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A novel so thin you can't help but see right through it
on 10 January 2015
I did want to like Uglies, but at best I can say I didn't *despise* it. It's a novel that falls squarely into my wheelhouse of affection: utopia masking a dystopia? Check. Post-scarcity world? Check. Post-apocalyptic? Check. It had to work hard not to be a hit with me.
Unfortunately, work hard it did. Primarily, there are four problems with Uglies that stop it being a good book.
The first is the pacing, which is dreadful. I'm all for a novel that keeps the tension up, but Uglies swings wildly from catastrophe to resolution to mundanity to catastrophe back to resolution, all within the space of a few pages. There's never any opportunity to really revel in the emerging situations, rarely pauses within which we are encouraged to reflect upon what's happening. All of this is wrapped up in a plot that is so pedestrian and predictable that you can see what's coming a mile away.
The second is the characterisation, which is woefully shallow - none of the characters are believable, none of them seem more then the most shallow caricatures sketched out in the lightest pencil. There was a possibility, within the early chapters of the book, for that in itself to be some pretty cutting commentary on the Pretties society. Unfortunately, as we find out later, the 'real' characters are just as vapid and uninspiring, just as half-hearted and unbelievable.
The third is the basic premise - in order for a book like this to work, the premise has to be at least credible. There's none of the necessary context or world-building to make the concept of the book even slightly believable. None of the explanation that eventually makes their way into the book stand up to even the most cursory of logical examinations. The structure of the society described simply doesn't work, and too much of how it's *supposed* to work isn't even addressed. The result is a word so thin that you can't help but see through it.
Finally, there is the heavy handed moralising. I'm all for books that include a social message, but the 'humanity destroyed itself through exploiting the planet' theme is just - urgh. It's so anvilicious that it betrays something close to contempt for its readers. I know it's not aiming to be high literature or anything, but you don't have to be a bearded literati to hanker for at least a little deference to subtext.
The book ends on a cliffhanger. It's very telling that I won't be bothering to pick up the second in the series to see how it turns out.