Thursday 5 April 2012

Guest Post | Kristopher of The Sound and Fury Reviews We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Today on The Speculative Scotsman, it's my absolute pleasure to play host to a terrific critique of a book I'll freely admit I hadn't heard of before the text of this guest post arrived in my inbox.

Alas, even with my Amazon Prime membership - what can I say? I'm a sucker for "free" postage - the copy of We I immediately ordered didn't arrive on time for me to bundle it off to the States. But hey, it'll be something to look forward to when I get back!

If you've ever visited the comments section here on TSS, you'll know his name: Kristopher A. Denby has been a mainstay around these here parts, with always something interesting to say. But did you know Kris also keeps an excellent occasional blog? And if not, why not?! 

The Sound and Fury of Kristopher A. Denby has been in my bookmarks for many, many years, and if it isn't already among your favourite haunts, well... you need only read on to see why it should be.


Buy this book from:

"The citizens of the One State live in a condition of 'mathematically infallible happiness'. D-503 decides to keep a diary of his days working for the collective good in this clean, blue city state where nature, privacy and individual liberty have been eradicated. But over the course of his journal D-503 suddenly finds himself caught up in unthinkable and illegal activities - love and rebellion.

"Banned on its publication in Russia in 1921, We is the first modern dystopian novel and a satire on state control that has once again become chillingly relevant."


I have a confession to make: I’d never heard of We or Yevgeny Zamyatin before the book was prescribed to me by a college professor. It’s best to get that out of the way straight off to avoid sounding know-it-allish while I attempt to persuade you to read this book. And make no mistake, you should read this book.

More likely than not, you are all considerably more sophisticated than I, and have covered the literary spectrum in your readings, dutifully paying equal attention to those noteworthy works which had spent the better part of a century (before we were all smitten with Glasnost) locked behind an iron curtain. On the off chance that you find yourself in my shoes, though, scratching your head in wonder at the notion that the Commies could have produced great sci-fi, then please, dear readers, allow me the chance to unburden you of your ignorance.

Written in 1921, a mere four years after the Russian Revolution, We tells the story of D-503, citizen of the One State and builder of the Integral, a great starship that will enable the totalitarian government of the One State to travel to the other planets in the solar system and subjugate their inhabitants “to the beneficial yoke of reason”. D-503 is a model subject, bending all of his thoughts and desires towards the goals of the One State. But when he encounters the strange, seductive female, I-330, his ordered world of numbers and degrees begins to unravel into chaos.

The plot should be familiar to any self respecting science fiction fan. We has inspired works great and terrible, big and small, from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to Lucas’s THX 1138, and everything in between, including the films Logan’s Run, Gattaca and Equilibrium. But beyond being a particularly prescient work of speculative fiction, warning of the ills of governments run amok, the loss of the individual within the collective, and the cyclical nature of revolution, it is also simply a damned well written book.

Zamyatin’s prose is a thing of such striking beauty that the reader is compelled to linger over certain passages as one might linger in a museum in front of a particularly beautiful painting. D-503’s (by way of Zamyatin) antiseptic, mathematical descriptions of his world and the people who inhabit it are, at times, breathtaking, and imbued with such an original and innovative command of wordcraft that it’s easy to forget that you’re reading a book that was written nearly a century ago. [Okay, I'm in! - Niall]

And if the language of We shows little signs of wear, the themes contained within its pages show even less. Zamyatin’s criticism of the new Soviet government and its ham fisted attempts at social and economic equity are perhaps (oddly enough) just as relevant today as they were then.

Within the Green Wall of the One State, the buildings are made up of a clear glass-alloy that affords no privacy to any of its inhabitants, except on Sex Days when citizens are allotted 20 minutes to lower the blinds and, ahem… conduct business. The transparency of Zamyatin’s glass buildings, and the society contained within their walls, bear a striking resemblance to our own surveillance saturated society. With cameras on every street corner, in every ATM, every store, public building, and in every computer; our world, the world of 2012, is the symbolic equivalent to glass world of Zamyatin’s totalitarian One State. Even the One State’s march towards human perfection via the excision of the imagination is a dead ringer for Eugenics, which has managed to rear its ugly head again in recent years. 

We, though not as well known as its English successor, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is, nevertheless, just as important as the more well known work, and perhaps more beautiful and hopeful in its conclusion than Orwell’s famous dystopia. Regardless of what you look for in a book, however, be it keen social commentary or pure entertainment, this blast from the past, this classic titan amongst dystopian science fiction has got you covered. I highly recommend it.

Kirk out.


And how!

Five stars to this fantastic review, and here... doesn't the book sound cool too?

Thanks again, Kris, for putting this piece together for TSS. I owe you my left leg. Just let me know when you need it!

And readers? You know where he's at already. I bid you: go there, and be very merry. :) 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm returning to the blog tomorrow, for week two of Letters From America. So do stay tuned.


  1. Sounds excellent. And I'd love to respond to someone's "What're you reading?" with a "It's a relevant 1921 Russian science fiction novel about totalitarianism." Plus, I'm curious about the title.

  2. Hey, thanks to you both for checking out the review, and for visiting Niall's corner of the world!

    I can't say enough about 'We', but I must admit that it requires some thinking. It's a give and take book. You get out what you put in. Ya know?

    The Sound and Fury of Kristopher Denby

  3. You've hit the nail on the head - We is great. At times I felt that the translator's willingness to retain the beauty of Zamayatin's prose at the expense of clarity, but it was worth it. Very worthy read.