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The One State is the perfect society, ruled over by the enlightened Benefactor. It is a city made almost entirely of glass, where surveillance is universal and life runs according to algorithmic rules to ensure perfect happiness. And D-503, the Builder, is the ideal citizen, at least until he meets I-330, who opens his eyes to new ideas of love, sex and freedom. A foundational work of dystopian fiction, inspiration for both Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley's Brave New World, WE is a book of radical imaginings - of ...

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Mar 19, 2009

Nineteen Twenty-One

This dystopian book is similar in many ways to Nineteen Eighty-Four, but was written over twenty years earlier in bolshevik Russia. Zamyatin perceives a future in which a tiny number of survivors on Earth live in the domed city of the "One State", where their every action is regulated to the last chew of their food.

Protagonist and narrator D-503 is writing a series of notes to the 'aliens' intended to be contacted via the Integral (basically, a spaceship) that he is in charge of building. The plan is to convert even extra-terrestials to the peace and solidarity of the One State. But when D-503 encounters the heretical and elusive I-330, both his life and the narrative start to run off the rails.

Zamyatin tentatively explores conformity, both in the in 'top-down' dictatorship from the Benefactor and in the pressure of the citizens' peers. Every wall in the One State is glass; every action (except sex) is open to view. This lack of privacy is similar to Orwell's ubiquitous viewscreens, except that here, there is literally no corner in which to hide.

Sadly, D-503 proves to be no hero.

This translation is readable and the story moves along at a reasonable pace. The book is only short, especially when compared to Orwell's lengthy tome. Definitely worth reading both in order to make a comparison, and it was instructive to see where Orwell may have got some of his ideas.

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