"WE," a dystopian future from 1921 by Yevgeny Zamyatin



I read WE as part of a Soviet literature class in college. While there were some pretty outstanding works on the syllabus WE remains one of my favorites. It’s one of those dystopian novels that made me repeatedly say, “Yeah, I could see people going along with that.”

The first-person voice is really what makes it because it forces the reader to feel like an insider looking out. Zamyatin was incredibly imaginative in making D-503’s perspective that of someone who is part of the One State and has never known anything else. This is most apparent when D-503 ventures outside for the first time.


A great, great book.


We is one of my favorite books and I recommend it to everyone. I believe there are multiple translations, the one I have read is by Mirra Ginsburg. You mention the Brave New World controversy; This Perfect Day by Ira Levin is another very similar book.

It is such a calm book. No explosions or fights, and the love affair is understated. It just unfolds, with D-503 as your narrator - and an unreliable one at that. (Is he taking a calming drug - a la THX-1138?)

Then you start to get the horrifying realizations. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that you don’t learn that his apartment has transparent walls until half of the way through the book. You’re imagining concrete Soviet apartment blocks, then you realize how truly on display his life is. Why is he writing this diary? Because he knows nothing other than sharing every moment with everyone else.

Absolutely phenomenal book.


So the author correctly predicted Facebook?

I got this book assigned in a lit class. (I still think that the teacher wanted to see the result.) My analysis was that the book illustrates the vulnerability of centralized control systems, and that the older continental-only systems should have been kept as hot spares in case of problems with the worldwide one.

Earned me a long, long stare.


I had a professor who suggested that Jack London’s The Iron Heel was the first dystopian novel. I never did read that one, but the prof. also mentioned We as a precursor to 1984 (which we were reading).

I had a hard time finding We; the library catalog kept steering me toward Charles Lindbergh’s book.

Amazon is selling the Kindle version of WE right now (~1:15pm EST Feb 9 2015) for 78 cents.

And! It “includes free international wireless delivery!” International!
(ooo… aaah.)

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Evidently, famed authors George Orwell and Aldous Huxley fought over Zamyatin's WE. Orwell claimed that Huxley ripped the novel off for Brave New World. Huxley denied this. Regardless, the novels bear some similarity.

It’s weird that Orwell would criticize Huxley for ripping off “We”, because if anything, someone could make a better argument that “1984” is more similar to “We”. Yes, “We” had the casual sex despite dystopia angle that Huxley’s “Brave New World” picked up on, but pretty much everything else in “We” is more like “1984” – a dystopia where people serve an all powerful leader, the dissident who keeps a journal describing his dissatisfaction, the idea that love and rebellion go hand-in-hand, etc.

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If there is casual sex, I wouldn’t count it as dystopia…


I think though the idea in “We”, and to a lesser extent in “Brave New World” was that the casual sex was a replacement for actual romantic attachments, which were discouraged as you weren’t supposed to have any deep feelings except towards the State.


I fear I’m being too optimistic in thinking the long, long stare you received meant, “What an interesting perspective, and one that’s applicable across a broad range of categories.”

It’s been too many years since I read WE, but the sex wasn’t exactly “casual”. People had partners with whom they’d come to a mutual agreement, and were only allowed to meet to have sex a specified number of times each week based on their drive.

Yes, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s WE is the ideal book for Valentine’s Day!


I was quite used to them.

After some unintentional results I even aimed for them by design. A bulletproof logical construction that couldn’t be argued against was often more fun to build than the original assignment would be.

Still I can imagine a better success rate than the undocumented maze of weak-signalling dependent crap we have now, where you don’t even get to figure out the failure reason.

Also known as the Loneliness Awareness Day.


Whatever you say, Logan 3.


I read this novel ten years ago on a friend’s recommendation, and this line from the Benefactor has stayed with me: “What is it that people beg for, dream about, torment themselves for, from the time they leave swaddling clothes? They want someone to tell them, once and for all, what happiness is — and then to bind them to that happiness with a chain.” Now if you’ll excuse me I have to check my email and my Twitter feed and refresh the main page at BoingBoing…


Copyright 1921? Shouldn’t this be in the Public Domain by now?

It should be, but (unless you read Russian) you’d have to find a suitably old translation as well.

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And also the first book ever to be banned in the Soviet Union. Smuggled out to the west, eventually led to his exile. This was before the idea of a Gulag had occurred to the Soviets.


There are a few comparisons between We and THX1138 worth noting, especially as THX is far more faithful an attempt than Logan’s Run . Also, my first exposure to it was via scifi generation starship sub-genre study, with We being a first attempt to portray an attempt to colonize worlds beyond Earth (that’s not the core story). But it is part of a strong dystopian fiction legacy. Here’s a reading list for those interested:

Jerome K. Jerome, The New Utopia (essay) [1891]
Jack London, The Iron Heel [1908]
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We [1924]
Andrei Marsov, Love in the Fog of the Future [1924]
Aldus Huxley, Brave New World [1932]
George Orwell, 1984 [1949]
Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano [1952]


I’d never heard of the Jerome essay. He’s one of my favourite authors, I’ll have to check it out. Cheers.

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