1984? Read “WE” -Orwell says so

With 1984 back on the bestseller lists, it is timely to echo Orwell’s recommendation of an altogether more obscure dystopian classic.

We is a science fiction cult offering by a lesser known Russian author, Zamyatin, penned nearly a century ago. The book is a sparse read. Yet its central idea resounds today. As Orwell states in his 1946 review of We:

“…a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again.”

That’s a line which could pique the interest of any reader with one eye on the near future, or as an antecedent AI tale — or, more presently, anyone interested in 1984-style Big Brother tactics and today’s weird world of ‘alternate facts’.

We plods, and rightfully so given that the book invokes the drab mode of a machine-led future. There are few fireflies…

“I smiled, looking into the pupils of her eyes. I followed first one eye and then the other, and in each of them I saw myself, a millimetric self imprisoned in those tiny rainbow cells.”

Some 70 years back, Orwell penned his review of We. I feel kindred to the great man’s take on the book and happily signpost you to it —noting this one quirky typo that you will spy in the full text: “ideololgically”… unless, surely not? Had Orwell’s penchant for neologism somehow foreseen the abbreviated text-speak of today? (lol). Here’s an extract

The first thing anyone would notice about We is the fact — never pointed out, I believe — that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World must be partly derived from it. Both books deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world, and both stories are supposed to take place about six hundred years hence. The atmosphere of the two books is similar, and it is roughly speaking the same kind of society that is being described though Huxley’s book shows less political awareness and is more influenced by recent biological and psychological theories.
In the twenty-sixth century, in Zamyatin’s vision of it, the inhabitants of Utopia have so completely lost their individuality as to be known only by numbers. They live in glass houses (this was written before television was invented), which enables the political police, known as the “Guardians”, to supervise them more easily. They all wear identical uniforms, and a human being is commonly referred to either as “a number” or “a unif” (uniform). They live on synthetic food, and their usual recreation is to march in fours while the anthem of the Single State is played through loudspeakers…
At stated intervals they are allowed for one hour (known as “the sex hour”) to lower the curtains round their glass apartments…

If you want to find out what happens behind the curtains while reading an intriguing allegory for ‘today’, penned nearly a century back, then We awaits.