Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Science Fiction Review

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Ugly Truth in Uglies

Uglies is a science fiction novel written by Scott Westerfeld in 2005. It follows the adventures of a girl in a dystopian society set far into the future. It has all the key elements for science fiction as well as incredible dystopian design. The book is the first in a series of four. In this essay I will summarize the novel, explore its science fiction elements, identify the running themes, and explain the relation in the text and society today. Uglies is a science fiction novel that confronts many social issues that are evident today while also developing characters and a story that will continue in the following books.

Uglies takes place in the distant future after the fall of civilization as we know it. They refer to our civilians as rusties because of the rusty skeletons of the cities we lived in. Children are born into families with a mother and father. They are referred to as littlies and live with their parents until they outgrow the cute stage and become ugly. The main character, Tally Youngblood, is in this ugly phase. They children remain ugly until they turn sixteen. On their sixteenth birthday, then receive an operation that alters their face and body to the most beautiful and ideal form. Uglies are taught all their life to look forward to becoming pretty and to be disgusted with ugly faces, examining every imperfection and flaw of themselves and their peers. When they turn sixteen, they move to New Pretty town where they party and enjoy their new beauty. They will eventually get jobs and have kids and move into the suburban part of the community. Uglies are known for the tricks they pull, something Tally is quite good at. The beginning of the novel follows Tally pulling a rather large trick.

Tally Youngblood is fifteen. She grew up with a best friend name Peris. Peris was older than Tally, so he had already had the operation and moved to New Pretty town. Tally begins the novel with sneaking over to New Pretty town to see Peris. She causes some trouble and on her way home, she meets another ugly named Shay who was also sneaking around New Pretty town. Shay is different than the other uglies Tally has known. Shay and Tally become friends over the next few months. Their birthdays are on the same day, so they will have the operation at the same time. Over time, Shay confesses to Tally that she does not want to be pretty. At the time, Tally brushed it off, but a week before their birthday, Shay runs away. The night before she leaves, she tells Tally about a town in the wild, far away. The town is called the Smoke. The Smoke is a place secret from their civilization and a place where no one has the surgery to become pretty. Shay asks Tally to leave with her, but Tally refuses. Shay leaves Tally a note, written in code, with directions to the Smoke.

On Tally’s sixteenth birthday, she leaves for the operation. There is a problem and she is rushed away to Special Circumstances. There, she meets a Dr. Cable. The specials, employees of special circumstances, are harshly beautiful and have superhero-like capabilities. Dr. Cable explains to Tally that they are looking for the Smoke, so Tally must go there and activate a pendant that will send her location to the specials or else Tally will never have the pretty operation. Tally embarks on a very dangerous journey to the Smoke.

There are four main types of characters in Uglies. There are uglies, the young people who are at a transitional period in their lives. They are brainwashed and almost self-loathing as they wait to become a pretty. There are pretties, who are surgically altered to be beautiful and loved. Most of them have lesions on their brains interfering with how they think. There are smokies, the people that have run away from civilization because they do not want to become pretty. Lastly, there are specials. Specials are super humans that act as a sort of government agency trying to track down the Smoke and put it to an end.

Uglies fits in to my definition as a science fiction novel. There is lots of futuristic technology, such as hover boards and their drastic surgical capabilities. The technology is not something that is really possible today, but it is not supernatural in nature. I think it does a great job of explain the past without dwelling on it. It is still very much focused on the plot and the characters. It has elements that reminds me of the Handmaid’s Tale. Society has shifted drastically and there are reasons behind it that the characters mostly do not know or understand. A lot of science fiction will focus heavily on the science, so that is one difference I found while reading Uglies.

A huge theme of the book is changing perspectives. Tally’s perspective completely changes from the beginning of the book. She goes from anxiously awaiting turning sixteen and becoming a pretty, to working hard in the woods and fighting to change pretties back into uglies. She also completely changes her perspective on the city and what everything means, mostly because she sees the outside and learns what the pretty surgery really does. Shay’s perspective is also greatly impacted by her pretty surgery and the lesions on her brain. David, a boy from the smoke, has a perspective shift thanks to Tally and her insight into city life.

There is also the theme of consumer-based societies. When Tally is the Smoke, David gives her a pair of leather gloves from his childhood. At first, she cannot put her finger on what makes them so special. Then she decides it is the history that they hold. In her previous life, they could have basically anything they wanted. Order some new clothes or a new hover board, but everything was recycled and nothing was ever reused.

Universal equality is a big theme in the book as well. They talk about the history of the rusties and explain that everyone used to be ugly. They said people were more stupid then as well and sometimes certain people would be famous or be elected just because they were slightly less ugly than the rest. This reminds me of being in school and learning about the first presidential debate to be televised. Before the television, candidates had to be picked mostly for just what they sounded like and what they said. When the television was introduced, this added an element of public speaking and being about to perform well and look healthy and trustworthy. In this futuristic world, they explain that everyone is equal because everyone is equally beautiful. Because everyone is beautiful, no one gets an unfair advantage.

In concept, their society does sound pretty great. All of their energy is sustainable, there is no class system, no hunger or shortage, and everyone is equal. However, as the story progresses, you learn that the pretty surgery does have more consequences. We learn that the surgery not only enhances the physical appearance, but also creates lesions on the brain that make the person happier and more compliant. These lesions are reversible though, because some pretties do not have them. The pretties that do not have the brain lesions are the jobs that require them to think critically. All the doctors, firefighters, and specials have been cured of the lesions. This is where the story changes from utopia to dystopia.

The cultural context is very clear to me in this story. Our society is very much focused on beauty. In some ways, I see similarities between the uglies and our society now. The uglies are taught that they are ugly and these other people are pretty. In our capitalist society, that means that we have to buy all the things to make us pretty, but to the uglies it just means waiting to “grow up.” Also they discuss how some people had unfair advantages in the old world. For example, people born with extreme amounts of wealth had more advantages, as well as people who were born more beautiful.

When I began reading the novel, I was very much impressed with their society. At first, it seemed like everything was great. Everyone had equal opportunity and a relatively large amount of freedom. I understood the appeal of the Smoke, but at the same time I did not see the conflict. If some people are happy in the city and some people are happy outside, no problem. The conflict arises when you interfere with people’s thinking capacity and freewill. Almost all the members of this city are not mentally able to comprehend what is going on. Even if they did, they would not feel any urges to change anything about the society. The pretties are completely happy and completely taken care of. This is where I once again find some conflict in the story. Shay is turned into a pretty towards the end of the book. They found a cure for the brain lesions, but they will not giver her they medicine against her will. In her pretty brain, she is completely happy and refuses the medication. Even if the people of the Smoke are able to tell everyone in the city about the brain lesions, the people will still not want to be cured. The point here is that people need to have the free will to decide. Originally, they did not get to decide if they wanted the brain lesions. But this is what sets the smokies apart. They will not choose for the people. Shay brings up some good points in her arguments to the smokies. Maybe she was more competent then, but she was also much more angry and unhappy. She explains that she likes the way she is now and it is completely understandable. Either way, I like a story that does not have clear good and bad. I enjoyed this novel very much.

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