Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Extras (book) by Scott Westerfeld

This book takes place approximately three years after the events of Specials. It's set somewhere in Japan with an entirely new cast of main characters (don't worry, Tally and others turn up later in the book). Westerfeld makes an effort to bring readers up to speed on events that occurred in previous books, but I still wouldn't recommend this book to those who haven't read any of Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy (series? -I'm really not sure what to call it anymore).

The main character of this book is Aya Fuse, a 15-year-old girl living in a city with something called a "reputation economy." In the reputation economy, the more famous you are, the more stuff you get. You can accomplish the same thing by collecting merits (doing something that benefits society in some way, like caring for children or becoming a doctor), but it's a lot easier and more fun just to publish stuff on your feed. Aya is a kicker, someone who hunts down stories to publish, in the hope that one of these stories will make her famous. So far, no such luck, but when Aya gets involved with the Sly Girls, an ultra-secretive group that does super-dangerous hoverboard tricks, she's convinced that she's found the story that'll boost her reputation into the top thousand. During her time with the Sly Girls, however, Aya discovers the story of a lifetime - there's someone (or something) out in the wild with something that might be capable of destroying cities.

Aya's society is very different from the one that Tally had to deal with in her three books. The book jacket compares it to a "gigantic game of American Idol," but I think it's more accurate to compare it to something like blogging or Youtube. Just like people in Aya's city all get their own free feeds, anyone can get a Youtube account or a free blog. What people do with those things differs, but a lot of people hope they'll get noticed - maybe one of their videos will be one of the picks of the day, or maybe their blog will get mentioned on the news or on some even more popular blog. I remember reading about a guy who quit being a doctor because his blog made him more money than practicing medicine ever had. In Aya's world, things are just taken to the next level. At one point, I found myself wondering how many people actually took the time to earn merits - near the end of the book, Tally calls the reputation economy "brain-missing" and Hiro (Aya's brother) tries to defend it by saying that it motivates people, but how many people are actually motivated to go out an learn to do something besides spread gossip in their feeds?

Although Aya definitely has her daring moments, I didn't think she was as daring and athletic as Tally. That's not necessarily a bad thing, although her main activity, trying to get footage for her stories, did annoy me after a while. I'm not sure that Aya ever really settled on how far she'd go for a story, either - her determination to get footage caused problems for herself and others several times, and, if they hadn't basically given her their blessing in the end, I'd say that she betrayed the Sly Girls. I did find it encouraging that Aya was eventually willing to admit that she got her story of a lifetime wrong, and she seemed to actively be trying to think through ethical issues by the end, but still... It felt like the book ended before there were any really good signs that Aya had changed.

This book, like Westerfeld's previous books set in this world, had some really interesting technology. There's a lot I could talk about, but I think I'm going to settle on my favorite: Radical Honesty. Frizz Mizuno, a guy who's slightly older than Aya and a lot more popular than her, invented Radical Honesty and had it done on himself - others in his clique followed suit. Anyway, Radical Honesty is a kind of brain surgery that makes it so that a person can't lie in any way. No half truths, no lying by omission. Amazingly enough, Frizz doesn't often say things that make others angry with him. Although Radical Honesty causes a few problems late in the book, it still comes in handy, because I think it's the main thing that brought Aya and Frizz together. If Frizz hadn't had Radical Honesty, Aya probably wouldn't have believed it when he said that he likes her "big nose" (Aya is still an ugly, meaning that she still has all the features that nature and genetics gave her).

For those interested in characters from the previous books, Tally, Shay, Fausto, Andrew, and David show up (I might be forgetting a few people...). Tally gets the most story time - it's weird seeing her from Aya's perspective. Aya doesn't know her and, after she gets over her idol worshiping, is rightfully a little worried about Tally's somewhat unbalanced behavior (Tally still has all her Special anger and violence, although she does her best to fight it). Tally seems somewhat grim, but there are signs that she might finally be warming up to David again. It's nice.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I'm not sure if I liked it better than the three Uglies books, and I kind of wished that there was a little more, but I still thought it was really good.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review. I enjoyed the first three, especially Uglies, so now I'm inspired again to track down this one!