Sunday, April 29, 2012

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Around the World: 16 of 52 (Russia)

This book has not been on my radar for long, but when something is considered to be "the best single work of science fiction yet written" (Ursula K. Le Guin) and the precursor of 1984 and Brave New World, not to mention the majority of current science fiction (Bruce Sterling introduction), I knew I couldn't put it off.

An interesting historical note - it was published in England (1921) long before it was published in Russia (1988), and Orwell read it before writing 1984.

For such a significant work, you might expect it to be difficult, or long, but We is around 200 pages and written as a journal. D-503 is a mathematician working on "The Integral," a rocketship of sorts that grows in importance throughout the story. The culture is completely mapped out, and everyone lives (literally) in step. Individuality is the most shameful trait.

I enjoyed the characters, and all the little details, such as the idea that the desire to dance proves that humans desire non-freedom.

A few quotations:
"I love - we love - skies like this, sterile and flawless!"

And since I'm such a great lover of Russian classical music, particularly Scriabin, the parts about creativity and music really capture me:
"They could create only if they drove themselves to fits of 'inspiration,' a strange form of epilepsy. And here is an amusing illustration of their results: the music of Scriabin, twentieth century..."

"...Epilepsy is a psychic sickness- a pain... a slow, sweet pain - a sting - and you wish it would go deeper, hurt more... Then slowly - sunshine emerges. Not our kind of sunshine, the pale-bluish-crystalline kind, which disperses evenly through our glass bricks- no: it was a wild, rushing, burning sun, expelling itself, shedding itself in little tufts."

"'WE' is divine, and 'I' is satanic."

"Individual consciousness is just sickness."

"Revolutions are infinite."

"[People] have wanted someone, anyone, to tell them once and for all what happiness is - and then to attach them to this happiness with a chain."

For even more information on the context of We, consult Eric Rabkin's article in Foundation no. 65.

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