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Uglies, Pretties, and Specials - YA fantasy and SF
...for adult readers!
Uglies, Pretties, and Specials
I've been thinking recently about Scott Westerfeld's trilogy (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials) and what I think it says about modern psychiatry. The basic premise of the books, for those who haven't read it, is that in the future everyone on their sixteenth birthday undergoes a surgery to make them pretty. It's a post apocalyptic setting, and everyone lives in the cities. Along with the pretty surgery, there is a brains surgery that makes them stupid. The people in charge purposefully damage the brains of most of the population in order to keep them under control. At the end of the first book, we discover there is a cure in the form of a pill and Tally, the heroine volunteers to be the first subject to see if the cure works.

In the second book, Tally has undergone the surgery and through the course of the book manages to heal the brain lesions by herself. But the pill, taken in two parts, she splits with a friend. Turns out the first part of the pill is another brain altering thing, and can cause damage if the second isn't taken shortly after. Because she split the pill, Tally then watches her friend deteriorate in front of her. At the end she is captured and is told she is going to become part of the Specials, the big enemies of the books. Something she doesn't want.

When the third book opens Tally is a willing participant of the Specials, and an enemy to her old friends. Turns out that her brain has been once again altered against her will. This time she has been altered to become what we would classify as a sociopath. She regards anyone not like her, any non-Special, as inferior, and they exist only because she can't be bothered to kill them. She has a group think mentality, and the group leader is best, meaning she has a harder time with independent thought.

Through the course of the book, she learns of this, and when offered a cure (more brain surgery) she refuses. She chooses instead to atempt to deal with this problem on its own. At the end of the book there is an indication that she is indeed headed in the right direction and, though she will never be completely normal, she will be able to function within normal parameters.

So here's what we've got. The physical brain operations come from the outside, the enemies, and are wrong. The pill to correct the stupid surgery is just as dangerous as the surgery itself, can lead to severe problems, and is ultimately unnecessary; for Tally anyway. And lastly that even the most severe brain alterations can be overcome, without the help of doctors, so long as Tally is aware of them.

Now granted Tally is presented throughout the books as someone who is special, and unique. However as the main character she is the one the reader is supposed to identify with. So then what is the message in these books? Is it that brain altering techniques are wrong? Most psychiatry is medicine to chemically alter the brain, and bring in back to more normal functions. Something presented as very dangerous, or evil in the books.

5 comments or Leave a comment
queenitsy From: queenitsy Date: January 26th, 2007 07:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, my major problem with the books (in Pretties and Specials, anyway) was that Shay used cutting herself as a way to think clearly and feel special. The book concentrated so much on the problems of modern teenagers, particularly anorexia; when Shay and Zane are avoiding eating to get the cuffs off, they draw a distinct comparison. But that doesn't happen when Shay and Tally cut themselves. And it's kind of condemned; everyone considers it a generally bad thing, but I found the fact that there was no comparison drawn between current society, where self-injury is unfortunately all too common, a little...odd and lacking.

I also didn't like the end of Pretties at all; it felt like suddenly Tally's big conflict was gosh, over which boy she loved! Which just irritated the crap out of me.

I didn't notice an anti-psychiatry message in the books, but now will have to contemplate that. Hmmm.
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: January 26th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. Isn't the cutting thing also what caused Shay to "cure" her Pretty induced stupid by herself. Or did she need the pill as well? Which if taken with the above, could be taken as a legitimate way to cure yourelf from the stupidity induced by society. Not the greatest message really, and one that probably could be it's own essay.

I also didn't like the end of Pretties at all; it felt like suddenly Tally's big conflict was gosh, over which boy she loved! Which just irritated the crap out of me.

Oh, yes. Major agreement here. I found that whole bit really dumb. And really not up with the rest of the book at all.
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: January 26th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Argh, more thoughts.

I'm fairly sure that somewhere in Specials, Tally recognizes how dangerous it is to cut herself, and decides to stop. Indeed the only reason she did was that her brain had been altered, as part of the Special surgery, to react to cutting with surges of adrenaline. And I do believe that one of the arguments presented to her as to why she should reverse the Special surgery is that the cutting behavior was not normal.

I do think we were meant to take the cutting as something horrific. However, as it is the way Shay "cured" herself, I think there something a bit off about that message.
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: January 26th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, I just skimmed Specials at the bookstore (I had the same annoyance with the end of Pretties that a lot of people did), but I got a different impression from the ending - not that she was learning to function within normal parameters, but that she was deliberately keeping herself outside normal parameters to serve a necessary function. So a parallell to psychiatry didn't quite come together for me, although now that you bring it up it's really interesting.
the_jackalope From: the_jackalope Date: January 26th, 2007 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
There was an element of that in her reasoning. But a large part was that she didn't want people to mess with her brain again, at least that was the major reason I got from it.
5 comments or Leave a comment