Yevgeny Zamyatin
We Cover


Sable Aradia

Read for the Apocalypse Now! Reading Challenge and the Vernon Library Summer Reading Challenge.

Method of the world's destruction: a two-hundred year war, probably involving vast application of chemical and biological warfare, eventually resulting in the destruction of most of civilization and the domination of the One State.

What an intense book!

Zamyatin was exiled repeatedly from Russia for the inflammatory nature of his writing, even though he was originally a Bolshevik. We is a dystopian vision of a future in which there are no people, only numbers, who are cogs in the machine of the One State, in which everyone lives in glass houses and all activities are prescribed according to the Table of Hours. Even daily walks are done in public, in step with everyone else, to the piping of the recorded One State March. All art serves State propaganda. And imagination is seen as a disease to be excised. One such number's world view is shattered by a number who does not behave as she should, and he discovers an incurable disease in himself- a soul.

This book in its translation by Mirra Ginsburg is beautifully written, and it may be seen in a variety of ways. Is it science fiction, poetry or satire? Because the author's work is thick with metaphor, it could very well be all three, and it's somewhat surreal for the dedicated science fiction fan to read, as one questions what is merely the author's perceptions and what is the literal truth? The language is hypnotic and the story is both wonderful and terrible, hopeful and disturbing.

It's hard for a modern reader to grasp the true horror that WWI left on the consciousness of the world that survived it. These were perhaps the first truly modern people, who understood that the power to destroy all civilization, and indeed, perhaps all planetary life, was within our childish grasp. They had a horror of chemical warfare and germ warfare that paralleled our horror of nuclear war, and rightfully so; mustard gas, for example, can stay in the soil for years, just waiting for someone to stir it up again. They genuinely believed that the world might find itself mired in a war that literally would not stop until the world had ended, and looking at the blasted remains of Europe and Asia following it, I can see why. It is a persistent theme in the science fiction of the time period (Stapledon, Wells and Zamyatin) that such a war would end civilization; and even then they were aware that oil would not last forever. How we have now found ourselves, nearly a hundred years later, in a world in which the fortunes of nations literally rise and fall on the price of oil, and how people have become so casual about war, I fail to comprehend. Perhaps more of us need to read the science fiction of the 1920s.

It's amazing how a book written in 1921 predicted accurately some of the greatest excesses of the Stalin regime and how pertinent it remains today. I think I will have to read this book again sometime because there's so much subtext that I'm certain I've missed things. Highly recommended if you want something to make you think, but don't read it before falling asleep, because it may give you nightmares.