and we are all together.
The Beatles' "I am the Walrus" provides some flavor for the atmosphere of the futuristic society found in Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian classic "WE". Written in the fledgling Soviet Union in 1920 "WE" had a direct influence n Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ayn Rand's Anthem. In fact, Rand's Anthem tracks "WE" so closely both as to plot and character development that one cannot help but think that Zamyatin's influence on Rand was significant, to say the least.
Zamyatin was born in 1884 and studied naval engineering as a young man. Like many young Russian intellectuals Zamyatin was something of a revolutionary. He was arrested and exiled more than once by the Tsar's secret police for revolutionary activities. During the First World War Zamyatin, by now a naval enginner, was sent to England were he supervised the construction of icebreakers for the Russian navy. He returned to Russia upon the outbreak of the October 1917 revolution. Zamyatin turned to writing full time after the revolution. Although a Bolshevik, Zamyatin chafed at the increasing censorship the Bolsheviks imposed on artists and writers. WE was the first novel to be banned by the newly formed literary censorship board, GLAVLIT. WE was not officially published in Russia or the USSR until 1988. Not able to earn a living as a writer in the USSR, Zamyatin applied for an exit visa. Zamyatin was granted an exit visa and he emigrated to Paris, were he died a sick and poverty stricken man in 1937.
WE takes place in the twenty-sixth century where a totalitarian regime has created an extremely regimented society where individual expression simply does not exist. All remnants of individuality have been stripped from its inhabitants including their names. Their names have been replaced with an alpha-numeric system. People are not coupled. Rather, each individual is assigned three friends with whom they can have intimate relations on a rigid schedule established by the state. Those scheduled assignations are the only times the shades in a citizen's glass houses can be closed. Apart from those hourly intervals everyone's life is monitored by the state. As in Orwell's 1984, language has been turned on its head. Freedom means unhappiness and conformity and the submission of individual will to the state means happiness.
D-503 is a mathematician. He is busily engaged working on the construction of a spaceship, the Integral, which will carry the wonderful benefits of "The One State" to those living on distant planets. He keeps a diary to provide a record of his feelings in the weeks before the launch. But into his perfectly well-structured life walks I-330. She evokes in D-503 feelings which he has long suppressed or never knew he had. He falls in love, can't sleep, and starts breaking rules and generally acting like most of us do today. But I-330 is a heretic, an individual who smokes, drinks, loves carnal knowledge and seeks nothing more but the dissolution of the One State. The next thing you know D-503 finds himself on the side of revolution. As the book reaches it climactic moments questions as to the failure or success of the revolution are answered.
WE was a fascinating book to read. Some of the language is a bit dated and Zamyatin's 1921 idea of what the future might look like has been outstripped by the reality the 20th and 21st-centuries. However, the underlying themes of conformity v. freedom and "the state" v the individual still have great contemporary significance that keeps WE as fresh as it was when originally written.
Some have said that WE represented Zamyatin's attack on the oppression of the Soviet system. I would have to disagree. The book was written in 1920 well before the Soviet regime consolidated enough power to be considered a totalitarian society. Further, even though WE contains some reference to the damage caused by regimes such as the fledgling USSR it also contains references (looking back from the 26th-century) to societal ills caused by both capitalism and organized religion. As such, Zamyatin believed in equal opportunity when it came to instruments of oppression.
At the end of the day it seems that what Zamyatin valued most in society were those people willing to play the role of heretic. It certainly was a trait he valued in artists. As he noted in an essay written in 1919:
True literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.
Zamyatin was a heretic, a dreamer, and a rebel. WE is a worthy monument to a person who believed that the individual was more important than the state without regard to whether that state had `all life's answers'. WE should be enjoyed by anyone who has read and liked H.G. Wells (who influenced Zamyatin), Huxley, or Orwell. This is a book worth reading.
on September 6, 2007
I was very excited about reading this book. The premise sounded engaging. This book is remarkable for the time period in which this was written, and that it clearly formed the foundation and inspiration for many dystopian writers to come. The story seems visionary and predictive of many social trends that would follow. For these things, I loved the book.
However, my interest for the story and the writing style waned in the first 100 pages. It started to feel a little slow, and the cryptic style became a little repetitive after awhile. After a fast start, I found my reading pace slowing down to a crawl, and I reluctantly stopped reading. I wanted to enjoy this book much more than I did. Even though I stopped reading, I gave it 4 stars because of the groundbreaking premise and inspiration it provided. The interest clearly hasn't waned for many.
This classic is definitely worth a try - it may well catch fire for you as it has for so many others.
on February 24, 2010
We was a life-changing book for me.
We is an amazing piece of literature that is often overlooked. Well, during the time of this review Orwell's amazing book 1984 was ranked 689 in Amazons sales rank, but We, which is the key influence behind 1984, is ranked 23,211 for the Natasha Randall translation and 403,227 for the Alan Sillitoe translation. Actually, I discovered We while browsing the internet looking for "Best dystopian novels". Many of the lists that I found didn't have We but I noticed in every one of these blogs there were quite a few people yelling "What about We! That's the greatest dystopian science fiction book of all time!". I kept seeing "We" pop up all over these blogs so I made it my next book to read.
I apologize for this review, it is a bit long-winded I know.
Since 1984 was the last book I read, I am going to do a little bit of comparing/contrasting.
There are more similarities between We and 1984 than differences. Both books are about totalitarianism, or complete government control. In We it's 'The Benefactor' and in 1984 it's "Big Brother". In both books the protaganist is a male working for the government. Both books have a female character that draws the male away from conformity. Both books even have a secret place where the male and female frequent. While reading We I could definitely see where 1984 was influenced.
There is one big difference in my mind though. The prose in both books is vastly different. Orwell's 1984 is an easier read and We is a bit harder to grasp at first. We is highly metaphorical where-as 1984 is more 'in your face'.
One of the greatest aspects of We is that it just feels more raw to me. 1984 was edited and distilled into perfection but We feels more personal. I really feel like I'm reading a diary from somebody in the future. Even though some of the ideas in We seem more far-fetched (everything is made of glass for instance) it still seems more realistic to me. Maybe it's because this book is so heavy on metaphors that everything being made of glass doesn't necessarily mean that in the literal sense, unless you want it to of course.
Now it's time to get a little sappy - again I apologize. This is a little out of my character but I'm going to go into 'stream of conscious' mode right now. Maybe down the road I'll remove this sappiness but for now, here it is -
Has something ever really changed your life? Not just provoked thought, but genuinely changed your life? I'm not talking about life-changing events, more life-changing objects. Maybe a painting, a poem, a book or a movie has changed your life. That never happened to me until now.
We caused me to re-evaluate my life and here's why -
When I first picked this book up and started reading I thought "what crap, no wonder this isn't on any top 10 lists.". The prose was odd, nothing really seemed to make that much sense and I almost tossed it aside for good. I tend to do that in life a lot, just throw things aside because I only scan what is on the surface. This time, since I just spent $13.95, I decided to push on. I was slogging through the text when suddenly something started pulling me in. Soon I started seeing the beauty of this book and I became completely engrossed. It went from garbage to suddenly becoming one of the best pieces of literature I've ever read.
Sure, there are times in my life when something wasn't quite as it seemed. A crappy video game that suddenly became awesome, a lame movie that suddenly became funny but this was different. While reading We something just 'clicked'. I learned the true meaning of not judging a book by it's cover and not only in the literal sense. I'm not going to detail exactly what I mean because it's a personal issue, but the lesson here of not judging a book by its cover spread into other areas of my life and really it couldn't have come at a better time. It was a message received in a perfect time - it saved me in a way actually. Of course this was all due to my current situation in life so We might not have the same effect on you, but it certainly had a profound effect on me. I started finding demons inside of myself that I needed to address and quit avoiding. I addressed some of these demons and I feel like a different person. Funny what can happen in the span of a couple hundred pages!
Funny, I didn't even like books a year ago - now I can't put them down!
This book may not be life-changing for you. It was for me due to circumstances in my life that may not be in yours so I don't think this book is the secret to a better life for everybody. It just so happens it was for me.
Read this book. Even if it doesn't change your life it will amaze you. This is a brilliant piece of literature that is much deeper than it seems at first. It's raw, it's real, it's beautiful. It's one of those books you can learn from each time you read it. And to think I was about to throw this away - Thanks Yevgeny! Lesson learned!
on July 14, 2008
The prototype directly or indirectly, acknowledged or unacknowledged of many a subsequent sci-fi dystopia, including Orwell's *1984* and Huxley's *Brave New World,* Zamyatin's *We* is a concise masterpiece that manages in its 200 pages to say everything that needed saying on the subject of the struggle of the individual in the face of the totalitarianism of the collective "good."
The novel is ostensibly the journal of D-503, a literally nameless cypher among millions of others who make up the One State. Here everyone lives in identical glass apartments, all rising together, working together, eating together, and assembling together to give thanks to the Great Benefactor who has bestowed upon them this perfectly synchronous society.
With wit and irony, Zamyatin "proves" the indisputably mathematical rationality of conformity--and the irrationality of freedom. Can you imagine, for instance, anything more irresponsible than leaving to chance the result of an election that would determine who governed the masses? What if every cell in the body decided to follow its own will and fulfill its own purpose--wouldn't the result be cancer? Just so, a society not strictly regulated, where the sum isn't sublimated to the whole, results in chaos and collapse. Happiness is a function of order--just as Plato argued. The One State is the logical conclusion of the principles of order applied to the body politick and represents the greatest good of the greatest number.
In the One State, having a soul is a sickness for which one should seek a cure as quickly as possible--even where it requires a surgical excision of the affected brain tissue. Nature is irrationality itself--and as we seek to control nature as it manifests inside us in passions and appetites, we also seek to overcome Nature outside us through the application of science. In a rudimentary sense, even a tool and shelter-making caveman understood this. In the One State, a great glass wall separates Nature and protects citizens from its hazards and corrupting influence.
D-503 is a true believer in the principles of the One State. How could he not be? He's been brainwashed from birth to accept its truths as self-evident--and, after all, the One State's tenets are proven by mathematics. All is well until he meets and falls in love with a woman who belongs to a revolutionary underground movement. Because for all its perfection, there are still--and always will be--some misguided and sick individuals, a.k.a Enemies of the State. D-503, almost in spite of himself, soon becomes a co-conspirator in the sabotage of an important State project. Love has turned him into a dissident--it has infected him with a soul and deranged his ability to reason. Order or spontaneity? Passion or logic? Fact or imagination? D-503 is torn between what he's always believed and what he now begins to feel. He is regressing back to an earlier, more primitive, form of man. He, too, is now an enemy of the state, of the common good, of common sense. He is guilty of putting I ahead of We.
None of what Zamyatin has done in *We* will be unfamiliar to readers of *1984* or any science fiction dystopia in book or film since--but the fact remains that Zamyatin did it first, and, in many ways, better than Orwell and the rest. Zamyatin has a condensed, visually vivid, and inventive prose style--at least as its translated in this edition of *We*--that is startlingly fresh, immediate, and modern; it often appropriates the richness and rewards--as well as the challenges--of reading poetry.
*We* is one of those essential and universal "Great Books," a testament that deals with the big questions of what it means to be alive. Although written as a satire on Communism with Stalin disguised as the Great Benefactor and the Soviet Union as the One State, Zamyatin's *We* is as timeless as oppression itself and the equally timeless struggle of the individual to resist it. One recognizes all-too-much of the One State in our own supposedly "free and democratic" system. For as Goethe once wrote, as if seeing into the future, "There are none so enslaved as those who think they're free."
Chilling, beautiful, disturbing, thought-provoking, *We* is one of those unforgettable forgotten books well worth remembering.
on April 19, 2012
I am a big fan of dystopia novels and We has long been on the top of my list for novels that I will eventualy get around to read. While We tells an interesting and important story about the loss of identity in a collective soceity, I found it a hard novel to read. It was easy to start but not that easy to finish.
This book and Jack London's 1908 novel The Iron Heel are the protoptype of the modern dystopia novel. We, in particular, was a pioneer in the science fiction sub-genere of future history. Written in 1921, during the Russian Civil War by Zamyatin, a communist and former Bolshevik. As with later dystopian novels, it is not a prediction of what the future could look like as much as an allegory that takes current trends to the logical extreme.
The story is not straight-forward and quite interesting. The protagnist, D-503, like Winston Smith (Nineteen Eighty-Four) or Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), narrates his life in a totalitarian state, the One State. In this case, it is in the form of a journal that will be included in the first space probe. He hopes that it will serve as a tool to "reason" with aliens about the superiority of the One State.
The One State is highly organized. It has stood for 1,000 years, beyond the Green Wall which keeps out all outside influence and contact with the rest of the world. People live and work in glass structures (there are no secrets) and everybody follows a prescribed routine (the Table of Hours). Scoeity is led by the Benefactor. D-503, a mathematician and the cheif builder of the spaceship, meets a dissident and falls in love with her. This of course leads him to question his soceity for the first time and to be diagnosed with having a "soul" (basically imagination and free will). The novel's description of the One State are fascinating-- think a comfortable, regimented, and souless version of North Korea. As the story progresses, we learn about dissidents and the first "revolution" against the One State in its history...
Zamyatin was obviously concerned about the revolution's increasing demands for the individual to become a part of the state and to loose his individuality. Through the novel, he was also critical of Soviet state's emerging tendency to be missionaires for the true cause and turn their political ideology into something of a religion. His novel was instrumental in the style of many subsequent works of dystopia, both in style and substance.
The book is not for everybody. As a story that happens in D-503's head (via his journal), there is not a lot of action and much time is spent discussing philosphy and theologoy (it is a Russian novel after all!). Although the overall story is interesting and even compelling (I wanted to know what will happen and I was interested in the fate of the main characters), it was slow...at times, painfully slow. I don't think that this was a translation issue, it is simply the way the novel is. Despite this, We is an important novel and has a real contribution to political satire and to science fiction. Well worth a read.
on January 18, 2016
Today we can find dystopia books by the dozen, but not so in 1921 when this book was written. As the foreword by Bruce Sterling in the version I read says: "We is one of the first attempts to write about the future through the consciousness of someone born there and living there."
We follows a series of "records" written by D-503, a mathematician and engineer that has created a spacecraft known as Integral, that will be used to convert different planets in the solar system to the One State, a logical dystopia were emotions and individuality are suppressed and cold logic is used to reinforce the laws and keep the population subservient. To dream or "have a soul" are literally considered diseases.
D-503 soon falls in love with a renegade called I-330, a free spirit that seems immune to the lack of individuality of the rest of the One State population. This leads D-503 through a series of discoveries of a different kind of life outside the wall that circumvents the city of the One State, as well as the struggles of his logical mind to understand feelings like love.
It is fascinating that we have only the over-logical protagonist's perspective on the matter. D-503 describes the female forms in geometrical analogies and tries to solve his new feelings like equations ("It seems I no longer live in our rational world, but in an ancient, delirious—a world of square roots of minus one.").
Like Sterling also points out in the foreword, We is responsible for several tropes that have become common-place in sci fi and dystopia literature, like: "hermetically sealed cities, synthetic food, unisex suits, Metropolis-like crowds of drones marching through cyclopean apartment blocks, whizzing, roaring trips in giant spaceships, mind control through brain surgery."
The pacing may appear a bit dated for modern readers and the character a struggle to identify with, but We rewards the ones who keep on reading with a fascinating story that goes well beyond just it's importance in the history of sci fi literature.
on October 28, 2008
We is an intriguing dystopian work-in fact it is the original dystopian work. In this world, as the title suggests, there is only "we", and while "ciphers" (that is the not-so-individual individuals) use "I" as a grammatical convenience, they are merely the units of the whole. Everything is carefully regimented: times for various activities are prescribed to the second, even the number of times a piece of food is chewed is dictated and performed in unison. Everything is sterilely clean, perfectly ordered, and utterly logical.
The format of the story is that of the journal of a particular cipher, D-503, who begins writing in order to send a description of life in the One State aboard the Integral (a space ship) to the inhabitants of other planets. The plan backfires as he begins to experience emotions and realizes to his horror that he has somehow acquired a soul and an imagination. He begins to understand that everything might bot be quite as logical as it seems on the surface.
Thus it can be seen that the novel start with a very interesting premise. The reason I gave it four stars, though, is that I liked thinking about the ideas presented by the book more than reading the work itself. Allow me to rephrase that. I am very glad I read this book, but I like it better having finished reading it, and I did not enjoy the actual reading of it as much as I thought I would. The reason for this is primarily how the novel is set up. The use of journal entries is interesting, as are the first-person impressions, but they feel a bit repetitive by the middle of the book. At times the plot also drags a bit. In addition D-503, for all his logic and desire for completeness, has an annoying habit of jotting down his thoughts without finishing them. While used occasionally this device can be very effective in engaging the reader and allowing him to infer what is going on, when used multiple times in every chapter it gets rather tedious. Consider for example:
"Now I understand why I instinctively felt a certain respect for him and a sort of awkwardness, when in his presence that strange I-330 was...I should confess that that I-330 was...The sleep bell is ringing: 22:30."
That said, even if you, like me, are not particularly fond of the way the book is written it is still worth reading for the intriguing concepts it proposes as well as its importance as the foundation for the dystopian genre as a whole.
on July 15, 2013
If you read the trilogy of dystopian novels (1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World) you're going appreciate how We is the granddaddy of them all. Enough said - grab a copy and get lost in Yevgeny's great work!
on October 15, 2007
Having been a Science Fiction fan for most of my life, and possessing the ability to absorb three books per week, I was pleasantly surprised by the tact and tenacity of "We". Any fan of the Negative Utopia Genre should definitely look this one up; being the great-granddaddy of every Utopian story in existence (minus, of course, the little-known but highly engaging "The Iron Heel" by Jack London, of all people), WE combines the harsh social rigidity of 1984 with a bit of the technical know-how of "Brave New World". No opening date is given, though by the tone of the story, I was able to work out that it would be the 31st Century, according to our calendar; what remains of humanity exists inside the rigid walls of a grand city. Every second of their lives, the Ciphers (as humans now refer to themselves) have activity to keep them forever grinding forward. The wall is composed of a transparent alloy, keeping the Ciphers seperated from the rest of the world outside, but allowing them occasional glimpses of new and exotic things; there is one Chapter where our protagonist, on his way from one tedious chore to another, catches a glimpse and locks eyes with what sounds like a Bison or Wildebeast. For minutes, he and this strange, curious animal stare at one another, and he has an epiphany--he is as curious about the world outside as it seems to be about him. He begins to daydream about what lies beyond his sterile existence, and suddenly declares himself sick with the illness of Imagination--but despite this, he keeps finding excuses not to seek treatment, and keeps swaying more and more from his daily activity of dictated duties. His trouble intensifies when he notices a woman and wants her desperately, but he cannot fathom why. Aside from her eyes, he finds her rather unremarkable, and even though he and everyone else BELONGS to everyone else, he can't seem to purge her from his mind. He could have her any time he'd like, but he seems to crave something more from her that he can't quite put his finger on...and it's not too long until she notices him, too. She also has the sickness of Imagination, but hers dwarfs his; she begins to demand his time, not for sex, but for discussions. She muses on things that he finds ridiculous, such as "knowing your mother and father", "forms of governance other than the One State", and something he finds repugnant, child-rearing. He realizes that he hates her guts almost at the same time that he realizes he loves her-and from that moment their fates are inexorably linked. Their world is ruled by the Benefactor, a being with near-omnipotent power and technological wonders that would make George Lucas crap himself; while not a totalitarian system completely in deed, the One State uses laser brain surgery to correct any "sickness" within it's Ciphers, and as the Imagination begins to encompass others, our hero, who is a very important man in the State (he designs and engineers interplanteary vehicles), decides to rebel the only way he can...to take the others with Imaginations off-planet, so that they can find a new one for their own. Written from the early to mid-1920's, in the Soviet Union, "WE" makes up for its relative lack of prose with not only a tantalizing yarn, but one that shows remarkable foresight, and a keen understanding of Science Fiction long before it even existed; for a final thought, and on that subject, there is one chapter that really struck me--the author describes what could only be a modern laptop computer...pretty good imagination for the 1920's.
on February 13, 2014
D-503 is having a pretty good life. It's the 26th Century and he has a great job as the Builder of the first space ship - the INTEGRAL - which will take the blessings of his enlightened government - the One State ruled by the Benefactor - to other planets. D lives in the final human city of 10 million, a soaring glass scape, where the cyphers - the citizens of the One State - spend their scheduled day working, walking, having scheduled sex time, taking an "aero" to ancient houses, and attending lectures on the benefits of living under the Benefactor.
The ancient problems of food and sex have been solved. Food is mass produced from petroleum, and sex is a simple matter of requisitioning another cypher for one's allotted sex time, when one finally draws the drapes on the glass apartment in which one lives. Nature is kept outside the city by the Green Wall, where there are - perhaps - less developed humans who survived the 200 Year War and do not have the benefits of the One State.
A satisfying life, indeed.
But then there's a girl - there's always a girl - I-330, and D-503 finds himself exposed to influences he's never experienced, and doing things he's never done. He dumps his regular sex schedule lover, the delightful pink and round O-90 (it seems that even in a world of nameless Cyphers, there is sex differentiation in names; women get vowels and men get consonants) - who just wants to have his baby - and finds himself flirting with a kind of underground that wants to hijack the INTEGRAL and go somewhere and live without the Benefactor. But perhaps the Benefactor knows about the plot - since people start acting strangely and voting "No" in the great Day of the One Vote against the continuance of the 48 year reign of the Benefactor.
And, then, the Benefactor announces that the One State has discovered a revolutionary technique whereby with three X-Ray blasts, the flaw of human imagination can be excised from the individual cypher.
And the Benefactor's police, the Guardians, begin to process cyphers through the operation....
I found We to be fascinating on three levels.
First, it is archaic science fiction, like Jack London's The Iron Heel and Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World. "We" was written in 1920 by Yevgeny Zamyatin in the middle of the Russian Civil War. His science fiction departure point is the far future, a long war, and the invention of synthetic food. For all that, the science in the science fiction is primitive at best.
What makes "We" interesting is that it is grand-daddy of dystopian science fiction. George Orwell read "We" and incorporated some of its elements, and its basic plot line, into "1984." But we is not a particularly dystopian dystopia. The One State seems to work. There appears to be a remarkable amount of free time and personal initiative for the Cyphers. They have friends, walk in the sun, have women who want their babies, visit ancient homes, have friends who are poets, listen to poetry about the goodness of the One State, and even have requited love affairs. You don't see the grinding oppression of many dystopias. Admittedly, I think it would be awful, but you have to wonder if someone who had lived through Tsarist autocracy and was watching millions of fellow citizens die in a Civil War wouldn't have thought that, maybe, there might be some good things about the One State and Rule by the Benefactor.
Second, it is an interesting insight into the era of early Communism. Again, Zamyatin was a Communist (or at least a fellow traveler) writing under the auspices of the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg during the Russian Civil War, and, yet, he wrote a novel about the extermination of humanity and human imagination by a single party dictatorship in the far future? How weird is that?
How insightful is that?
"We" suggests that while Zamyatin could see the material upside of a single party dictatorship - in terms of material progress, perhaps - it seems that he could also see the soul crushing inevitability that would follow from such a dictatorship, and that such a dictatorship would not only not fade away, but would seek new worlds to conquer.
One interesting historical note is that Zamyatin does not mention Marx or Lenin as the eminence grise behind the One State. That honor goes to American efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose efficiency studies were influential in Communist plans to create a worker's utopia by turning workers into efficient automatons. Thus, an American capitalist is the evil genius for the nightmare aspect of "We" as described in this passage:
//All of us (perhaps you, too), as children, read at school that greatest of all ancient literary legacies: The Railroad Schedule. But even if you put that next to the Table, you will see it is graphite next to diamond: in each is the same C, carbon, but how eternal, how transparent, how dazzling is the diamond. Who is not made breathless when racing and rumbling through the pages of the Schedule ? But the Table of Hours--it transforms each of us into the real-life, six-wheeled, steel heroes of a great epic. Each morning, with six-wheeled precision, at the exact same hour, at the exact same minute, we, the millions, rise as one. At the exact same hour, we uni-millionly start work and uni-millionly stop work. And, merged into a single, million-handed body, at the exact same Table-appointed second, we bring spoons to our lips, we go out for our walk and
Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2007-12-18). We (Modern Library Classics) (pp. 12-13). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
So, the technological "kick-off point" for "We" - and all science fiction needs some technology or scientific idea as its kick-off point of departure - is the railroad schedule applied to larger society!
Third, there is the book itself as literature. Undoubtedly, this is the weakest part of the book. "We" is hard to follow. There are coincidences that seem unlikely for a city of 10 million and things happen - or did they happen? - and are forgotten. The introduction to this volume by Bruce Sterling - which is a definite "value added" feature for this volume - notes:
//Nevertheless, We is a book that could only have come from Russia, or, rather, from the unique time and space that was revolutionary Petrograd. It's a science fiction novel set centuries in the future, but this story will spring to life if you can imagine it dressed in full, period regalia, with violently agitated Russian Constructivist costumes and a spacey, ethereal Theremin soundtrack.
Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2007-12-18). We (Modern Library Classics) . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
My reading of "We" adopted that kind of imaginary narration with spacey, ethereal Theremin soundtrack in the background of my mind, and it seemed to work. I'm not sure that I would have enjoyed it as much if I had gone into "We" cold and expecting something more typical.
"We" is definitely a must-read for historians of Bolshevism or of early distopian science fiction. It also ought to be read by those who want to venture beyond the Hunger Games and back into the Ur-source of dystopian literature.