Teens and Dystopias

Sorry I’ve been blogging less. Illness sucks. But please enjoy this essay that I wrote for the BookForum Dystopia issue back in summer 2010. A few things in it are a tad out of date, obviously, but the basic ideas still seem pretty sound to me.


Teens and Dystopias

Literary dystopias flourish at the extremes of social control: the tyranny of too much government, the chaos of too little. Every 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 is balanced by a Mad Max or A Clockwork Orange. Or to put it simply, dystopian literature is just like high school: an oscillation between extremes of restraint.

Teenagers, of course, read dystopian novels in vast numbers. (As I write, Suzanne Collins’ post apocalyptic dictatorship novel, Hunger Games, has entered its eighty-first week atop the NY Times Chapter Book list.) This should surprise no one. Within school walls, students have reduced expectations of privacy (New Kersey v. TLO, 1980), no freedom of the press (Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, 1983), and their daily reality includes clothing restrictions, rising and sitting at the command of ringing bells, and an ever-increasing amount of electronic surveillance. But a few footsteps away from these 1984-like subjugations, the teenage world becomes Mad Max—warring tribes, dangerous driving, and unfortunate haircuts.

Teenagers’ lives are defined by rules, and in response they construct their identities through confrontations with authority, large and small. All this leaves teens highly interested in issues of control.

When I sat down to write the Uglies series in 2003, I didn’t intend to address these matters directly. I thought I was writing a somewhat nostalgic science fiction trilogy about body image and hoverboards. But a few million copies and roughly ten thousand pieces of fan mail later, I feel qualified to speak about teenagers and dystopias.

First a quick synopsis: Uglies is set three centuries after an “oil bug” has destroyed our present-day economy and all but erased our species. The descendants of the survivors live in isolated city states, ambiguous utopias whose citizens enjoy post-scarcity technologies and rigid government control. The title derives from this society’s coming-of-age tradition, in which teenage “uglies” undergo full-body plastic surgery to become “pretties,” simultaneously adult and beautiful. (And yes, there is a Twilight Zone episode along these lines, and about two dozen novels and short stories as well. As I said, this series was meant to be nostalgic.)

The protagonist of the trilogy, Tally Youngblood, is most notable for her shifting identities. By turns she takes the roles of vandal, government informer, outcast, runaway, prisoner, hedonist, enforcer, self-mutilator, and full-throated revolutionary. Her personality is reprogrammed several times, her memories frequently erased, her allegiances always suspect.

And yet the most common line in my fan mail is simply, “I am Tally.”

I think this is because teens recognize all the roles that Tally takes on. Schizophrenia, switching sides, and even betrayal (both of allies and of self) are natural responses to being bounced between extremes of control.

During my last book tour in the UK, the big tabloid story was a grandmother barred from a shopping arcade for wearing a hoodie. The management sheepishly explained that it was just a policy, and clearly not one aimed at grandmas. They didn’t have to say at whom it was aimed. After all, five little kids in a shop is cute. Five adults, good business. But when five teenagers gather, it’s time to make an arbitrary rule, or better yet to install a high-frequency sound device to drive them out.

Whatever teens embrace—whether it’s black hoodies, rap, texting, file-sharing, hoverboards, or fictional vampire boyfriends—is soon decried as a threat to civilization. And trust me, teenagers notice this adult discourse going on around them. They know they live in occupied territory.

They also realize that these social panics and excesses of control do little to protect them from their real problems. Censoring the school paper (or internet feed) doesn’t protect anyone from bullying, or agonizing over every physical imperfection, or from sexual predators (who overwhelmingly come not from the internet but from within teens’ own families). Like Tally’s world, ours is primarily concerned with surfaces, using plastic surgeries for real diseases. Being relative newcomers, teenagers see through this chicanery better than their elders, but at the same time possess fewer skills and resources to escape its power.

So they wind up with the worst of both worlds—too much government and not enough. Is it any wonder, then, that dystopian novels appeal to teens, as do vandalism, cutting, fast cars, shifting identities, unfortunate haircuts, and black hoodies? Next time you read a dystopia that strains belief, just think back to high school, and it won’t seem so far fetched.


Thus endeth the essay. Hope you enjoyed it.

And hey, do you want to help provide classroom copies of Uglies to a junior high school in the Bronx? Just click here to find out how. (Even if you’ve got no money, voting for and “liking” the project helps too!)

Oh, and Keith did an illustration for the essay as well. Check it out!

Last Day for Cheap Uglies

A few quick things:

Thing One
It’s the last day to buy the e-book edition of Uglies and Pretties for only $3.99!

Click to find them at the following places:

iBooks (iPad)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)
Amazon (Kindle)
S&S (Adobe file)
Or click here to buy a Google eBook via an indie bookstore!

(Sorry, this sale is US only. But the UK Kindle version of Uglies is £3.99, which is kinda cheap.)

Thing Two
This is the French cover of my adult sf duology, The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, in its combined format. And it is pretty cool:

Seriously cool, in fact.

And finally . . .

Thing Three
Jessica Valenti chews bubblegum and kicks ass in this essay entitled “The Upside of Ugly.” (And she’s all out of bubblegum.) Click here to read it.

That’s it! Real blogging commences soonish.

Fan Art Friday (Frequently Fortnightly)

Welcome to FAF(FF), my sorta-weekly series of fan art, farinaceous treats, and fun.

But before we start, next Tuesday (August 21) is when The Manual of Aeronautics comes out! On that day I’ll be doing one last art reveal. As per tradition, it will be the endpapers from the Manual, which I think you’ll find quite fabulous.

And now for FAF(FF)!

Let us begin with cake, because the world needs more cake.

This edible artistry comes from the tumblr feed of jaberwockyx, and was made for a school project. (It won first prize, obviously.)

I like that it has both a walker and a whale on it, which brings to mind the book’s tagline: “Do you oil your war machines, or eat them?”

Not to be outdone, Uglies fandom also has a cake this week:

And just in case you think this is a cake with the words “special” and “extra” randomly on it, i have proof of its Uglies-relatedness:

Thanks for sending me the pix, Bea-la!

And now some whale love from Catherine P.

Not cake, but very kawaii.

And here’s some cosplay (and photoshop-play) from both series. First Jennifer B being a Special . . .

And Lauren being Deryn:

Two pencil works from peanutbuttergoddess, of Lilit and Deryn:

I like their half-smiling expressions a lot.

And to round out the lurve triangle, here’s Alek as drawn by sleepy pilot:

He’s not smiling, but he means you no harm!

That’s it for FAFFFFF. See you Tuesday for the book birthday of The Manual of Aeronautics! I am excited to hear what you guys think of the many arts in it.

To pre-order the Manual online, go to Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or IndieBound.

Art Reveal 5(b)

As promised, and as voted by you all, it’s time to reveal the Dr. Barlow and Tazza portrait from The Manual of Aeronautics!

But first a bit of money talk. For the next two weeks, my lovely publisher has reduced the price of Uglies and Pretties to $3.99, in ALL e-book formats. So now’s the time to replace that copy you loaned out and never got back, or to start a friend off on the series.

Click below to find the Uglies e-book at the following places:

iBooks (iPad)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)
Amazon (Kindle)
S&S (Adobe file)
Or click here to buy a Google eBook via an indie bookstore!

Sorry, this sale is US only. But the UK Kindle version of Uglies is £3.99, which seems pretty cheap to me.

Again, this sale runs out August 26, so act now! (Or act in a week and a half, if you want to push it. That’s what I always do.)

And now, I give you Dr. Barlow . . .

Yes, Tazza is kind of squeezed in there, because that’s how they did portraits back then. It’s, like, symbolic.

I love the Darwinist stylings on the frame. So much life stuff!

Enjoy! See you soon for another art reveal, and for FAF.

(You can pre-order the Manual online: Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or IndieBound. It will land at your local bricks-and-mortar store on Tuesday, August 21.)

New Extras UK Cover

Back in early April I announced the new UK Uglies covers, which look like this:

They are beautiful, are they not?

But here’s the thing, they left the best for last. Behold the incredibly beautiful new Extras cover:

Love the yellow and black together. Like bees!

Again, these are the covers in the UK, not the US. So you probably won’t be able to find them outside of the Commonwealth. But it’s not like the new US covers aren’t awesome too.

See you later this week, with the next Manual of Aeronautics art reveal: The Uniforms of Clanker-land!

Fan Art Friday (At Last!)

It’s still Friday on the west coast of the US, so I give you Fan Art Friday, the technically not-late edition.

First, here’s a great video from Christina and Douglas, visualizing the Faceplay software from “Facing the Future” (Also known as Chapter 4 of Uglies).

Ugly to Pretty – WIP from Christina Hall on Vimeo.

Pretty cool, huh? I’ve always thought this would be a cool scene in the movie.

If my embed isn’t working for you, click here to check it out on Vimeo (and slightly bigger!).

And next, a very amusing cartoon from Soraia, riffing on the Perils of Pauline chapter in Goliath:

That whole chapter came about because I was researching William Randolph Hearst, and found out that he was behind the Perils of Pauline series of films, which began in 1914. So I decided to watch them, and discovered that in the very first one, the eponymous heroine gets blown away in a hydrogen balloon, not unlike a certain Scottish cross-dresser! So I just HAD to show Alek seeing the movie as part of his education that girls could do cool stuff.

Though I’d like to claim that I planned this symmetry between books 1 and 3 from the beginning, it’s merely a coincidence. But it proves that if you do your research, you will be rewarded. And coincidence or not, I’m super glad to see it pop up here in fan art form.

The dialog in this comic is quite funny, so click here to see it bigger and zoomable.

Here from Carly is some rare Midnighters fan art, showing Jessica at a certain climactic moment in Blue Noon.

That’s a scene that I had planned from back in book 1, as you will see if you look at chapter 4 of The Secret Hour. Sometimes I am good at first-shoeing things.

And here from MoonieBalloonie, a pensive-looking Lilit:

I always love how distinctive Lilit is, thanks to her cool Armenian attire.

And finally, from Victoria, some Dalek!

Okay, I’m headed to America soon, so I must go pack or whatever. (My only public appearance will be at Comic Con.)

Hope you all have a good weekend.

Uglies Manga 2, Cover reveal

Yes, it’s time to reveal the cover of the sequel to Shay’s Story!

But first, I’m doing two appearances in the near future, one in the real world and one online.

The first will be a chat on Figment.com. I’ll be chatting with Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, co-authors of the upcoming book, Team Human. We’ll be discussing collaborations in general, and what it’s like for experienced novelists to work with other writers.

I don’t have a link yet, but it will happen at 8PM US Eastern Time on Sunday, July 8.

My second set of appearances will be at Comic Con. The panels aren’t set yet, but I will have a signing on Sunday:

San Diego Comic Con
1:30-2:30pm
Sunday July 15th
Autograph area AA09 in the Sails Pavilion

Lots of other writers will be at this signing, but I’ll reveal those details later. Also, I will probably have another signing on a different day. Stay tuned.

So, without further ado, here’s the cover to Uglies: Cutters . . .

Hope you like it.

Fan Art Friday

I have had interesting news about my work in progress this week, but it’s all super secret. It’s pretty cool, though, and you will all hear it about one day.

One day soon? MAYBE. Maybe one day somewhat less soon. But one day. I PROMISE.

Let me just say that things they are a-brewin’.

In the meantime, it’s time for FAF! Let’s do this.

We begin with some cool 3-D projects. First is a Clanker lamp from Kirsten. Here it is, both in its raw form and with the shade on:

Like I’ve often said, one of my favorite things to come out of Keith’s illustrations is the sense they give of Clanker and Darwinist physical culture. Not just machines and beasties, but simple things like desks and lamps. So thanks to Kirsten for following that vision.

And here’s Haley’s cool Leviathan-wing ring:

The wing wasn’t entirely Keith’s creation. It was something that the designer of the hardback cover of Levaithan, Sammy Yuen, put together from pieces of Keith’s art.

Speaking of wings, here’s Kaitlyn’s cool shot of Deryn using her body-kite outfit:

Nice. Love the color scheme, and the fact that it makes Deryn look a bit like the shot of Lilit from Behemoth.

And here’s another one from Kaitlyn with that always favorite theme: hangin’ on the ratlines:

And from Patricia, a blow-up of A CERTAIN CREATURE WEARING A CERTAIN COMEDY COSTUME PIECE. SEE IF YOU CAN GUESS BEFORE LOOKING.

Okay. I think you were right:

And finally some Uglies action, a cityscape of New Pretty Town from Trenton:

What I love about this is that it calls to mind the classic Saul Steinberg image of how New Yorkers see the world:

Well, played, Trenton!

Thanks to everyone for a stimulating FAF.

Fan Art Friday (Loris/Moggle Edition)

Hello, and welcome to FAF, or perhaps I should say FAFF, as in Fan Art Friday Fortnightly. Indeed, I haven’t been posting much of anything lately, but that’s only because I’ve been working on a New S3krit Project! It’s a new novel with all new characters and stuff, and I’ve finally found my stride. IT IS GETTING WRITTEN.

“When will this novel be out?” you may ask.

Indeed, you may. But I don’t know yet. Maybe autumn of 2013, maybe a year after that. I know, that’s a long time. But novels are long things, and publishing timelines are even longer things, and I can tell you that this novel is probably going to be FAT. (Like, longer than any of my other books.)

As for all the other possible questions you might have, they must wait for another day. This particular s3krit project is still too fragile to be interrogated and explicated.

Also, it’s time for FAF! Since mentioning the unnamed-loris-with-mustache thread last time, I’ve gotten a lot of loris/Bovril/Moggle art. So really this is all about the sidekicks.

The first one is from Adam, and it’s a shot of the kraken scene in Leviathan.

It’s great to see that encounter from a distance.

I’ve also been getting some Shay’s Story fan art trickling in, which is totally cool. Keep it coming. Here’s a notebook doodle of Shay from Daliz:

I like that the Uglies character have manga versions now, whether with pigtails up or down.

The rest of today’s FAF is all lorises and Moggle in many different media! Thanks to everyone for sticking with a theme.

First, some Bovril/Moggle crossover from Phrancie:

They are clearly going to conquer the world together. Or run into a lamppost, maybe.

Next is the highly anticipated Moggle-with-a-mustache, again from Oskar and his Spore software:

Undercover Moggle is undercover. And jaunty.

And we also have photoshopped Bovril, or quasi-Bovril creature, from Rebecca:

If you’re going to wear a mustache, you should probably get a top hat. It’s funny because it’s true.

And in case you’ve forgotten what the real Bovril looks like, Alex offer this book-style rendering of the Bovril birth scene:

He totally gets Keith’s composition right. It’s cool how Bovril in that scene isn’t cute yet, more kind of new-born and weird. But then gets cuter and cuter as the series progresses.

Okay, that’s it. I’ll be back in two weeks with more FAF. And probably before then I’ll post something interesting, though I don’t know what.

Sydneysiders, don’t forget that net Saturday I’ll be at Free Comics Book Day at Kinokuniya! Here’s the FaceBook page for the event, and here are the details:

Kinokuniya Bookstore
Lvl 2, The Galeries, 500 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Saturday, May 5, 2012
10AM-7PM (I’ll be there from 11AM-4PM-ish.)

Hope to see you there.

Free Comic Book Day

I’ll be celebrating Free Comic Book Day here in Australia, so I hope to see some of you Sydneysiders at Kinokuniya on May 5. (Also known as MY BIRTHDAY.)

This is the first time I’ll be a guest at an FCBD, thanks to my first ever graphic novel, Shay’s Story.

I’ll be at Kinokuniya from 11AM to 4PM, in the Artists’ Alley.

Here’s the FaceBook page for the event, and here are the details:

Kinokuniya Bookstore
Lvl 2, The Galeries, 500 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000

Saturday, May 5, 2012
10AM-7PM

ARTISTS’ ALLEY, 11am – 4pm
A great opportunity to meet some of our best local comic artists and writers.

COSPLAY COMPETITION
We’re looking for the best Comic/Manga, Undead and Gothic Lolita costumes for both adults and kids. More details will be provided closer to the date.

See you there.