When I talk to others about dystopian novels (which happens surprisingly often), most of them have read 1984, and lots have read Brave New World. Most know about Yvegny Zamyatin‘s We, but I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has actually read it. Some have even tried to read it, but everyone seems to think it’s boring. At some point when I was in high school, I bought a paperback copy of We from my local Borders. Fresh off of 1984, I was excited to delve more deeply into my newly discovered favorite genre. But I didn’t get far into We. In fact, I think it put me to sleep within ten minutes. I have no idea why except that maybe I’d happened upon a bad translation.
Because We is good. I might even like it more than 1984, which is a very tall order.
It’s about a man named D-503 in a totalitarian society that you’d expect out of any dystopian novel. Society is regimented, everyone is constantly being watched. The key to happiness, they think, is the eradication of imagination, of the soul. Citizens live in apartment buildings made almost entirely out of glass. There is no privacy except for planned sex days, when they’re allowed to lower the blinds for half an hour and have sex with partners to whom they’re registered. Like Brave New World, any children must be carefully planned, and they’re immediately taken away from their parents to be indoctrinated by the state. D-503 is content here. He is the chief architect of the Integral, a flying saucer of sorts meant to spread this society’s government throughout the universe since it has already dominated the Earth. Everything is great until I-330 (a woman – men’s names begin with consonants, and women’s names begin with vowels) enters the picture, gets D-503 all riled up, and gets him in touch (he, he) with his imagination. This novel is written like a journal, so the reader gets to experience his discoveries alongside him, making his experiences feel authentic and immediate. As he awakens, he begins to figure things out, and Things Happen. That’s as far as my summary goes.
If you like 1984, We is a must-read. It’s a huge influence on lots of my favorite dystopian novels. And what’s funny is that even though We was written in 1929, it doesn’t feel dated for the most part. There’s a scene in which lots of people go into space for a short time on the Integral, and it’s especially interesting to read about what people in Russia in the 1920s thought space travel might be like, how the mechanics might work.
Seriously. Check this one out even if you’ve thought for years that it would be boring. Because it’s not and because it’s totally worth your time.
Bonus: Speaking of dystopian media, have you seen the old silent movie Metropolis? Turns out you can watch the whole thing (in parts) on YouTube.