Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Extras Book Review

Warning: This book review contains spoilers to the original Uglies trilogy, reviewed in a previous post… skip to the last line for my opinion if you don’t want the spoiler.

At the end of Specials, Tally, who has been forced into a variety of roles through her life with her most recent rewiring turning her into a violent and mentally unbalanced Special, refuses to be rewired yet again.  She is one of the few people who has been repeatedly able to overcome the physical changes made to her brain and so she trusts to her ongoing ability to do this.  As the novel ends, Tally and her fellow Cutters have revealed the truth of these operations – brain rewiring and, for the average pretty, bubbleheadedness – causing a “mind rain,” in which the lesions are reversed, people discover their individuality and freedom, and the possibility of a return to a “Rusty” way of life is quite possible.  Tally is one of the few who realizes the planetary dangers of individual freedom and so she retreats into the wild to fight back against those who inevitably will expand their cities to satisfy their whims and thus begin again the process of destroying the world.

Fast forward three years, and Scott Westerfeld places us in a city in what was once Japan where the mind rain has caused considerable changes.  People can now change their appearance in any way they like, lesions are optional (though, disturbingly enough, still chosen by a few), and the hole in the wall is no longer quite so generous.  This last detail is due to the new reputation economy that has been set up – every citizen has a rank, with one being the best.  Those with the highest ranks receive the best and most stuff.  For those whose ranks are lowest, there is the chance of earning merits (by taking care of littlies or a variety of other tasks) to gain extra credit so that the hole in the wall will give them stuff.  To work your way up in rank, you must either be a criminal, have a group of Reputation Bombers repeat your name for hours, or “kick” amazing stories that get people saying your name and looking at your feed.  Despite these changes, the prettiness as defined in the earlier books is still important – the #2 ranking citizen is the only person in recent history to have been born naturally pretty (Tally Youngblood is #1).

Meet Aya, a fifteen year old with a big nose and a terrible rank.  She would do anything to become famous, including befriending the Sly Girls (a group who tries to have the worst possible reputations while performing dangerous stunts) and then betraying them to kick their story to the world.  Along with the Sly Girls, Aya discovers a mountain filled with what could be missiles and a launcher, run by inhuman freaks.  She kicks this story, and simultaneously becomes instantly famous and the target of the freaks.  Tally Youngblood comes to the rescue and they go on an adventure to learn the truth and save the world.

Extras is definitely the fourth book in a trilogy.  While Aya, like Tally before her, is initially focused on selfish impulses only to learn of something larger than herself, Aya never departs from her obsession with face rank.  Despite being sympathetically written, she is impossible to like and shameful to identify with.  The rules of the city that she lives in are equally disappointing; departing from the originality of the earlier books, Westerfeld bases this new city system on Twitter rather than coming up with a fresh idea.  Replace “kick” with “tweet,” “face rank” with “trending worldwide.” And make the limit ten minutes rather than 140 characters, and you’ll see what I mean.  A world based on Twitter is just not something that I want to read about – though in Westerfeld’s defense, maybe teens do if this book is any indication.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of the novel is its ending.  Whereas each of the previous novels ends on a ominous cliffhanger, culminating in Tally’s brave decision to enter the wild and fight back humanity’s expansionist impulses, Extras ends at a party.  Nana Love, the #2 citizen in the city, hosts an annual Thousand Faces Party for the top thousand citizens and lo and behold!  All of the active characters up to now have joined this rank and can now party together!  Including the savagely-designed Tally, who replaces her camo with a ball gown for the occasion!  What a smashing end!  Nobody grows up and nothing is learned.  You could almost forget those freaks who, it turns out, are actually launching themselves into orbit with all the metal in the world to start a new colony and restrict human expansion on Earth (don’t worry, everybody forgives Aya for kicking a lie).

What this book screams to me is MONEY!  MONEY!  MONEY!  Westerfeld had already completed a perfectly respectable dystopian series, to be made into a movie, and the addition of a fourth book seems to me to be indicative of a desire to just earn more money without the burden of extra creativity.  The final novel appeals to little more than a depiction of a selfish teen’s desire for fame and wealth and while that may be an effective selling tactic, it is not acceptable as an ending to a series that has promoted the inner strength of youths and their ability to literally change the world.

Overall?  Stick with the trilogy.  Extras is not worth the time or disappointment.

1 comment:

  1. Mac and cheese! Preferably Velveeta. It's not the same if the cheese isn't squished out of a packet...

    ...That's what she said?