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Russian post-atomic SF novel
le 15 février 2013
This is an SF novel, not of the inter-galactic type but situated inside the Moscow metro system. It was published in Russia in 2005 and over 2 million Russians have bought its on-line version. Its success has inspired persons and companies to create online games, blogs and further episodes. This book has spawned an industry. What is it about?
Moscow's survivors of an atomic strike are hanging on to life in its subway network, designed by Stalin and his successors to withstand nuclear warfare. Theoretically, its 100+ stations should shield millions, but when the bombs struck, only subway passengers and a few lucky people above ground made it into the system before its doors and gates closed. Survivors stayed on in its stations and over time each station developed its own coping system re survival and security, guarding its entry- and exit points from inside the tunnels. Going outside by day means death from radiation (nuclear, sun). At night, highly-paid Stalkers clad in protective gear venture into the destroyed city on behalf of investors, to retrieve key items...
The book's hero is Artyom. He is in his 20s, an early orphan, brought up by foster father Sukhoy, a kind of diplomat for the tube station they live in in. Tube stations have become stratified into e.g. communist, fascist, free trade and purely criminal enclaves. Followers of other faiths or worldviews dominate other stations. Some adjoining stations have merged into confederations. The strongest is the Hanze-federation controlling on the Moscow circle line every station where branch lines come in.
What makes this a novel is Artyom, who is given a task by a man described as the Hunter, a killer assigned to protect the system against fatal dangers from within and outside. If he fails to return from his next mission, Artyom has to carry a verbal message to a person living in Polis...
This is a rich novel for aficionados of SF and perhaps academics, because Artyom meets many interesting people on his Odyssee to Polis. It is a complex of four stations below Moscow's city centre where the last living scientists and artists live, a community willing to pay high rewards to Stalkers to retrieve books from the mega library above ground, rather than for fuel, food and other key resources...
Final words, SF is not my favorite genre. But this book is rich in terms of ideas. It should appeal to readers welcoming an unusual thriller-like, almost classical epos in a dark, and dangerous, underground universe.