May 2019 Books

Metro 2033 (Metro, #1)Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Metro 2033 is interesting, a post-apocalyptic story set in the Moscow Metro. Armageddon has happened some years previously and the survivors in the Metro have settled down into an existence that is kinder for some than for others. Each Metro station has become a city and they come together to form alliances or go to war with each other. Artyom lives in a station renowned for its particularly good mushroom tea. He lives with his stepfather, a man who rescued him from a plague of rats when he was a boy. Artyom has a simple life, working at the tea factory and taking his turn with guard duty. Guard duty is particularly important as his station is coming under increased attack from Dark Ones and if Artyom’s station falls, the Dark Ones will be able to access the rest of the Metro system. Artyom is sent on a quest across the Metro system, to help find a way to stop this happening. Along the way, he meets a number of characters that help him along his journey, as he crosses from station to station, each under different forms of control.

They made a video game from this book (I’ve never played it and don’t particularly plan to) and I’m not surprised they did. The whole book reads like a computer game in a way; living in the Metro, Artyom’s choices are limited to a ‘this tunnel or that tunnel’ sort of thing and the way how he meets other characters, it’s a ‘is this harmless old guy going to help you in your quest or is he going to murder you in your sleep? choose option A to talk to him, option B to kill him with your Kalashnikov’. I am simplifying it a bit but not by that much, it’s not one of those multiple choice stories but it feels like it could have been made into one.

Having said all that, it’s also quite a philosophical book, there’s a lot of, to me, quite painful dream sequences (personal choice here, but dream sequences in books normally turn me off). There’s a lot of discussion about religion and destiny to, which did drag a bit. I did like how the book was a giant ‘what if?’ question though, what would happen if the Metro was used as a shelter during a nuclear war? How would they survive? What would they eat? How would the rule of law be applied? What would it do to the psychology of the people trapped underground? I thought it was interesting how the stations ended up copying various different examples of human rule; communism and fascism for example. I’d love to read a British version of this, what would happen if the London Underground was used as a shelter long term? Would UKIP take over a station (cringe)?

There are another two books in the series, I have already downloaded the next one but I think I need a bit of a break from the Metro world first, wading through more pages of dream sequences and excess philosophy too soon, may tempt me to throw my phone at the wall, but I do want to know what happens next.

Close to the EdgeClose to the Edge by Toby Faber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm, this was okay, a story about a woman who witnesses a death on the Underground and then various ‘random’ things happen. It was nice reading a book about parts of London I know well but as a consequence, I guessed the answer to one of the plot points pretty quickly. Some of the characters actions weren’t always that believable and some of the violence felt a bit gratuitous, in that in some books that level of violence is to be expected because it’s that sort of book but this story did not present itself as seeming to be that way, so the violence, which was largely sexual assault related, seemed, like I said, gratuitous.

Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the ElementsPeriodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book wasn’t really for me, for my taste it tries a bit too much to be a bit of everything and so missing the depth. It looks at the elements of the periodic table, covering each element with a mixture of basic science, science history and the use or mention of the element in art and literature. It felt quite a slog to get through but I kept persisting as occasionally there were gems of information, such as how the Haber from the Haber Process learnt in school was a war criminal, or the author’s interview with the eclectic gentleman who owned the last British fireworks manufacturer (I googled them, the company, responsible for things like the London 2012 fireworks, has since been bought out by another company). I did however find the author’s almost complaints about how difficult it is to get hold of dangerous chemicals these days, a bit much. He also seemed strangely possessive about the elements in the closing paragraphs of the book, it is not ‘our hydrogen’ or whatever, it is just hydrogen. I think in summary, the book is let down by trying to cover too much, I’m not sure how many people would be as equally interested in for example the history of how neon was discovered AND the references to neon in American literature. I think if anything I would have preferred a book looking at say just the halogens or just the earth metals, you could have a chapter or two about earth metals in literature and I’d probably skip that bit! But obviously that’s not that book and I knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading it.

Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear CatastropheChernobyl: The History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been watching the excellent Chernobyl on TV and it made me curious to find out more. I was 11 when the disaster happened and I remember it in the news but I had no idea of the depth of the story behind it. Chernobyl: History of a tragedy looks at how Chernobyl came to be built, what caused the disaster and the response to it, both short term and long term. It’s very close to the TV series, which shows how accurate the series is. I never realised, back when I was 11, how close the world came to a much greater disaster and that disaster was only averted thanks to people who sacrificed their health and in some cases lives.

Chernobyl is a modern day Titanic and a lesson that we need right now about the folly of following political dogma over actual facts. It’s also an interesting look at how an environmental disaster can radically alter a country’s politics but then how economic issues can cause them to backpedal. It’s also a bit scary, as the epilogue says, there are now many nuclear reactors being built around the world in regimes which may have similar issues with safety as the USSR did.

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