Review: We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

A groundbreaking logical dystopia (5 stars)

Today we can find dystopia books by the dozen, but not so in 1921 when this book was written. As the foreword by Bruce Sterling in the version I read says: “We is one of the first attempts to write about the future through the consciousness of someone born there and living there.”

We follows a series of “records” written by D-503, a mathematician and engineer that has created a spacecraft known as Integral, that will be used to convert different planets in the solar system to the One State, a logical dystopia were emotions and individuality are suppressed and cold logic is used to reinforce the laws and keep the population subservient. To dream or “have a soul” are literally considered diseases.

D-503 soon falls in love with a renegade called I-330, a free spirit that seems immune to the lack of individuality of the rest of the One State population. This leads D-503 through a series of discoveries of a different kind of life outside the wall that circumvents the city of the One State, as well as the struggles of his logical mind to understand feelings like love.

It is fascinating that we have only the over-logical protagonist’s perspective on the matter. D-503 describes the female forms in geometrical analogies and tries to solve his new feelings like equations (“It seems I no longer live in our rational world, but in an ancient, delirious—a world of square roots of minus one.”).

Like Sterling also points out in the foreword, We is responsible for several tropes that have become common-place in sci fi and dystopia literature, like: “hermetically sealed cities, synthetic food, unisex suits, Metropolis-like crowds of drones marching through cyclopean apartment blocks, whizzing, roaring trips in giant spaceships, mind control through brain surgery.”

The pacing may appear a bit dated for modern readers and the character a struggle to identify with, but We rewards the ones who keep on reading with a fascinating story that goes well beyond just it’s importance in the history of sci fi literature.

Guilherme Solari is a Brazilian writer and journalist from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has written about movies, literature and videogames for some of Brazil’s biggest news sites. He is the author of THE CASCAVEL CHRONICLES, a love letter to 80's action movies, as well as the cyberpunk CYBERSAMPA series.