Posts Tagged ‘dystopia’

Uglies Readalong: Pretties (Book 2)

Hey hey, look, I got a book done when I said I was going to! It’s a miracle.

So, for those of you just joining us, we’re reading through the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, which is YA dystopia and came out in the 2005 to 2007 time frame, so pretty early in the whole YA dystopia craze there.

This month we read Pretties, which is the second book.

In our dystopian world, everybody goes through an operation when they are 16 which makes them a Pretty–basically conforming people to an acceptable range of appearance to help avoid the bloodshed and wars that humanity has faced in the past. Before their operation, they’re an Ugly.

Spoilers from here on out. You’ve been warned.

In Uglies, our heroine, Tally Youngblood, is forced to go into the wild after her friend Shay, who has run away from the city to live outside. Special Circumstances, or Specials, are essentially the enforcers of the society, and they tell Tally that the only way she’ll get to be Pretty is if she helps bring Shay back to the city. But as Tally learns more about the Smoke and the people who live there, she starts to change her mind about being a Pretty herself, especially after she learns that part of the Pretty operation changes your brain, making you, well, compliant.

However, things go poorly at the end of the book–when Tally tries to destroy the tracker so she can stay in the Smoke forever, it goes off, bringing Special Circumstances down on everyone. Tally stages a rescue and manages to get most of the Smokies to safety outside the city, but her friend Shay is turned Pretty in the process. One of the Smokies is a retired doctor who has devised a cure to the brain changes made in the process, but Shay, now Pretty, refuses to take it, and without a subject, they can’t tell if the process works.

So Tally volunteers to be made Pretty to test the cure. End of Book 1.

Pretties starts up about a month after Tally has become Pretty. New Pretties live in New Pretty Town (we’ve talked about how spot-on the place names are before) where they essentially do nothing except party. But at a party, Tally notices someone dressed as a Special, which throws her off, and, when she pursues the person, she’s surprised to find it’s an Ugly, and an Ugly she recognizes from Outside. All her memories of her time in the Smoke and the time after it have been suppressed by the operation.

The person has to run before the real Specials catch him, but he tells Tally that he left her something, setting off a chain of puzzles that lead her to the promised cure and her own letter, written before she turned herself in, to explain what the cure is and why Pretty!Tally needs to take it. But the puzzles attract the attention of the Specials too, and Tally shares the cure with Zane, the leader of her Pretty clique, to get rid of the evidence.

That’s the set-up. Tally does take some time to get going AGAIN this book, but it was less bothersome this time because I was expecting it.

Most of the book follows Tally and Zane as they plot ways to escape from the city and head back Outside, made troublesome by tracking bracelets the Specials have put on them. They also experiment with ways to make the rest of their clique “bubbly,” a term that basically means clear-headed and aware. Tally and Shay fight–Shay blames Tally for what happened out in the Smoke, and she remembers too, when bubbly–but finally Tally, Zane, and their clique have everything in place and make their escape.

There are complications, of course. Tally’s best friend from her Ugly days chickens out last minute, making it so Tally’s escape is almost ruined; Zane has been getting progressively sicker since taking the cure; Tally is approached by the head of the Specials and offered a spot, and all that jazz.

And, in the end, everything gets worse. We’re definitely not pulling any punches here.

So far the series has been very readable, and Tally is better in this book–determined and focused, and willing to protect her friends.

And I will say that, knowing that the last book is Specials, we didn’t get there in the way I thought we would. Hooray! I like surprises, especially when they make sense.

Did you guys read along? What did you think, Squiders? I’m glossing over the love triangle aspects to this because it doesn’t really interest me (which is also how I felt about it in Hunger Games), but if you like that sort of thing, which guy are you rooting for?

Let’s have Specials done for, hm, May 20, and we can decide if we’re going to do the fourth book at that point or if we feel fulfilled.

See you Friday!

Uglies Readalong: Uglies (Book 1)

Hey, squiders! Guess who finally finished the book? And only two weeks late.

For those of you just joining us, we’ll be reading the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, with the option of reading the fourth book depending on how the first three go.

The trilogy came out about fifteen years ago, and takes place in a dystopian future where, on their 16th birthday, everyone becomes a “pretty”–they go through an extensive surgery that reshapes their body so everyone is equally pretty, in theory equalizing everyone across the board.

Our main character is Tally Youngblood, who we meet a few months out from her 16th birthday. Her best friend has just become pretty, so she’s feeling lonely and desperately counting down the days until she becomes pretty too and can join her friend in New Pretty Town. Before you become pretty, you are an ugly, and they all live together in dorms in a place called Uglyville.

Yes, it’s on the nose, but it’s meant to be.

Tally sneaks out to New Pretty Town to see her friend and almost gets caught—Uglies aren’t allowed—but during her escape, she makes a new friend named Shay, who coincidentally has the same birthday as her. Shay and Tally find solace in each other, but Shay’s not quite as excited about turning as Tally is. She keeps taking Tally outside of the city, and talking about a place where you don’t have to turn pretty.

Is this a pretty form YA dystopia? I mean, yes. Yes it is. It came out in the same era as The Hunger Games and Divergent and all that jazz (actually a little before, so it’s an early contender in the genre). It’s got a lot of the same beats, but those beats aren’t necessarily bad. There’s a reason all these series were so successful.

As I’ve said in earlier blog posts, I had some difficulty relating to Tally, which made my progress slower than expected. It’s hard, as a fully-grown adult, to connect with someone whose sole purpose is to wait until she becomes pretty, and who puts so much emphasis on this procedure. It makes sense why she does, with the world-building and everything, but there’s not a lot of common ground there. Once we got about half way into the book and Tally’s motivations change, I found it much easier to keep going.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, as expected, but I’m interested in the twist (in this case, why this seemingly utopian society is in fact a dystopia—really the cornerstone of the entire genre and so hit or miss) and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story develops in Pretties.

How did you guys feel about it? How do you feel about the society when compared to other, similar dystopias?

We’ll read Pretties for April 27. I’m hoping the second book goes faster now that I’m invested.

Announcing the Uglies Readalong

Hi squiders! It’s been forever since we’ve done a readalong.

I mean, that’s because we started Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and got half way through the second book (Green Mars) and made it no farther. Well, I made it no farther. I can see Green Mars on the bookcase, staring at me accusingly.

And nothing against the Mars trilogy, certainly. I enjoyed Red Mars, and Green Mars has been similarly well-written. For some reason I can’t get through them very quickly.

Someday. Someday I will finish it and talk about it, and everyone will have forgotten what we were doing in the mean time.

Let’s not dwell on the past and our failures, however. Let’s move forward!

So I’m announcing a new readalong! We’ll be doing the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. I inherited all three books from my mother when she was culling her collection a few years back, and I remember hearing good things about the books when they first came out. I haven’t read any of them, but I’m expecting them to be somewhat standard YA dystopias. We shall see.

(Wikipedia tells me there’s a fourth book. Well, we will cross that bridge when we get there. If we get there.)

I read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, which is a YA (I was going to say middle grade, but apparently not) steampunk alt history of World War I, and I enjoyed the series greatly, so I’m excited to read his first series.

Let’s be ready to discuss Uglies on March 23rd. That gives us a month, and it’s not that long of a book.

See you then!

In Defense of Science Fiction: Utopias as Dystopias

This is more something that’s fallen out of favor as opposed to something that people argue scientifically against.

A utopia, by definition, is a perfect society – everyone is happy, cared for, and no one wants for anything.

Dystopias are big right now. (A dystopia is a flawed society, often totalitarian in nature.) Straight dystopias, where it’s obvious that things are wrong. But there’s something about a utopia, because, it turns out, it doesn’t exist.

Utopias thrive on order – there’s no real room for creativity or innovation. Society stagnates. People aren’t given the opportunity to grow. The cogs can only turn in one way to maintain that illusion of perfection.

Utopias (and dystopias) explore society as opposed to technology. They explore questions like – if the people are happy and don’t know any better, is it wrong to leave them in an oppressive environment? What can – and should – be sacrificed for peace?

In this day and age, you’d think that utopian dystopias would be more popular than ever. But instead, we seem to be going for the obvious. Often, in dystopias, the main characters are obviously part of some marginalized part of society. In the Hunger Games, District 12 barely has enough to eat. In Incarceron, the very environment is out to get those who live in it. In City of Ember, the city is falling apart around their heads.

They’re the results of nuclear war, contagion, biological fallout.

Nothing against straight dystopias, but there’s an added level of complexity in utopian dystopias. They look at how we could try to fix things, and how things could seem to be great for a while, but how there’s seemingly no way to actually create a perfect society without destroying something that’s inherently human.

The only I can think of that I’ve read lately is Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, which is a sequel/companion novel to the more applicable Oryx and Crake. I can think of several straight dystopias. Anyone read any other utopian dystopias lately?

Subgenre Study: Dystopia/Apocalyptic Fiction

This week on Subgenre Study, we will be looking at the seemingly-increasingly popular subgenre of Dystopia, or Apocalyptic Fiction.  This is a subgenre of science fiction that takes place anywhere from the near to far future which portrays a bleak view of the future, usually one in which humanity has or is going through some form of apocalypse or catastrophe.  Often, “civilization” has ended.

(These are actually two separate, but related genres.  We will explore each separately.)

A dystopia generally involves a carefully controlled society and is usually initially portrayed as utopian, but there is usually some sort of dark twist.  Think 1984, Brave New World, or V is for Vendetta.  Think Oryx and Crake.  Or Fahrenheit 451. (A lot of “classic” science fiction, the kind the make you read in school, are dystopias.) Freedom is usually completely gone or merely an illusion.

Apocalyptic fiction tends to deal directly with some external form of catastrophe or a human (or non-human) caused apocalypse.  It can be a nuclear apocalypse, a zombie apocalypse, or one caused by biological agents.  Despite the poor reviews, I thought the Happening’s tree-apocalypse was pretty awesome.  (I have a character who believes trees are evil.  The Happening really validated things for her.)

Technically, apocalyptic fiction deals directly with the apocalypse; post-apocalyptic fiction deals with what happens after the apocalypse.  (Somewhat confusing, I know, as “post” generally gets tacked on to artistic movements as a post-script.  Postmodernism.  Postcyberpunk.  But in this case, it’s part of the genre definition.)

The Wikipedia article on Apocalyptic Fiction is fairly awesome, so I’m just going to link you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_fiction

What’s your feeling on Dystopia/Apocalyptic Fiction, Squiders? Like to see possible glances of the future, or do you find it depressing?  Recommendations?