"2.3.06.02.087: Unnecessary sharpening of pencils constitutes a waste of public resources, and will be punished as appropriate.
2.3.03.01.006: Juggling shall not be practiced after 4:00 p.m.
3.06.03.12.009: Croquet mallets are not to be used for knocking in the hoops. Fine: one merit."
'- Examples of Rules to be followed by members of the Collective
Those readers of the Thursday Next series can only marvel at the flights of fancy of the author, Jasper Fforde. In SHADES OF GREY, the author creates a new fantastical realm, Chromatacia.
Herein, it's presumably our planet Earth, or one on an alternate timeline, several centuries in the future. Five-hundred years previous to the time of the book, there was the Something That Happened, an apparently cataclysmic event that left the human survivors unable to distinguish the full visible color spectrum. Now, each individual perceives only one color or color range, or a small part of several color ranges at best. Society is organized into the Collective, and an individual's social status is governed by the Chromatic Hierarchy, i.e. the color he/she can perceive. Purples are at the top. Greys, at the bottom, are treated not much better than serfs. Bacon is considered the choicest of foods. The greatest life-threatening dangers are ostensibly posed by swans, flying monkeys, pookas, ball lightning, and a carnivorous tree called a yateveo. The Collective's laws and rules for living, enforced by the widely-hated Yellows, are derived from the Word of Munsell.
Technology from the time previous to the Something That Happened survives in roads made of Perpetulite, a living substance that allows the road to repair itself and push inorganic obstacles, e.g. rocks, to the verges. Organic debris is absorbed into road itself. No potholes here.
The hero of the story is young Eddie Russett. As his name implies, he sees colors in the red spectrum. Eddie and his father have moved to the Outer Fringe village of East Carmine, at which place Eddie will take a chair census as a lesson in humility ordered by the ruling Colortocracy after he proposed a Numbered Queuing System in his prior home town of Vermillion.
Eddie is several days short of his twentieth birthday, on which date he will undergo the conventional rite of passage to adulthood, the Ishihara - a one-time, comprehensive test of his color perception that will cement his rank in the Chromatic Hierarchy for the rest of his life.
During his first days in East Carmine, Russett will experience a momentous revelation having perhaps the same psychological impact as that experienced by Ty Thorn, the Charlton Heston character in the film Soylent Green [DVD] [1973
For me, the chief value of SHADES OF GREY is to once again stand in awe of the author's creative imagination. Otherwise, the particulars of the plot reminded me of the relatively sedate Introduction to a larger work that will, by the end, knock the readers' socks off. There are, indeed, burning questions waiting to be explored. For example, at one point, the mysterious Moon is described as "having lights on the unlit side of the crescent." Lunar settlements, perhaps? And then there are the "other glowing specks adrift in the night (sky)." Satellites, shuttlecraft? It almost sounds as if the Something That Happened isolated a piece of damaged humanity on Earth while the rest of the species went on to colonize the near-space neighborhood.
The next two installments in the series are apparently to be entitled PAINTING BY THE NUMBERS and THE GORDINI PROTOCOLS, and the prospects for having my socks knocked off seem assured indeed.