Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
I can't remember what prompted me to read this particular e-book, or the circumstances that made me download a copy. So much for contextual intertextuality, if there is such a thing. However, I do remember being surprised to find by the fact that there was already a sequel and that someone saw fit to code a gamer version (and a sequel to that too). I'm clearly on the ball.
As always in my experience of modern Russian fantasy / horror literature - think Max Frei or Sergei Lukyanenko - I have the distinct impression that lots of the clever Russian-ness has been left on the translator's floor. The writing feels overly elaborate in places and wilfully naive in others, and it's probable that much of the essential cultural reference is lost to someone unfamiliar with the Moscow metro system, especially the place names (although there's quite a bit of joy to be had with the frequent discussions about the renaming of stations dependent on which faction's star is waxing or waning). Also useful, before reading, would be a basic understanding of Soviet history, from at least the 19th Century of the Tsars through the October Revolution right up to present day Russian capitalism as no-one has the courtesy to do a quick executive summary at any point, despite the many patronising asides about various periods of history.
To deal with matters of scene setting, what I found was a post-apocalyptic Moscow where the remaining non-radiation-mutated populace lived in the metro system and trade or fight each other (along old political and ideological lines) and also defend against the waves of "dark ones", mutants who invade the tunnels ostensibly to wreak havoc and generally kill and maim people, in addition to making some go mad from the tunnel fever. It's the usual fight for survival narrative, with an interesting if slightly daft twist at the end. I shan't spoil it for you, even though it's a little obvious past about midway.
Still, Glukhovsky gets in plenty of licks about the heads of men of faith, the equally ridiculed proponents of diametrically opposed fatalism and determinism, and the idiots residing at every stop on the metro line of the political spectrum, whilst also pushing out lots of sentences brim-full of claustrophobia, hidden terror and hopelessness. It's not a bad book, and by all accounts, serves as a useful critical allegory of almost any political belief system you care to name. He's not fussy. In some respects it reminds me of that Dara Ó Briain line:
Right now I would take homeopaths and I'd put them in a big sack with psychics, astrologers and priests. And I'd close the top of the sack with string, and I'd hit them all with sticks. And I really wouldn't be bothered who got the worst of the belt of the sticks.And, he clearly can't be blamed for the translation and editing, unless of course he did it himself, in which case he deserves a bit of ridicule too. All in all, it's a worthwhile read - atmospheric, entertaining if overly long - and anyway, I should not be overly critical. I think it was Vonnegut who said, of literary critics bent on venting spleen:
Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.