“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin is everything that is awesome about the dystopian genre–irreverence for history, a dictatorship-style of government, and a ubiquitous factory lifestyle. However, what makes “We” stand out is how this lesser-known novel (when compared with works like “1984” and “Brave New World,”) set the standard for later works. Written in 1921, this novel draws from Zamyatin’s personal experiences in the Russian Revolutions and WWI. Written as mostly a series of journal entries, “We” tracks the daily experiences and thoughts of D-503, a man who lives in the totalitarian One State which is responsible for planning his every minute of every day. One State is essentially the worldwide nation after a super power conquered the world, and the book’s premise is D-503 wanting to write a journal to take on a spaceship as One State leaves Earth to go conquer other planets.
What makes “We” so interesting is that D-503 is totally into One State and his planned life. He’s having a grand old time following the dystopian rules, and refers to modern (our definition of modern) society as “the ancients.” His love of One State stems from the fact that we (you and me) basically run around willy nilly having babies whenever we want, doing essentially whatever we want, and going to any place we want. This, to him, is the very opposite of civilization, and is very animalistic. To D-503, animals are not “free,” they are bound by their instincts and animalistic nature. According to D-503, citizens of One State are totally free because they don’t have to worry about when to have babies, where to go, and what to do–this is already planned out. Instead, One State citizens can focus on more intellectual pursuits.
This is all well and good until he finds I-330, a woman who drinks, smokes, and has unplanned sexual encounters–all of which are very illegal in One State. Despite being a good citizen, D-503 finds her intriguing, and she introduces him to a whole new world in One State that D-503 never saw coming…
You know I hate giving away too much of the plot of a book, so I’ll just leave it at that. “We” is an awesome read, and as a precursor to many of the great dystopian novels out there today, it’s sort of like listening to Buddy Holly or Roy Orbison to try and understand rock and roll–it might not be the most pop culture friendly book, but it certainly set a standard for concepts of a dystopia. Read this book if you’re at all intrigued by the above teaser, or if you’re looking for a dystopian novel that isn’t a teen novel written to turn into a movie.