Why is Metro 2035 the way it is?

When I picked up Metro 2035 in a local bookshop a few weeks ago, I could hardly wait to rush through the book – which I did, in three days.

It has been quite some time since Metro 2034 and even longer since Metro 2033. But after I had finished my nearly uninterrupted binge, I paused and looked up Dmitry Glukhovsky, the author of the by now famous Dystopian novels from Russia. I wanted to know what it was that made him write the novel the way he did.

So I looked him up and found this interview on diezukunft.de, a German website – Glukhovsky speaks German fluently (along with English, French, Hebrew, Spanish and of course Russian). I’ll translate some of the juicier quotes. For example, when asked about his stance on Science Fiction, Glukhovsky answers: “For me, Science Fiction is a tool to express things that move me. However, out there are a lot of Science Fiction fans who only want to read adventure novels. That is understandable when you think about the fact that not all, but some of them are teenagers who want an adrenaline kick.”

There’s also the whole issue of the monsters. I’m not spoiling very much (it’s mentioned in the first chapter) when I say that in Metro 2035, there are no monsters. Or, as Glukhovsky puts it, “this novel is about humans. […] He [Artjom] gets to meet a few mutants, but those aren’t the monsters.”

But why is that? Isn’t the Metro series about the aftermath of civilisation, about the human will to survive even in the post-apocalyptic mess they put themselves into, as put by Hunter in his speech to Artjoms step-father in the beginning of Metro 2033? Aren’t the monsters kind of important for that? Well, yes, kind of. As for the monsters, Glukhovsky explicitly says that for him, they are a “metaphor for ‘the Other’”; Metro 2033 becomes a novel about the fear of all variations of it.

This is the power of Science Fiction, as Glukhovsky himself notes: “When you write a book, it shouldn’t be too direct, not too much drawn from the particular period. It has to stay readable for another ten, twenty or fifty years, and for that everything needs to stay a bit abstract.” This is where the Metro franchise goes beyond genre fiction – “Forget tension”. The whole story of Hanza, Artjom and D-2 is beautiful enough already, but there is something more behind it.

With that out of the way, how does this explain the sudden changes of Metro 2035? Well, the Dark Ones were a topic that moved Glukhovsky back in 2002, a topic that has stopped moving him now.

But what is it that made him write Metro 2035?

By the way, this is the point where you stop reading if you haven’t read the novel yet.

“That the banks, the government and the press are all partial to a conspiracy against the people – there are only hints to that end in Europe. In Russia it is direct, obvious and clear. The church is a part of a company that governs the country, the parliament is another, as is organised crime. […] When you discover that, you feel helpless. […] And I wrote Metro 2035 to blow off steam.”

According to Glukhovsky, he made this discovery three years ago, when he participated in a series of protests against the Putin government. “But this protest movement lost. Obviously the intelligenzja is incapable of creating a revolution.” Or, with a bit of self-derision: “I always thought I would want to live in Artjoms home station, the WDNCh. But by now, I’d rather live in the Polis. I guess I’m turning into one of those coddled, spoiled intellectuals who loves his books and always needs more of them.”

Real life writes the plot

However, the production circumstances of the Metro franchise could also have helped inspire him. Metro 2033, the original novel, was originally published in parts on Glukhovskys LiveJournal site and then by a Russian publisher, as were the other novels. The successful video game series, however, is developed by 4A Games – a Ukrainian company.

And Glukhovsky has quite an original take on the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine: “The purpose of this civil war is […] the creation of a controllable conflict, as Russia did it in Georgia, for example. That way the loyalty of the governments of these small countries is controlled. […] On the other hand, they wanted to present the Russian viewers a TV series that shows and explains what happens to a country that doesn’t follow its leaders anymore: chaos and civil war. […] For more than one and a half years, Russians got to watch daily what happens when Putin isn’t in power anymore. […] Only Putin, this beacon of civilisation, keeps Russia from falling apart as well.”

Here, I want to cite a research paper by Ulrich Schmid, a Prefessor for Russian Culture and Society at St. Gallen University. “Thus the implicit Manichean and post-apocalyptic world view of Russian pop culture products in their various intermedial manifestations fosters political passivity, social distrust and reliance on the leader in power.” Harsh words, aren’t they? The paper was published in 2013 – and the example is the Dystopian novel Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky.

Things seem to have changed. Glukhovsky in 2016: “I have my differences with Russian Science Fiction authors, a few of them really indulge in their desire for the lost Empire […] They’ve evolved into full-blown Putin supporters”.

Can you still recommend anyone? “A good author is Leonid Kaganov, but that’s about it.”