Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (October 2, 2007)
Genre: dystopia, adventure, sci-fi
Having commented on the fact that I am reviewing the FOURTH part of The Uglies trilogy I might proceed to the plot itself. Some two or three years after the Diego war and mind rain (if you do not understand, don’t worry, it is all explained in the book) the most valuable and important thing is fame. If you are popular you can get enough merits to buy yourself a nice flat in a modern skyscraper and enjoy a popularity bubble (so a protective space around you) in the city. You might be invited to fantastic parties and your stories, published on the Internet, will get more kicks (so views and recommendations) than others, making you even more famous and richer. Small wonder in such a world everybody is a journalist or a journalist wanna-be and most people own their own flying remote control hovercams and snoop to get a scoop. 24/7. Recognition economy or Facebook on steroids – every citizen who wants to make a decent living must be simultaneously a celebrity and a paparazzi.
Aya Fuse, a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl, is tired of being a nobody (called an Extra) so she wants to find a story that can propel her face-rank to the top of the feeds – optimally boost her public name recognition above the level of her annoying but famous older brother. She has a good story on her mind and in order to find a useful footage she follows a secret group of daredevil girls who want to stay (incredible but true) unknown. Through some neat tricks of her own, she is finally asked to join the group, but as soon as it happens Aya becomes torn between spilling the story (and getting famous) and keeping the Sly Girls’ secret as she promised. Her situation is additionally complicated by finding a nice (and decently famous) manga-faced boyfriend in the process – a boyfriend who just can’t lie.
After a while Aya is even more perplexed finding that her little secret is nothing compared to what she and her new friends eventually uncover while surfing a very fast mag-lev train to a certain old mine. In short it is a thing which could spell disaster for the whole world. Aya decides to kick a story about it and now she becomes an instant celebrity but also an easy target for an unknown enemy. Fortunately the highest face-rank of them all – Tally Youngblood herself and some of her old friends– comes out of hiding and rushes to help but they all might be too late to save the world. Or they might be mistaken. Or both.
“Extras” is just as thrilling as its predecessors, but after reading the whole trilogy in a very short period of time (like a week) I felt already bit tired by the same old tricks. Still it doesn’t change the fact that “Extras” is also a thoughtful novel of ideas, a brilliant parody of the modern obsession with fame – this angle of the story was in my opinion the best. Westerfeld slyly shows what happens when you take the brakes off and let the market of media exposure determine your worth. Not pretty-making for sure. 😉 An Asian MC was a nice idea but…ok let’s pass to the section below.
The winning formula combining high-stakes melodrama, cinematic action and thought-provoking insight into questions of human nature became a bit worn-out in this case but I bet if you read this book as a stand-alone novel (it can be done no problem) you would find it refreshingly original. Aya is a smart if confused girl but can be very annoying. After she hooks up with a group of danger-loving girls it all starts to sound a bit too similar to Tally herself and her adventures from the previous parts. Aya’s romance I find the weakest link here – rather insipid overall. In the end the whole book felt anti-climatic but I admit the concept of Outer Space colonies opens up a whole new original plotline that Westerfeld could pursue in next parts of the Ugly series.
This book is worth a read from any Scott Westerfeld fan, filled with interesting world building and amusing scenes, but it isn’t one of his bests. Unless you are one of these people who can read books of the same author incessantly I strongly recommend taking a break between this one and the first three parts.