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Interview with Dmitry Glukhovsky (part II)

We present the second part of the interview with Dmitry Glukhovsky, courtesy of our editors Anna “Mysza” Piotrowska (text and translation) and Anna “Yenfri” Siczek (photos). You can find the first part of the interview here. You can also read the interview in Polish.

Kawerna: You mentioned earlier that you’re a big fan of the “Fallout” game series. Your book “Metro 2033” was turned into a game. Did you have a big part in the development process?

Dmitry Glukhovsky: The entire plot of the game is based on my book, so I supervised the story development. But creators hired American screenwriters to write the screenplay for the game – the gameplay. Then they Google-translated it back into Russian and showed it to me (makes horrified face). I basically had to rewrite everything. I didn’t want to disappoint the Russian gamers who knew the original. So I changed everything back to my own language, my own metaphors, my own legends, myths and jokes. Therefore all the text that Russian gamers see in the game is my text. I felt obliged to do that, cause I didn’t want anyone to spoil the original, authentic language of the book within the game.

 

We read that the second game that is now being created – “Metro: Last Light” – has nothing to do with either “Metro 2033” or “Metro 2034”. Why is that?

 

Because I told them to do that (laughs). “Metro 2034” is a very different story and it’s not adaptable as a video game. When at least half the plot is unfolding in people’s minds, there aren’t many scenes suitable for gameplay… and the plot is not linear… “Metro 2034” is a very different book than “Metro 2033”.

At the same time I felt that a big part of Artiem’s story was lacking. People were very curios to know what happened next, when he takes the gas mask off at the top of the TV tower… does he die? What happens to the Dark Ones? Are all of them destroyed? In fact the ending of the book is very much an open ending. You know that everything is bad, but how bad exactly? (laughs) People were very curious about that, so I decided it’s about time to tell them more. I actually composed the plot that continues the story of Artiem from “Metro 2033” into the second game.

Have you had a chance to play the “Metro 2033” game? How does it compare to the „Fallout” series?

It’s very difficult. And scary (laughs). It’s a good thing, but I could never walk it through. But I think that it’s faithful to the tone and feel of my books. It’s their own artistic vision, but if a person is creative, they don’t have to adapt something word for word – they can make their own thing. They need to interpret it.

For example all the movies based on Stephen Kings’ books are crap. Precisely because they stupidly and very precisely reproduced the plot of the books. Only one movie has become a masterpiece – “The Shining”, because it is the authors’, Stanley Kubrick’s, interpretation. What other movie can you name?… okay, maybe “The Green Mile”.

What about “Shawshank Redemption”?

No. It’s always number 1 on IMdB though. But “The Green Mile” is far better.

Well… De gustibus non est disputandum.

(laughs) Fair enough.

Speaking of movies… we heard some rumors that you’re in talks with some Hollywood studios to turn “Metro 2033” into a movie.

It’s true, but it’s an eternal process that doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s actually quite depressing. Then again when someone is discussing wasting 100 million dollars it’s a very slow process… It probably won’t result in anything. It’s good for PR that you’re “in talks”, but it’s bad that you never get anywhere.

What do you think about the recent rise of Russian filmmakers in America, like Timur Bekmambetov, and the popularity of his movies “The Night Watch” and “The Day Watch”? There’s also a new movie coming out in this year, called “The Darkest Hour”…

It’s going to be shit. All movies that Bekmambetov makes as a director are brilliant. Movies that he produces – and this movie is one of them – or co-produces… are shit. This film can actually spoil my chances of getting a movie deal, because it will be a failure. I know, because I read the screenplay. It’s got no real characters, no story, no drama, no scary parts… It’s a bad horror movie for teenagers, that will never become anything else. And mind you, I didn’t see the movie, I only saw the trailer and I read the screenplay.

Basically they asked me to analyze the screenplay. I pointed out that 80% of the text was crap. But they didn’t have the time or capability to change it. They said “we understand that it’s crap, but it’s America… it’s their screenplay, we’re not interfering, let’s do what they tell us, we don’t have the time or money to redo everything”.

But “Abraham Lincoln: The Vampire Hunter” that Timur is shooting right now will probably be a very good movie. I’m just judging by the degree of his creative involvement. When he’s doing something creatively the results are always good. “The Night Watch” and “The Day Watch” are cool, even better than the books. Disputably, all the other movies that he directed are good too. But the things that he produces, and he produces far too much, I think, are not that impressive.

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November 9th was also the premiere date of the first book in the Universe of Metro 2033 – “Piter” by Szymun Wroczek. You’re the originator of the whole concept of the Universe. Where did the idea come from? How many countries are involved? And aside from being the “founding father” what is your role in the whole project?

The provenance of the idea is twofold. On one hand when I was a kid and a teenager I was a big fan of science-fiction, especially of the space conquest stories. When I fell in love with a certain book I very often regretted that it was just one person writing about that. Because if you’re depicting a travel through the stars of a certain ship, and then you discover this civilization, and then that… why only one person is allowed to write about that? Why can’t two or three writers form a collaboration and constantly develop the same project, the same universe? I thought: you could just move to this universe and stay there forever.

On the other hand, there was this fantasy series… all the books were in the same design and they had numbers on the side and you were supposed to collect them. The books were not interrelated at all… there was, like, Anne McCaffrey, Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett… everything put in the same series. And I was just a fan of collecting these books. As soon as they came out I just ran to bookshop to get the new one, just so I could put it on my shelf.

And then when I wrote “Metro 2034” people started asking me when “Metro 2035” was coming. I was like: “You know, guys, I spent 12 years underground, I wanna get out”. And they’d say: “No, but it’s so cool. Bring us more”. So I said: “okay, I’ll bring you more, but in a different way”. Because by then there were already different authors coming to me and saying: “Can I write a story about St. Petersburg? In “Metro 2033” you never say what’s happening with St. Petersburg. I wanna tell that story”. Or Syberia. Or the Far East. Or the Far North. Or Ukraine. Or Belarus.

Finally 2 years ago I decide that it was probably a good idea – instead of writing for the rest of my life about the metro – to just introduce new authors to the readers, make them meet and match and start creating this world together. Especially because the initial idea of “Metro 2033” was interactivity. Why can’t the readers now really become co-creators of this world, not just editors?

We launched the project a while ago. In Russia we have now published 20 titles – we’re publishing a new book every month. They are not necessarily located in Moscow, not necessarily located in the subway. The key phrase here is “universe”. So somewhere it’s the surface, the tundra, the desert, an ocean, a ruined city, a bunker or a metro. We have already covered a decent part of Russia’s map, with stories being located in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosybirsk, Yekaterinburg in Urals, in Russia’s South in Rostov and Russia’s North in cities of Arkhangelsk and Monchegorsk, and then Ukraine and Kiev, and going to the city of Kharkov, also in the Ukraine.

And then the foreign authors started to join. In September we published a book written by a Brit, called “Metro 2033: Britannia”, located in post-nuclear Glasgow and then post-nuclear London, because the main character is chasing a pack of slavers who kidnapped his family. After launching “Piter” here, I’m flying to Italy where 2 days ago a book came out, in Italian obviously, called “The Roots of Heaven” – “Le Radici del Cielo” – , written by the known Italian intellectual thriller author, Tullio Avoledo. It describes post-nuclear Rome and Venice and the travel of a Catholic monk between the two places on a secret mission from a cardinal. So it’s an interesting story, very peculiar and particular to Italy itself.

Then there is Cuban author writing about post-nuclear Havana in the year 2033, where the main character is a teenage lesbian warrior. What’s more, the character created by the Cuban author will probably meet the characters created by the recently published Russian author, who are traveling through the entire ocean in the last surviving submarine. Other characters will probably meet each other too. One of the guys in Russia right now has his characters traveling through the country in a huge truck – this kind of 8-wheel missile carrier. That’s going to be quite an experience. They’ll definitely be passing through different cities already mentioned by previous authors, so they’ll inevitably encounter characters from these books. And that’s pretty amazing.

American, German, Greek and Spanish authors will be joining us the next year. Meanwhile, we continue. The ambition is, of course, to cover the map of the entire world… to have this great, huge network of cross-translatable books. That’s something that has never been done before. And it’s really cool.

Do you read all these books?

Definitely. Of course I have trouble reading them in their original languages, but I trust my publishers who read them and say that they’re good. And then, when it gets translated into Russian I read that. Of course I edit the books too, cause there are some things I don’t agree with. I obviously read everything that’s published in Russian and I edit it as well. I’m actually editor in chief. I’m the “last instance” – I change anything I’m not happy about. Sometimes without consulting the author (laughs).

The interesting thing is that some of these authors are actually beginners. On the Russian website of the Universe of Metro 2033 we have this nonstop, ongoing competition. It’s goal is to find new texts that can be published within the universe. It’s actually the Web 2.0 principle, where users generate the content of the website. So they write their stories, post them online and then people vote for their favorite text. The top 20 stories get read by the publisher’s editor and by me, and we pick which texts to publish. Out of the 20 books that have come out in Russia, five were written by complete beginners. For them this is the first book they’ve ever written or published.

What’s surprising, is that it appears readers prefer books written by nonprofessionals, because they’re much more sincere, true and enthusiastic than books written by coldblooded professionals for whom it’s just another book. And so, even if I needed to cut or rewrite parts of a book written by a beginner, for them it’s amazing. Sure, it gets maimed by me and disfigured by the ruthless editor, but it still gets published. And that’s incredibly exciting.

You spoke about being inspired by science-fiction books when you were younger. We heard somewhere that one of the authors that inspired you was the Polish author Stanisław Lem.

I don’t think I’m the only one who was inspired by him. If we ignore Jules Verne for a moment, there are three big names in science-fiction. They are Lem, Bradburry, and the Strugacki brothers. All the rest were just pure genre entertainers, showmen. These three were real authors.

Usually “a science-fiction writer” and “a writer” is not the same. A science-fiction writer sits in the gutter, screaming “let me out” (laughs) while the real writer is respected. These three – or four, cause there were two Strugacki brothers – were real titans. And even though they were science-fiction writers, they are also named among the worlds’ greatest writers. Lem is definitely both a visionary and a good author, style-wise. And of course the themes that he touches on and explores in his works are very human and almost immortal, eternal. So yes, he’s definitely one of my main influences.

Do you have a favorite book of his?

I’ll probably seem boring (laughs), but definitely “Solaris”. I guess, in a way, I unknowingly borrowed some themes from “Solaris” for the characters of the Dark Ones – they’re offering a new symbiosis to the humankind and instead man destroys them with bombs. People often point out those similarities. Well, I’m guilty as charged (laughs).

This isn’t your first visit to Poland. How is your experience so far?

This hotel is fine (laughs). I mainly stay here, or drive to various newspaper offices and TV stations. I’m not seeing a great deal of Poland, just the same districts of Warsaw for the third time. I’m enjoying it reasonably, but I expect Poland is something more than just a couple of buildings (laughs).

So you haven’t yet had a chance to see the Warsaw subway?

No. I’m always planning to see it, but I haven’t had the time.

Since there are plans to build a second line of the Warsaw subway, do you see the Polish participation in the Universe of Metro 2033?

I think that that’s something very appropriate, because the metro books are quite popular in Poland. We have now launched the Polish version of the Universe, and if it works and people are interested, I’d of course love Polish readers to not only being consumers but also co-creators.

I also know that you have these fabulous salt mines near Cracow, where there is this huge underground city. I think it would be a beautiful place to set a post-nuclear novel in. That would be cool. So yes – if a talented Polish author, not necessarily a professional one, but a talented one, joins the project and writes a brilliant novel about post-nuclear Poland, there’s a chance I’ll let it be published.

From what I know,  the Polish website of Universe of Metro 2033 is in the process of launching a similar competition like the one we have in Russia. If all goes well, they should start collecting stories soon. Hopefully they’ll find a story that can become a novel based in Poland.

So you haven’t yet actually been approached by any Polish writers who might want to take part in the project?

Mr. Lem died 5 years ago, unfortunately. He would’ve been the best candidate (laughs). But no. There was a journalist a while back, that said he wanted to try, but I never heard back from him.

Sapkowski is silent, but he’s building his own franchise, so why should he join someone else’s? As to others, I don’t know. No author has approached me yet. Maybe after this interview someone will (laughs). Just remember to tell them to visit the metro2033.pl website, where they can post their stories.

We definitely will. Thank you for the interview.