When I spotted the book and read that this was an inspiration for the likes of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley I knew that I was going to have to give it a go. I love dystopian fiction and much of that stems from ‘Brave New World’.
The story follows a space engineer in OneState, where everyone is part of ‘We’ under the great Benefactor, and life is strictly followed according to the Table. He comes across another number (no-one has a name) who severely disrupts his life, his feelings and in his opinion his sanity. He gets diagnosed as having a soul, and reading his writings which are meant for being included on his space rocket as OneState travels out into the universe in order to bring happiness to all is very painful indeed. His world gets completely disrupted.
And I will admit while the piece is short, it is one of the most difficult books I have ever tried to read. I don’t think any of that comes from the fact it was translated from Russian, from the fact it is early Science Fiction written in the 1920s, or even that the prose is clunky in places.
I think my main problem was that by the end I had no sympathy for the rebels, and much of the dystopian literature I am familiar with you are supposed to be sympathetic with them. The book is told from the viewpoint of only one person who gets integrated into rebellion, has his feelings manipulated but only because as the builder of the space rocket which the rebels want to take over he can get them access to it. But the rebels don’t really care about him; they put him through all of this torment supposedly because they want to be free of OneState but in truth OneState is more sympathetic to him in the end.
Fine yes at the end they perform an operation on his brain to rid him of his imagination, but at the end he is happy, and the rebels never cared about the protagonist’s happiness. He is cared for by OneState in the manner that he understands and given back his life as he always knew it. And by being happy for him at the end, shows why ‘We’ is considered to be one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. (At least according to the late and great Ursula K. le Guin and I am inclined to agree with her.)
The storyworld building and the main character’s integration into this storyworld is so perfect, that you do end up happy for him at the end because he gets to go back to life as he always knew it, even though every hour of every day is regulated for him; his sexual partners are assigned to him; he lives in a room made entirely of glass and is devoid of privacy apart from when they are allowed to put the blinds down for sexual activity. His world is horrific, but the explanation of how it makes the character feel is so normal that by the end you are happy that the abnormality of what the rebels did to him is over.
That is a mark of brilliant writing. As much as you know it is awful, because you are reading it from the perspective of the protagonist, and his voice speaks to you so well, you end up forgetting that.
Utterly brilliant book even if it is hard to read and follow in places.