ExtrasOctober 25, 2007
pub. Simon Pulse: 432pp
This is the fourth book in the Uglies/Pretties/Specials trilogy. Yes, I did say the fourth book in the trilogy. Apparently, Scott Westerfeld just couldn’t stay away from the world he had created in the original books. To me, this is a very good thing.
In this future world, people of our time (Rusties) have destroyed civilization as we know it, and in its place a new society has risen. The first three books tell the story of Tally Youngblood’s journey through the various body and brain modifications given to kids as they reach and pass puberty. Unfortunately what seems like a benefit to all comes with a very high cost; one which Tally figures out and works to eliminate. Ultimately she rebels against this society and helps to bring about major changes.
Extras picks up the story in the post-pretties era, one in which people have been set free to re-craft their culture in any way they see fit. It takes us to a new city where everyone has a feed on an advanced internet. Computers monitor all these feeds in addition to everyone’s conversations, which feeds are being watched, etc. in order to give everyone a “face rank.” The higher your face rank, the more important you are. In fact, the entire economy is based on popularity. Those with the highest rank are given the biggest apartments, the nicest clothes, etc. But for those at the bottom of the barrel, they must be good citizens in order to earn “merits” which they can trade for the goods and services they need.
The main character, Aya Fuse,has an extremely low rank – in the 480,000’s – and will do anything to catch the big story that will propel her into the upper ranks of fame. In pursuit of this goal, she falls into a major adventure that takes her beyond her wildest dreams and brings her into contact with the world’s most famous person, the one and only Tally Youngblood.
I really liked the first three books of this series, especially the way there was a major phase shift between each book that physically transformed Tally and also forced her to adapt mentally and emotionally. However, I do think the series lost some of its momentum as it moved towards its conclusion in the third book. This new volume, thankfully, restores the series to its original level. It is a compelling world with enough new ideas, concepts, and cool gadgets to keep you thinking, and at the same time the plot hums along like Westerfeld at his best.
It was also fun to read this book having just read the articles about popularity and gossip I mentioned in my Deep Impact of Language post. Here was an entire culture based on nothing but the concept of what is essentially gossip or public perception of who we are. By creating this world, Westerfeld allows us to look at what some of the possible outcomes of current trends might be (collecting friends on Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking sites, personal blogging, etc.) and to think about whether those are ultimately good or bad for society as a whole. As always, I really love the way fiction allows for an ethical sandbox or laboratory, and this series in particular does this very well.