Review of Metro 2033

SFFaudio Review

metroMetro 2033
By Dmitry Glukhovsky; Performed by Rupert Degas
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 21 hours

Themes: / disaster / nuclear / post-apocalypse / underground tunnels / survival /

Publisher summary:

The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory. Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro—the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion. VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro’s best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro—and maybe the whole of humanity.

Without question, I would recommend this book. I strongly suggest you listen to the audiobook. You might feel a little bummed at the end, but the writing is strong enough to support its fumbled conclusion.

Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, book 1 in the Metro Series, offers an interesting take on the travel/road narrative. Draw your own academic conclusions, but for the most part, humans yet blindly stumble in the dark, face self-inflicted nuclear/biological disaster, and unseen things are hungry. But worry not; man yet possesses fire, fear, weapons, and hatred. What we do not possess appears to be an accurate map, foresight, or the ability to think outside our own skull.

I reveled in the atmosphere. A bunch of people crammed into underground tunnels, forced to keep watch by firelight, eating mushrooms, pork, and rodents, became nearly a corporeal experience. Different metro stations setting up their own community, the need for passports for those wishing to travel between stations, and the various creation/destruction myths surrounding each group, delivers a strong sense of fractured and desperate realism.

The story is okay, but for me, the writing is what shined brightest. The only character I felt remotely invested with was a man named Hunter. The other players in this tale, while multifaceted to a degree, lacked a depth and drive that I feel is paramount for memorable characters worth investing in. I loved the library excursion. So good! Really wished there’d been more story in this setting. The scene with the librarian playing with the flashlight was surprisingly moving.

As the narrator, Rupert Degas is amazing. His rhythm and talents for infusing mood into speech takes flight in this reading. I can’t speak for the accent accuracy, but I can tell you that Degas’s delivery drew me in and made me feel the darkness.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

SFFaudio Review

The Elephant VanishesThe Elephant Vanishes: Stories
By Haruki Murakami; Translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin
Read by Teresa Gallagher, John Chancer, Walter Lewis, Rupert Degas, Tim Flavin, Mark Heenehan, Jeff Peterson
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 6 August 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 31 minutes
Download excerpt: |MP3|

Themes: / light fantasy / personal identity / life’s meaning / a dwarf inside of me / short stories / surrealism /

Publisher summary:

With the same deadpan mania and genius for dislocation that he brought to his internationally acclaimed novels A Wild Sheep Chase and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami makes this collection of stories a determined assault on the normal. A man sees his favorite elephant vanish into thin air; a newlywed couple suffers attacks of hunger that drive them to hold up a McDonald’s in the middle of the night; and a young woman discovers that she has become irresistible to a little green monster who burrows up through her backyard.

By turns haunting and hilarious, The Elephant Vanishes is further proof of Murakami’s ability to cross the border between separate realities – and to come back bearing treasure.

Some of the stories in this collection originally appeared in the following publications: The Magazine (Mobil Corp.): “The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler’s Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of the Raging Winds” (in a previous translation; translated in this volume by Alfred Birnbaum), The New Yorker: “TV People” and “The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday’s Women” (translated by Alfred Birnbaum), “The Elephant Vanishes”, and “Sleep” (translated by Jay Rubin), and “Barn Burning” (in a previous translation; translated in this volume by Alfred Birnbaum) Playboy: “The Second Bakery Attack” (translated by Jay Rubin, January 1992).

In Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes, Murakami tries to bind a collection of stories with a few common threads woven through the various narratives.  At this, Murakami failed to hold my interest.  But Murakami does manage to seduce the reader, if only from time to time, with glimpses of brilliant storytelling.  And it became the prospect of discovering these hidden gems that kept me going.

I don’t think that Murakami shines in the short story genre.  His style of writing requires time for the odd sense of surrealism to grip the reader, sometimes like a lover, other times like an anaconda.  But in these short works, Murakami’s talent for making the odd seem normal, had too much of a rushed sensation.  Instead of being seduced, I was narratively groped.

I didn’t appreciate the numerous narrators that this audio production contains.  It would have been far better to have two or perhaps three readers, but this audiobook simply has too many voices.  I ended up feeling detached for too much of the time.  I liked that this audio production doesn’t use musical interludes to mark new stories or sections of change.

Should you read this book?  Well, if you like Murakami, then yes.  But you should go into this with the understanding that some of these stories just flop with all the grace of a sweat-soaked sock on a locker-room floor.  But a few of these tales possess a magic vitality that lingers in the consciousness long after you are through.  It is for these stories that make the reading worthwhile.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

SFFaudio Review

A Wild Sheep Chase coverA Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel
By Haruki Murakami; Read by Rupert Degas
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: August 2013
ISBN: 9780804166539
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 38 minutes
Excerpt: |MP3|

Themes: / fantasy / sheep / surreal thriller /

Publisher summary:

It begins simply enough: A twenty-something advertising executive receives a postcard from a friend, and casually appropriates the image for an insurance company’s advertisement. What he doesn’t realize is that included in the pastoral scene is a mutant sheep with a star on its back, and in using this photo he has unwittingly captured the attention of a man in black who offers a menacing ultimatum: find the sheep or face dire consequences. Thus begins a surreal and elaborate quest that takes our hero from the urban haunts of Tokyo to the remote and snowy mountains of northern Japan, where he confronts not only the mythological sheep, but the confines of tradition and the demons deep within himself.

In Haruki Murakami’s seductive novel A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami spins a yarn (see what I did there) around such issues as personal identity and the meaning of life.  Sound complicated?  No not really… well maybe a little, but it all depends on how deep you want to dive and how long you wish to hold your breath.  Do you need to be a trained philosopher and English/lit major to decipher the subtle beauty of this novel?  No, but it doesn’t hurt either.

Murakami’s ability to word-paint vivid autumn colors through brushed scenery of green grass and sunburnt leaves only pales to his talent of sketching his wintered black and white landscapes of rain soaked city nights and the lonely dark of death.  For the most part, I was rolling along really enjoying the ride.  When I reached the end, everything shifted and the true weight of what this story is about settled deep around me like an endless snow.  Lulling, dulling, and soothing the reader until who we are is reflected in a grimy mirror.  The I becomes you, the you becomes we, the we becomes… a sheep?

Here’s all you need to know.  Don’t get hung up on the whole “A sheep inside of me” thing or the uncountable mentions of a “dead whale’s penis,” just go with the flow and ride the tide.  Permit the current to carry you along and let loose your anchor and just drift.

Rupert Degas acting as narrator is brilliant.  Let me say this again.  Rupert Degas as narrator is brilliant.  I haven’t heard a reader narrate something so clean and true since I listened to Frank Muller narrate All Quiet on the Western Front or I Heard the Owl Call My Name.  Rupert Degas delivers a reading that sooths the ear while making Murakami’s narrative dance like maple leaves in a September breeze.

If you can’t tell, I found this to be a damn fine book.  I enjoyed the subtle layering of philosophy and critical theory.  I found the narrative captivating once I “let go.”  Hmmm, might this be a reflection of life?  Is life better consumed if one can let go from time to time with the understanding that time itself is an unanswered question of experienced interpretation?  Maybe…  Maybe so maybe no but still, this was a pleasure to read.

Posted by Casey Hampton.