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Extras (2007)

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3.59 of 5 Votes: 1
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1416951172 (ISBN13: 9781416951179)
simon pulse

Extras (2007) - Plot & Excerpts

Think of an ultramodern city where everything that matters is fame and reputation. Think about a society where everyone can be “kickers” or journalists, where everyone can be “tech-heads” or inventors, where everyone can be “surge-monkeys” and undergo as many surgeries as they can in the name of fashion. Think of a city swathed in big futuristic bubble, eyed 24/7 by a mechanical Big Brother.Sounds like the world just became a blown-up version of American Idol, eh?Extras, the fourth installment in the Uglies trilogy-plus-one, kicks off with this new setting and a couple of new plot devices, blowing my mind completely. Our protagonist this time is a wee bit like our Ugly-verse Tally Youngblood: just a confused, fame-hungry fifteen-year-old Japanese girl named Aya Fuse. She’s more than determined to gain celebrity status and her way to do this is to follow her brother’s steps: be a kicker. With the help of her hovercam (a floating camera the size of a halved soccer ball, programmed with some kind of Artificial Intelligence—for some weird reason I’m thinking of the Haro thingy from Gundam Seed), Aya records everything, hoping to “kick” an incredible story that can boost her face rank to the top one thousand. After a string of mixed adventures and misadventures, Aya finally stumbles upon a terrible secret, one that involves not only her future but also that of the whole world.From the introduction of the “reputation economy” in modern Japan, you’ll easily get that Westerfeld has weaved a satire of sorts about our society today, which is obsessed with popularity shows and such. More importantly, the author shows us what will happen if everyone is equally given a chance to determine his individual value—in ranks—by excessive media exposure. I enjoyed this book immensely because as a journalist-in-training myself, it made me think more about media theories, the ethical dilemmas of citizen journalism and the same old arguments behind “bad” and “good” publicity. It’s as if I was handed another case study, only this time I had extreme fun analyzing it.I didn’t ponder much about the new set of characters. In my honest opinion, they’re not three-dimensional at all. I had trouble imagining them as real people in the beginning—seriously, how do you picture a person with “manga eyes” surge without initially thinking of him as an anime? Or a girl with a friendly hovercam without imagining her as Lacus Clyne (ALL RIGHT, maybe it’s just the anime addict in me but still…)? They’re almost like cardboard cutouts to me. I adjusted as the story progresses though, when I’m introduced to the characters’ own quirks and imperfections. But like I said, there’s not much time to develop them fully—the pace is quick as always (especially in the latter part. The beginning’s a bit slow). This time around Westerfeld really focused on the plot, and for that, I’m letting him off the hook (LOL). For the record, this is the first time I commend a book with not-so-developed characters—most of the books I really like have characters that propel the story into unfolding its glory. Well, you always have an exception. :)A story of truth-slanting, betrayal, friendship, bravery, and human nature, Extras is one of the few young adult novels that is more than just what it seems. There was an anticlimactic element lodged near the ending (something I still consider awe-inspiring because it reminds me of one of my favorite mecha series, Gundam Wing), but the final chapter gives way to a more hopeful future for humanity.I’m recommending this. :D

Like the other books in the Uglies trilogy, Extras is fun and a very fast read. I read this book in about 2 and 1/2 hours, pretty much non-stop. However, Extras raised the same prickly issues for me that the other books in the series did. My years as a student steeped in cultural studies and gender theory make it pretty much impossible for me to read works of popular fiction without subjecting them to critical analysis, and Westerfeld's books certainly lend themselves to this sort of critique. Especially if you are like me. Like most dystopian science fiction, Westerfeld's books cast a critical eye on disturbing aspects of our present-day society -- obsession with looks, fame, etc -- by taking those aspects to extremes and weaving them into the very fabric of the future society. In Uglies & Pretties, everyone is "cured" of ugliness through a mandatory operation that takes place when individuals turn 16. In Extras, people earn money, respect, and privilege through the "reputation-based" economy, which rewards those who can make a name for themselves by publicizing and popularizing their thoughts, exploits, etc through the "feeds" (read: Internet). (If you think this is an interesting idea, you might want to check out Cory Doctorow's book "Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom" which explores the same conceit but with more skill and humor). In all of these books, the main (female) character desperately wants to be pretty, special, popular, famous or whatever, but ends up questioning the values of her society when she meets outsiders who don't subscribe to those norms. The problem I have with Westerfeld's books is that these critiques, which are intriguing and thought-provoking, don't actually go far enough. Although the main character openly questions and in some cases initially resists the societal mandate to become pretty, special, famous, etc, she ALWAYS eventually ends up becoming pretty or famous even if it is against her will. Unlike all the other unenlightened pretty or famous folks who have never questioned their society's structure, however, she is well-aware of the pitfalls. She is now in fact doubly privileged -- as a pretty/special/famous person she has all the privileges that go along with being high-status in her society, AND she also has a sophisticated understanding of the "dark side" of her society that others can't see, through ignorance or fear or whatever other blinders they have on. So although Westerfeld is clearly trying to show the reader how screwed up the dystopian society's norms (and by implication our own) are, in the end, he simply reinforces them. In Westerfeld's world, you can be hip to the ways in which our society's obsession with looks and celebrity oppress others and rail against the system, but you can still benefit from them at the same time. There's no sacrifice to make. And I guess that's why, as much as I enjoy Westerfeld's books, I can't help thinking that ultimately they're as shallow as the cultural norms they purport to critique.

What do You think about Extras (2007)?

Finishing a series always makes me feel like I'm losing a friend. I've spent a good week or so reading these four books, absorbed in the pages and the characters and their lives, and now I just feel lonely. Extras is set a few years after the huge finale of Specials, or the "mind-rain" as they now call it. It's also a bunch of new characters (although Tally, Shay, David and Fausto make a reappearance which I'm extremely happy about!), a new city, and a spanking new economy known as the "reputation economy". Japan is all about face rank now, a little like a city-sized YouTube, with everyone sporting a hovercam and a feed to broadcast whatever they think will boost their rank. The higher your rank, the more you're able to live in luxury. Fifteen-year-old Aya is ranked around 400,000, making her a total extra, however she uncovers a secret clique, the Sly Girls, which she is certain will bump her to the top. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as that...Needless to say, although I enjoyed it immensely, Extras isn't as wonderful as its predecessors. Perhaps because we've grown so accustomed to Tally and her friends, that a new narrator instantly puts me a little on edge. Aya irritates me more than Tally ever did because all she ever cares about is being famous. I adore Frizz (Aya's love interest) though. Some of the funniest, literally laugh-out-loud moments contained him and Tally when they find out about his brain surge, Radical Honesty, which compells him to tell the truth. He almost surpassed my love for Zane, and is probably the reason this book received four stars. (Speaking of Zane, though... I WISH they'd have said his name. They always trailed off; it was so depressing. I think that was Westerfeld's aim though, so kudos. But still... sigh, Zane <3)A great ending, but like I first said... now I just feel empty D:

Extras is the fourth book in Scott Westerfeld's critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling series (originally it was a trilogy). The first three books Uglies, Pretties, and Specials follow Tally Youngblood, a fifteen-year-old girl living in a futuristic world so dominated by plastic surgery that anyone who looks normal is ugly. Extras is set three years after the events of the trilogy unfold, in a different city, with different main characters. The trilogy, however, sets the framework for everything that happens in Extras so while the book is great on its own it definitely assumes you know the story of the trilogy.In this new world, where everything is changing, being pretty isn't enough to get by. Now it's fame that matters. The more famous you are, the higher your face rank is. A higher rank means more currency in a world where celebrity is everything.Everyone is trying to get more attention somehow: "tech-heads" are obsessed with gadgets, "surge monkeys" are hooked on the newest trends in plastic surgery, and "kickers" use feeds (think blogs but techier and cooler because it's a Westerfeld idea) to spread the word on all the gossip and trends worth mentioning. But staying famous is a lot easier than getting famous. Just ask Aya Fuse. Fifteen-year-old Aya has had her own feed for a year, but her rank is still 451,369--so low that she's a definite nobody, someone her city calls an extra.Aya has a plan to up her rank though. All she needs is a really big story to kick. Aya finds the perfect story when she meets the Sly Girls, a clique pulling crazy tricks in utter obscurity. As Aya follows her story she realizes it's much bigger than one clique: maybe the biggest story since Tally Youngblood changed everything.Some sequels that bring in all new characters are annoying. Not this one. All of the "new" characters are original and, equally important, likable. The story is also utterly original covering very different territory than the rest of the series. It doesn't pick up right where the trilogy left off, but a lot of questions are answered by the end of this book.Like the other books in the series, this one moves fast. The story has a lot of action and several twists and surprises (some old characters even turn up). The plot is never overly-confusing though. Westerfeld does a great job of creating (and explaining) the futuristic world he has created in these pages so that it truly comes to life on the page.At the same time, Extras is a very timely book. In a world where everyone seems to have some kind of website and is trying to be more popular or more famous, it's fascinating to read about a city where everything literally depends on your reputation. Westerfeld raises a lot of interesting questions as Aya deals with the ethics of kicking her new story and tries to decide if honesty really is more important than fame.

I was very amused by the dedication of this novel: "To everyone who wrote to me to reveal the secret definition of the word 'trilogy'."This takes place some years after Tally takes down society, and vows to protect the Earth. Aya is 15 in what is today's Japan. Her parents won't allow her to start having surge until she is 16. Aya thinks they wish that it were still the Prettytime. Her rank in the city is far too low for her to afford any, anyway. Her feed is read by almost nobody, so her facerank is too low to receive merits for the writing in it. All she wants is to get famous and stop being a self-named-ugly. She found a story to kick in a secret clique that despises fame and wants to stay off of the city feeds. Her story about a secret clique turns into a story about city-killing missiles and the end of the world. Someone doesn't want her story to get out and Aya is forced to go on the run with the famous Tally Youngblood.Basically, this is a city run by how many people follow your Twitter and Facebook feeds! Eek! I don't know about you, but that sounds terrifying. We self-rank ourselves enough because of these twisted social networks, we don't need economy based on it as well!It seems a common review of this series that people liked it less and less as the novels went on. Somehow I found myself in the minority and enjoying these novels more and more. They were all four star books, but were I to rank them, I liked Extras more than Specials more than Pretties more than Uglies. I think that for me it was the widening world more than anything else that did it for me. While the stories were all fairly similar, it made me think of what each new division of the culture was doing in the previous book. What were the Specials up to in Pretties and Uglies? What were the Crims up to in Uglies? What have Tally and friends been doing since Specials? Yes, there's a formula, and yes, I can see how the books were predictable. But you know what? I thought they were fun to read. I found the issues they addressed to be important enough, that the predictability was forgivable. I found the writing flowed well enough that I simply didn't have time to be bored.

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