August 5th, 2011

Ty Lee is prettier

Pretty When You Die

After reading The Hunger Games, I thought I would continue the YA dystopia theme and read Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld. (That was the plan, at least. It took me six months to get around to it, but get to it I did, since I found all four books in Myopic Books in Chicago.) I had been intrigued by the premise for years: in this future, everyone gets an operation at age sixteen that makes them "pretty." Before then, you're considered "ugly," even if you're normal-looking. I thought it would be an interesting examination of standards of beauty and societal perceptions.

The story of Tally Youngblood, our protagonist, however, is not really about shattering societal perceptions of beauty. Tally is about to turn sixteen and is all ready to become pretty when she befriends wild child Shay, who wants her to run away with her to the mythical Smoke, where everyone is ugly and it's totally awesome! But Tally is not as rebellious, and she wants to be pretty. Sucks for her, then, when she's asked to rat out her friend or not become pretty at all!

Tally Youngblood is no Katniss Everdeen, I tell you what. For many pages, she's just annoying, and I wished the book were about Shay instead (so maybe I should check out the upcoming manga series that tells the story from Shay's perspective!). She's the POV character, but she has the brainwashed POV of the future, which is clearly wrong, so it's irritating until she wises up. Her character development is...strange, and the way it progresses is frustrating. This is not to say that she doesn't have some awesomely badass moments, though.

So forget that whole operation that turns you pretty. Obviously that's pretty advanced technology, but the real stars of the future are hoverboards and bungee jackets. Hoverboards come with neat little crash bracelets that keep you from falling off your board, and bungee jackets allow you to fall great distances without harm. Westerfeld uses these two devices over and over in his action sequences, and it's rather marvelous that he's able to do so without being repetitive. I could not always follow exactly what was going on in the action sequences, but I still felt swept away in the action, most of the time. Other times, they felt sort of rote, but that may have been because my investment in the story waxed and waned.

There are many good things about Uglies. While the social commentary on beauty was more subtle than I expected, Westerfeld has a lot to say about social hierarchy and environmentalism—much is made about the wasteful, destructive way the "Rusties" (i.e., we) lived. There are several good plot twists. The sci-fi aspects are cool. The worldbuilding is interesting, although I wanted to know more about how it all came to be. But even though I know it's an unfair comparison, for most of the book, I was thinking, "This is no Hunger Games."

The Uglies trilogy is a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure that follows a carefully constructed progression. The titles of the other two books, Pretties and Specials, hint that you learn more about each group of people, and you do, predictably and unpredictably.

By the middle of Specials, I wasn't sure how much I really cared about anyone or what was going to happen to them, but I'm really glad I decided to read Extras, which takes place after the trilogy and has a different protagonist, a Japanese girl named Aya Fuse. The world has changed, and Westerfeld has some new social commentary to play with. And I think it was my favorite book of the four! It was really good and exciting, and I remained invested throughout, even with all these new characters. Plus, even though it's sort of disconnected from the trilogy, it's not a fully stand-alone novel or anything; it truly does function as a (second) conclusion to the series.

But let's talk about something I don't have conflicted feelings about: Freakshow, written by David Server and Jackson Lanzing with art by Joe Suitor. You may recall that last year at Comic-Con, I picked up the first issue of Freakshow because the authors were friends of Dahlia's. Well, I dug it! And this year, I bought the trade, read it all in the Hall H line, and loved it. And I could tell them so, personally!

The setup of Freakshow is simple: the world's first and only superhero has fallen, and a toxic Smoke has enveloped the city, creating monstrous mutants. Our heroes! Now, stories about freaks with powers aren't new, but I was really impressed with how, in just three issues, Server and Lanzing created unique, interesting characters with distinct relationships with each other. Critter, Rot, Psychosis, Fog, and Stronghold are all characters I wanted to know more about. They band together, hunted. But is it time to take the offensive? Although the story comprises only three issues, it still feels packed and fulfilling; it's one of the more successful miniseries I've read.

Freakshow has been optioned for a movie by the writer of Thor, and I know that Guillermo del Toro has a copy of it. But you don't! Ask your local comic book store to order it so you can check it out! Server and Lanzing have more stories planned for this universe (including backstories on the characters), and I want to see them!