Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) wrote "We" in 1920, in an URSS that was just beginning to show its true nature. He has able to observe at first hand the consequences of the expansion of the State and the Party, and the corresponding diminution of the value of the individual. The author called "We" his "most jesting and most serious work", and I think the reader will be able to appreciate both aspects of this peculiar book.
This novel takes place in the future, where the One State is ruled by the great Benefactor, and separated from the rest of the world by a Great Wall, that doesn't allow the outside world to "contaminate" it. The citizens of the One State aren't persons but merely numbers. They have almost no privacy, due to the fact that most things are made of a material similar to glass but much more resistant. In any case that isn't a problem, because all do the same things at the same time, so they don't have much to hide.
The One State begins to build a spaceship, the "Integral", that will be used to conquer other worlds and show them to be happy, in the way the citizens of the One State are happy.
But how exactly are they happy?. Well, they have a rational happiness that can be mathematically proved. To mantain that happiness, they must always follow some rules. For example, there is no place for spontaneity in the One State. Imagination is considered a disease, and all art and poetry must be at the service of the State. The function of poetry is clear: "Today, poetry is no longer the idle, impudent whistling of a nightingale; poetry is civic service, poetry is useful".
As if that weren't enough, almost all activities are organized according to the Table of Hours: "Every morning, with six-wheeled precision, at the same hour and the same moment, we -millions of us- get up as one. At the same hour, in million-headed unison, we start work; and in million-headed unison we end it. And, fused into a single million-handed body, at the same second, designated by the Table, we lift our spoons to our mouths."
That main character in "We" is D-503, an important mathematician who is also a faithful follower of the great Benefactor, and a key participant in the building of the "Integral". He starts to write a journal, to allow other less fortunate societies to learn from the way things are done in the One State. This novel is that journal...
D-503 believes, at the beginning of this book, that the state of things in the One State is wonderful, and considers himself fortunate for being able to live in such enlightened times, where "¨everyone¨ and ¨I¨ are a single ¨We¨".
But the unexpected happens when he starts to "fall in love" (an alien concept) with a number that has strange ideas, I-330. She makes D-503 start to question everything he had until then given for granted, and due to her he starts to develop a dangerous illness: a soul. As a consequence of that, D-503 cannot feel anymore as part of the whole, of "We", he cannot be all...
D-503's inner turmoil is shown to us throughout the pages of his journal, and it is rather heartbreaking how much he suffers when he can't return to his previous state of certitude. If at the beginning of the story he was consistently logical, and used a lot of mathematical metaphores, as chapters go by the reader begins to notice a certain incoherence.
That inconsistency probably has to do with the fact that D-503 no longer understands himself, because he has been deprived of certitudes that he considered essential in the definition of his self ("I have long ceased to understand who ¨They¨ are, who are ¨We¨ "). Before, he didn't exist as anything else that as a part of the State. After I-330's pernicious influence, he begins to suspect that things might not be so simple.
There are many themes present in "We", for example love, obsession, betrayal, freedom, the purpose of art and poetry, different kinds of revolutions, perfection, chaos... I haven't told you about many other interesting things I deem worth commenting in this book, but I think you will take greater advantage of reading "We" by yourself.
Zamyatin's book is a good science-fiction novel AND a dystopia. One of the many meaning of dystopia is a work that describes a state of things that is possible but not ideal. Its value lays, in my opinion, not in the likelihood that what it tells us will eventually happen, but rather in the fact that by deforming or satirizing reality it allows the reader to see things from other perspective.
From my point of view, this novel is a classic, and it has the distinct advantage of being both entertaining and easy to read. If you can, read it soon!!. I highly recommend it :)