Post-nuclear Moscow subway novels strike chord as Doomsday Clock nears midnight

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Dmitry Glukhovsky poses in this undated handout picture

(Reuters) – Best-selling novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky says sales of his books depicting life in the Moscow Metro after a nuclear apocalypse have been booming since Russia put him on a “wanted” list for opposing the war in Ukraine and he was forced to flee abroad.

Glukhovsky, 43, is known mainly for his dystopian novel “Metro 2033” and its sequels, along with their spin-off video games, about how Muscovites survive in the city’s famed metro system – “the world’s biggest nuclear shelter” – after a war.

With President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian politicians regularly warning the West of nuclear war over its support for Ukraine, Glukhovsky said it was hardly surprising that Russians were trying to imagine life after such a disaster.

“It’s getting us much closer (to midnight) because during Soviet times, during the times of the Cold War, nobody dared to really invoke that (possibility of Armageddon)…,” he told Reuters in an interview from an undisclosed location.

“… Never a diplomat, let alone the head of state, would threaten another superpower with using nukes against his capital. So that definitely gets us way closer to that possibility,” he said, speaking in English.

Atomic scientists on Tuesday reset the “Doomsday Clock” – a symbolic timepiece – based on their latest assessment of how close they believe humanity is to annihilation due to existential threats such as nuclear war. The “time” is now 90 seconds to midnight, they said, 10 seconds closer than it has been for the past three years.

Glukhovsky deplored what he called the “routinisation” of the nuclear threats by Russia’s leaders but said the Ukraine war was unlikely to trigger a global nuclear catastrophe.

“… the Russian regime is not suicidal. You know, they’re not religious or political fanatics. They are very pragmatic. I would say they’re mainly motivated by such things as greed and self-esteem. And I don’t see (how) greed and self-esteem can bring you to begin a nuclear holocaust,” he said.

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‘FOREIGN AGENT’

Glukhovsky, who faces up to 15 years in jail if he returns home due to his anti-war stance, said his books must now be sold in Russia with a label bearing the disclaimer “This was written by a foreign agent”. Under-18s are barred from buying them.

“But “Metro 2033″ was the number one bestseller within my publisher. And my publisher was the biggest publisher in Russia. So there is some kind of schizophrenia where, on the one hand, they are persecuting me and, on the other, the books are still available in the bookstores and they are bestsellers,” he said.

Glukhovsky, a former journalist who also wrote the screenplay for an award-winning film version of his novel “Text”, said he got the inspiration for his subway novels travelling the Moscow Metro as a child during the Cold War and discovering it was built some 40 to 100 metres below ground.

“I really started to imagine what it was going to be like if we are hit by missiles and then we have to live in the subway as if it was a modern-day Noah’s Ark, you know, and we would not be able to go outside of the metro, of the subway, ever,” he said.

The nuclear war depicted in “Metro 2033” occurs in 2013, he noted, adding grimly: “So apparently I was wrong (by) a decade.”

(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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