We by Zamaytin, Yevgeny, 1924

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Told in a diary format, We was the story of a mathematician in a heavily regulated and closely-watched society as he dealt with his sexual obsession and feelings of love for a terrorist from a group called Mephistopheles. D-503 was an engineer who had built a spacecraft called the Integral that would shortly launch and show the world the technological capabilities of this peculiar civilization. D-503 was a member of a love triangle along with O-90 and E-13, but he was seduced by I-330. The society had set down rigorous rules of all aspects of life, and the relationship with I-330 could easily have gotten D-503 into serious trouble. Citizens in the state lived in glass houses as the State assumed that nobody had anything to hide. The Integral was also made out of glass, implying that this civilization clearly intended to export its cultural values to alien races. Individuals were only allowed privacy when they had sex, and they were only allowed to do that when the ministry that was responsible for such things allowed them to. That ministry also told them who they may sleep with, and employed a computer to decide when tryst should happen. D-503, like almost everyone else, was fully indoctrinated into this culture, but his encounters with I-330 pushed him to question his own beliefs. After each encounter with her he walked away slightly changed by the experience. The questions that occurred to him after his exciting and unusual sexual encounters cast a new light, illuminating parts of his life he never expected to be impacted by an affair. His world view was so changed that he ultimately questioned the righteousness of the entire society; even the mathematical certainty of his own work. D-503 seemed to go insane with the realization that hopefulness and love could change one's view. After a time he had trouble concentrating on the other aspects of his life. Eventually his obvious confusion brought him to the attention of the Benefactor, the master of the city he lived in. Because the society's morality was based on an arcane mathematical system of ethics, the Benefactor became concerned.

The multiplication table is wiser and more absolute than the ancient God: It never - do you realize the full meaning of the word? - it never errs. And there are no happier figures than those which live according to the harmonious, eternal laws of the multiplication table. No hesitation, no delusions. There is only one truth, and only one true way; this truth is two times two, and the true way - four. And would it not be an absurdity in those happily, ideally multiplied began to think of some nonsensical freedom - i.e., clearly, of error?

To correct the problem and get D-503 interested in the Integral again the Benefactor lobotomized him and returned him to his life exactly as he was before he fell in with Mephistopheles.

Zamaytin was heavily influenced by what was going on in Russia between the two revolutions in the early part of the 20th Century. His biographers say that he went back and forth on the utility of revolutionary idealism, though he lived much of his life in exile in France and England. One of the aspects of this book that is particularly well done is the transformation of D-503 from a seemingly brainwashed cog in the wheel of the Benefactor's society to the blooming flower he became. Very little of the book is dedicated to the actual interactions between D-503 and I-330, probably because of modesty. Much more is spent inside D-503's head as he realized that the things he loved and cherished were not what he really wanted. They were just the things that the machine that ran the show allowed him to covet. Even though D-503's awakening started with a sexual revelation, he ultimately realized that free choice was what he was lacking. As a result D-503 questioned the rigid mathematical nature of society, and that ultimately created problems between him and the rulers. The Benefactor had created a world where computers decided who went where, and what they did when they got there. The goals and the processes of the society were determined by mathematical means, and those principles were applied to every decision to be made from who built the Integral to who slept with whom.

An extreme view, to be sure, but not one at all that was not reflected in reality. The Soviets may not have been as interested in mandating mating as much as they were in centralizing production, but this was an aspect of control that was used in Communist China. And to be sure, brainwashing, medical torture, invasion of privacy and suppression of contrary ideology were important to the plans of both nations.

If you are at all interested in Utopian Studies then you probably already know that this is one of the "Big Four," dystopic novels, the other three being Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, and Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. The sexual deviation elements of this story greatly influenced Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and presaged the Stalinist modesty and chastity programs in the Soviet Union by over twenty years. This one is a satire, though it is not as incredible as Animal Farm, because it pokes at Communist idealism, and pays little or no heed to human societal norms that probably stand no chance of ever being changed, such as the need for privacy. The narrator's voice is also quite revolutionary sounding as well: You have probably heard that same voice in every movie about revolution since We was published. This work is regarded as a lost classic mainly because it was banned in the Soviet Union for almost sixty years. The only reason that I came across it was because I took a course on Russian history in college and heard its title mentioned in the same breath with Orwell's works. My opinion is that it is not as well written as Orwell's books, but others have called it the greatest Dystopic book of all time. I can certainly see why it is described that way, as it clearly is among the best. One problem a casual reader may encounter is that the narrator spent almost the entire book in his own head, describing his experiences in somewhat overstated and emotional language. The narrative is very personal for this reason, and I think some may find it a bit impenetrable.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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