Pampered and dependent and pretty
February 4, 2009 3 Comments
In Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, everyone is made pretty at age 16. Not just beautiful, but far beyond, to the point implied by our evolutionary origins. A point where you look both vulnerable, healthy, wise and attractive. Pretty to a degree not possible by random mutation.
As a minor side effect, the operation turns you into a happy, empty-headed party animal – unless your job requires otherwise. Somebody has to make all the toys work.
Yes, we’re in a dissonant utopia here. Everything is perfect, except it isn’t. There is no overt oppression in this world of happy, shiny people. You rarely see the Secret Police. But when you do, you obey instinctively, because they have had plastic surgery too, and their beauty is a cruel beauty, the kind that inspires awe and fear.
The story is about Tally, a young “ugly” (ie. pre-operation) girl, who gets involved with freethinkers who want to live normally, like in the old days. It’s similar to Tripods and Fahrenheit 451, and the result is very enjoyable.
The Uglies novels are written for the young adult market, which means they are short and easy to read. Isn’t it funny how often good writing overlaps with enjoyable writing? You can’t be self-indulgent when you’re writing for teenagers. Actually, Westerfeld’s adult Succession novels were succinct too. The main difference is that Uglies doesn’t feel as crammed full of ideas as Succession did, and it is better for it.