Sunday, January 27, 2013

Friday(-ish) Forward: UGLIES, by Scott Westerfeld

First things first: I've been getting a lot of comments from "Anonymous" with badly translated versions of gobbledygook accompanied by links to "Anonymous"' website. Just to be clear: ALL COMMENTS WITH LINKS IN THEM GO STRAIGHT TO SPAM. So go the fonk away, "Anonymous."

So, now that that little piece of ugly business is out of the way (see what I did there), this weekend I want to sing the praises of Scott Westerfeld's richly imagined UGLIES. Here's the blurb: Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait for the operation that turns everyone from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to party. But new friend Shay would rather hoverboard to "the Smoke" and be free. Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn't very pretty. The "Special Circumstances" authority Dr Cable offers Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

The more I talk about this book, the more I like it. Set in a future in which humans have nearly destroyed the world with their consumption habits and their wars, UGLIES is populated by people who have decided that the best way to end disagreements over differences is to eliminate the differences, and the best way to preserve resources is to take away the need to be responsible with them. Everything is used a few times and then recycled, a new whatever-it-is popping out of the wall on request. Teens and young adults have no responsibilities, except to have fun. Even skipping school and sneaking out and playing "tricks" get nothing more than a reprimand. To Tally, getting her surgery and moving to New Pretty Town sounds like heaven. To me, and to Shay, it sounds like anathema.

Even more intriguing than the premise is that the world is so well thought out that I feel as if we really could end up this way. Westerfeld includes futuristic elements that we are alreadyworking towards: the idea that we can build things one molecule at a time, use them, and then break them down into molecular building blocks to be rebuilt into something else is being experimented with in the field of 3-D printers; the idea that we should deal with bullying by giving children plastic surgery to make them "fit in" better is already prevalent enough that it has been covered on Good Morning America here and ABC News here; and the rapid consumption of the Earth's resources is a conversation that politicians have been having for decades now. UGLIES presents a rather ugly possible future for us (pun fully intended), and I think it raises very important questions about whether we're really on the right track in terms of where we are headed culturally, with most Western economies dependent upon rampant consumerism and our tendency to look for a "quick fix" for things like bullying.

My one complaint about the book is Tally. I found her so vapid and gullible and susceptible to brainwashing in the beginning that I just couldn't relate to her, and I actually wondered if this book was meant as a satire. She got more interesting in Part Two, though, and that's when I started flying through the pages, desperate to know what would happen next.

UGLIES is awesome. Read it. Find it at your local independent bookstore, or get it online at IndieBound here, Chapters Indigo (in Canada) here, or if you really have to, Amazon here.

Happy Reading!

1 comment:

  1. I liked the first book, but found the rest in the series a little repetitive.