Thursday, July 24, 2008

Specials (book) by Scott Westerfeld

This is the final book in Westerfeld's Uglies Trilogy (or the next-to-last book, if you consider Extras to be part of the series). Tally has been turned into a Special, and readers will probably quickly realize that the changes she has undergone have affected not only her body, but also her mind. Tally is stronger, faster, and more dangerous than any Pretty or Ugly could ever be, and her mind has been changed so that she's quicker to anger and more likely to react with violence. She also can't help but view Pretties and Uglies with disgust - to her, they lack the sharpness and perfection of Specials.

Tally, Shay, and the Cutters from the previous book are all now Specials and are given the task of finding the Smokies and destroying the New Smoke. Smokies have been giving out the cure for brain lesions in amazing amounts, and the Specials are frantic to stop the changes that are threatening to topple society as they know it. Tally and Shay get their chance to stop the Smokies when they free Zane and secretly follow him and his group as try to locate the New Smoke. However, the New Smoke is stronger than anyone in Special Circumstances realizes, and the things Tally and Shay do while trying to find it spiral out of control and threaten to bring harm to the whole world, not just the New Smoke and their own city. In the end, it's up to Tally to try and figure out how to make everything better.

This was a very satisfying ending to the trilogy. Although it took a lot of adjusting to read about how much Tally had changed and how much she was enjoying being a Special, after everything in the previous books had shown how scary they were and how much she feared them, it was still fun reading about Tally's new abilities. Her new strength and speed, plus her heightened aggression, means that there are plenty of opportunities for some great action scenes. The previous books had exciting action scenes, too, but in this particular book Tally barely even needs to worry about getting hurt. She's got a heightened metabolism, specially altered muscles, nanos that kick in and automatically start healing her when she gets hurt (although it might take several hours for things like broken bones to mend), super-tough ceramic bones and teeth, senses heightened to the point where clarity is almost painfully sharp - the list goes on. With all of the cool futuristic technology and body modifications throughout this book and the entire series, it's no surprise that the first book, Uglies, is being made into a movie.

Specials is more than just action scenes and cool futuristic details, however. There are also quite a few thought-provoking moments. For instance, there's the various issues that Tally must deal with in her personal life. As a Special, Tally finds herself unwillingly disgusted by the boys she once loved, Zane and David. That doesn't stop her from wanting to protect Zane, whose motor skills were damaged by events in the previous book, and Tally's protectiveness and left-over love for Zane are part of what prompt her to, once again, act in ways inconsistent with the brain modifications that have been forced upon her. It's a little unbelievable that Tally is the only one in the entire city who is capable to thinking her way out of brain modifications - it's the usual teen fiction cliche of the one girl/boy who can do something amazing that no one else can. However, that thought didn't interfere with the fun I had reading this book.

The other big issues in this book (as well as in the previous books) are the environment and free will. According to this trilogy, the people of our time, called Rusties, nearly destroyed the world in our reliance on oil and the ways we try to change the environment for what we view as our benefit. In Westerfeld's vision of the future, many cities, including Tally's, tightly control their populations and have small government groups that watch over the safety of larger groups of beautiful, useless, idiotic populations of Pretties. Hardly anyone really has free will, and no one really misses it. In Specials, the pills the Smokies hand out give everyone back their ability to think for themselves. In theory, this is a good thing, but only Tally is able to see the problems that arise from too many people doing as they please.

In the earlier books, Westerfeld made it clear that, although the environment is recovering from the damage perpetrated on it by the Rusties, it's still fragile. If the cured people from Specials decide to go back to Rusty ways, the environment won't stand much of a chance. Tally must decide where she will stand in all of this, and what she wants to do - by the end of the book, she's made her choice, and I think it's one that shows some hope for the direction the future will take. Although Westerfeld's future is something of a dystopia, the ending to this trilogy won't necessarily send readers spiraling into a deep depression, something that I appreciate.

Unlike in previous books, where most of Tally's problems were the result of her continued lying, Tally does make an effort in this book not to lie, another thing that I, and probably other readers, appreciate. I did get tired of other things that Tally did in this book, however - for most of the book, she didn't do anything that someone (usually Shay) hadn't already told her to do, making her a bit like a dangerous sheep. She eventually began thinking for herself again, but it took a while. Still, I really enjoyed this book overall, and I hope to get the related book, Extras, from the library soon.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Feed (book) by M. T. Anderson - This chilling young adult science fiction novel takes place in a future where almost everyone has a "feed" implanted directly in their brain, allowing them constant access to the internet (and all the woes that go with it, including brain spam and pop-ups). Titus, the narrator, never thinks to question his world, but then he meets Violet, who has been home schooled and gotten her feed late. Those who'd like to read another science fiction book that's critical of a society that encourages people not to think might like this book. As with Specials, there's interesting technology and a little bit of romance.
  • The Matrix (live action movie) - A hacker finds out that the "real" world is only a construct designed to keep people docile, so that they can be used as living batteries by robots - this hacker discovers that he is the only one who can free humanity from these robots and the constructed world. Those who'd like something with lots of action scenes and characters doing amazing and impossible stunts might like this movie. As in Specials, people are trying to break free of restraints that most people don't even realize exist.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhance cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. Those who'd like something with futuristic body enhancements, lots of fast-paced action, and a story that encourages viewers to think about the impact of all this futuristic technology might like this movie.
  • Blue Bloods (book) by Melissa De La Cruz - Schuyler is treated like an outcast by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend. At the age of 15, Schuyler learns that she is a "blue blood," a very special vampire who is descended from a very old line. Unfortunately, lots of blue bloods have been dying, and Schuyler has to find out why before she, too, ends up dead. Those who'd like another book with a "change at a certain age" aspect and a cool secret group might like this book. This is the first book in a series.
  • Be More Chill (book) by Ned Vizzini - Jeremy Heere is smart and nerdy, and he doesn't consider himself to be very cool. When the girl he secretly loves is cast opposite him in a school play, he tries to win her by purchasing a "squip." He swallows it, and it embeds itself in his brain, telling him all the cool things to say and do in order to impress the girl. Those who'd like another book focusing on teens and teen emotions, with futuristic technology, might like this book. This book is not for everyone, as it has teen drug use (at one point, Jeremy takes Ecstasy, which messes up his "squip"), sexual themes, and profanity.


  1. Hmm, I'm not sure I would want to see this as a movie... I don't think it's possible for hoverboarding to be as cool in "real life" as it is in my imagination.

  2. I know it only shows how naive I am, but when I hear that a book I like is being made into a movie, my first reaction is usually, "yay!" Then later on, when reality has had a chance to reach me, I have the same reaction you do. :)

    I don't think anything is ever as cool in a movie based on a book as it is in your imagination, but I think it's usually nice to see the attempt. Of course, then there are the movies that completely screw things up (Blood and Chocolate - they changed my favorite character, turned him into a bad guy, and killed him!). Even if Uglies can't measure up to imagination, I hope it'll at least be enjoyable to watch.