Margaret Atwood’s cover blurb calls Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We “the best single work of science fiction yet written,” and who am I to argue? It was one of those books that made me feel inadequate as a reader; though I think I understood most of it on a basic level, much of the time it seemed to be also operating on another level that remained beyond my grasp. And though it can certainly be classified as sci-fi, there was a transcendental quality to it that we don’t normally associate with the genre.
Really, We is a hard book to describe. Probably the most familiar comparison would be to 1984, which was written almost 30 years later and borrowed more than a little from We, as did Brave New World. Its protagonist is a rocket designer who lives in the One State, which is a thinly disguised projection into the future of the Soviet Union. Zamyatin had been a Bolshevik but quickly became disillusioned; in her introduction Atwood says:(more…)