Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Extras, Scott Westerfeld

This is the 4th Book in the "Uglies" series that was originally a trilogy. In the dedication Scott writes something to the effect that it is for all his readers who told him what the real definition of a trilogy is.   :-)

Anyhow, Tally is not he main character. The main character is Aya Fuze, a young Japanese girl who is 15. While there are not more rules or regulations on when you can get surgery, or what kinds of surgery you can get, her parents still won't allow her to have anything beyond the basic skintenna for communication until she turns 16.

After the "mind rain" that happened when Tally Youngblood and the Smokies give the 'bubblehead' cure out, the world is forced to figure out how to run things again with people who all of a sudden have wants, desires, and opinions about things. Aya's city has chosen a reputation economy. There is no physical currency like our money, so instead you either have to gain fame (of your own accord) or earn merits (by doing good deeds, doing school work assignments, taking on jobs etc). Those merits can buy you what you need or want, whereas in the Prettytime days, anything you wanted was just handed to you through the hole in the wall. Now you have to earn what you want from the hole. So there are many different things to get you famous, but the clique that made Aya's brother Hiro famous is one called "kickers". They kick stories and if the stories are interesting enough, more people will watch them, the more that watch them, the more their name gets said, the more their name gets said, the higher they rise in 'face rank' and your fame means you will get everything you want and you don't need to earn merits anymore. Sound familiar?

It reminded me a LOT about our current secondary economy of fame. Or face. How many likes can you get on a facebook status? How many 'friends' do you have on social media? Can you get to the #1 trending Tweet? Right now it's all just for fun and games, but what if your quality of life depended on how famous you could be? And aren't we already halfway there? I know that there are truly talented celebrities that do work hard in their chosen profession of entertainment and we pay good money to go see them and enjoy them. Take Meryl Streep for instance. She's iconic. Or certain athletes who have worked really hard to become who they are in their sport. But then look at Paris Hilton. Does she ever DO anything? She gets everything handed to her simply because she's famous (and being an heiress doesn't hurt, but isn't that at least partially where her fame CAME from in the first place?). And don't the people who are more famous get certain privileges that come with being famous? The more famous you are, the higher your pay which gives you access to the most resources. Is this right? I don't know. And who's to judge what profession is more legitimate than others? I mean, I could argue that being a WWF wrestler is NOT a profession worthy of the money they get. But if people are willing to pay that much to support those guys in that profession, then really, they are supplying a demand of sorts, and I suppose they should be entitled to it. And I could argue the merits of a football player making just as much money-or more-as a medical doctor or surgeon. Really? How is football more important than bettering a persons physical or mental health? But I am sure that there are people who could argue the good points of a football player. So who gets to decide? And how could we possibly make it "fair"? So while we may think that our system is ludicrous  there's no way to change it unless as a people we only bought into those things we personally thought were important. Football is ridiculous? Don't watch. Doctors get paid to much? Find a different profession to serve those needs. Actors get paid too much? Don't go to the movie theater, wait for it to come out in Redbox and never actually purchase the disc or paraphernalia. But until people make a mass choice about a certain issue, things won't really change. And I do think there needs to be SOME change. In priorities. I understand that entertainment is necessary. I understand that Shirley Temple got many, many people through the depression by bringing smiles to their faces. But shouldn't some people get more credit? What about educators? Armed forces members? Public safety officials? What about 911 call responders? EMTs? I don't know what some of those professions pay, but I don't think it's as much as some.....

Anyhow, I think there's no way to do it 100% right. And I think that in this book, the biggest thing people have now that they didn't have before was a choice. The chance to decide for themselves what will make them happy and a means by which they can work to achieve it. They will not all succeed, but if they have access to having their basic needs met and a way to work for anything extra they want if they save up, then I think everyone could have happiness (or a chance to redefine what will make them happy if at first they don't make the top 1000 face rank list). There's even a clique, the Sly Girls, who make it a point to not be known. That's what makes them happy-anonymity. Being able to do what they want to do without anyone watching (which ironically some famous people today get irritated with paparazzi, but well, that kinda comes with fame, doesn't it?). And you don't want to go too far, as in dictatorships, to say that all things are necessary and therefore all equal, such as the trash collector to the brain surgeon. One does require more training, so therefore should be given more. But in the same breath, I think it's so sad that some very necessary professions at the entry level do not allow for a family to meet its basic needs. For instance, when I was a teacher with a BA degree, for a family of 3, did not pay all the bills. And we had a $400/month mortgage, no outstanding debt aside from a car payment, and not insanely unreasonable costs of living. I went to work when my husband went to school and we consistently came up short by around at least $300/month with our needs-NOT wants. So we had to supplement with student loans. So I just think it's sad that we as a society have not found a way to a happy medium where people can choose a profession based on what they love to do instead of what they know will pay the bills. It IS possible as a teacher to make a living for a family, it just requires at least a Master's Degree and living in a state that will pay more for that. In Idaho, where I was teaching, I worked hard to pay for CEUs so I could advance to a BA+12 credits. Then they froze the educational advancement scale due to budget cuts and the fact that "more education won't necessarily make you a better teacher" which is foundation-ally true, but it made ME a better teacher, and it didn't help me and I was out all the money I paid for those credits thinking it'd be an investment. I had already been denied moving up the experience scale due to budget cuts and "more experience doesn't always correlate to being a better teacher" also foundation-ally true, but I was a HECK of a better teacher my 4th year than my 1st BECAUSE of experience. But people who are teachers do so because they love to. But it cannot be their only income if they are just starting out with a BA-unless they are are single and only have themselves to provide needs for. Yes, it would be nice to have a happy medium where everyone could earn enough for their basic needs doing a profession they love and also have a way to earn extras according to their wants. But the solution remains ever elusive.

But another lesson in this book is that you need to decide what will make YOU happy. And then you need to go out and WORK to get there. Not happy? Change it. Aya knew what she would have to do in order to get what she wanted. She studied and waited for opportunity. Was she completely honest to others? No. But luckily things worked out, because the people she betrayed could have easily done away with her. But that was a risk Aya was ready to take. So I guess another lesson is that if you intend to be dishonest, you must be willing to take any consequences that come from being dishonest.

Anyhow, I've rambled on enough about this.....but it was a good read. At times, as through the other books, I felt a bit offended by how our current generation was referred to "the Rusty's" and the attitude towards the Rusty's, but then how often do we now look upon previous generations with disdain at how they did things and shake our head at how incredibly stupid could they have been to NOT know the dangers of XYZ (radiation, anyone?), but they just DIDN'T. So we probably shouldn't judge them. But that's another story for another day. This series definitely gives you a lot to think about in addition to being good entertainment and a fairly quick read.

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