friend and who spends enough time on the page to be told to get lost and go play next door, and, most notably, a woman who offers to sell her very young son to Artyom for an hour's worth of sex. The rest of the characters are bland on the page, and I could not care less if they died, and the death toll is significant. Artyom himself must be the blandest protagonist to ever come along; he moves through the book like lifeless flotsam, floating along with events. He is saved from certain death a number of times by outrageous circumstances, and honestly, if he had died at any point, I wouldn't have cared. No personality whatsoever.
In between his floating from point to point, we are treated to upwards of a dozen, if not more, pointless dream sequences that often go on for a page or more and are, essentially, a mixed-up rehashing of the last chapter. At one point, it reached the heights of ridiculousness when Artyom is with a group of travelers and they are told to sit for five minutes. I paraphrase, but it went something like this, "Artyom sat. Instantly, he was asleep. Blah blah for a page and a half about what just happened in the previous ten pages."
Poor characterization, little to no real plot, no emotional connection whatsoever -- what has the book got to offer?
Probably the best, most intense and unique world-building I have seen in a long time. If you're reading, you're in the tunnels of the metro, beneath Moscow. Incredibly well detailed, it's obvious the author thought a lot about what life might be like if humans were forced to live in a subway. I was, indeed, very impressed.
All this world-building is sandwiched between a genuinely creepy, hair-raising opening and a very poignant end. The first two pages and the last two pages really got me. However, you probably saw the ending coming -- I know I did. I was, to be honest, thrown off the scent by those 400+ pointless pages, but when it finally got there, yes, I thought, yes. I knew this was the case. It had to be.
The concept could've used a much better editor, and I almost wish someone would re-write the book. Because it could be amazing. But I'm afraid we're stuck with what we've got: a book that will make a very good video game.
Fic: The Collar
What you must understand, above all, is that there is no life before you’ve been buckled on. There’s a jingle, movement and heat, and I’m lying against flat brown fur. His joy is mine – when he jumps and dances, I am there. We both know what this means, what I mean. Within seven days, his scent is my scent, and we both understand that Rocco is us. I carry a gold tag, bone-shaped, that says so.
When he fills out, ribs disappearing as fast as the memories of the shelter, they must unfasten me another notch. When they open the door to the garden, we are one with the wind and sun and rain and, most especially and most epically, the mud. We are only separated to be bathed. I ask the other things I cavort with in the big metal barrel what their life is like, but they are not like me. They do not buckle, they do not live. They haven’t got a tag that says who they are, who they belong to.
I grow weary over time, fraying, fading. But even so, I do not mind. Rocco fades as well. We fade together. The lure of mud is second to the lure of the sofa, where a special blanket awaits us. I rest and dream drowsily of the wind, and of the day we’ll run with it again. That day comes soon, says the heartbeat underneath me. Soon.
The above flash fic was written for The Word Cloud's March contest. It did not win, but I love it for sentimental reasons.
I can tell you exactly who wore each of those collars. Ahh, I am sentimental today...