Extras is the fourth book in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy. Well, not really. It's more of a companion book, set in the same environment, but with a different protagonist. Tally, the main character from Uglies, Pretties, and Specials does make an appearance, but this story is told from the perspective of Aya Fuse.
Extras takes place several years after Specials, and explores how society has evolved once the strict social roles of the "bubblehead years" have been relaxed. In the former Japanese city where Aya lives, a reputation economy now drives people's existence. People make constant "feeds" out to the net, and everyone has an ever-updated "face rank" that reflects their popularity and name-recognition. The people in the top 1000 are the most revered celebrities, and are automatically given huge apartments and nice clothes. Aya, at 451,396, is invisible. But she doesn't intend to stay that way.
Aya infiltrates a group of girls who pull crazy tricks while striving to remain unknown. Aya's plan is to become famous by revealing the hidden story of the Sly Girls. However, she soon encounters a much bigger story than she had expected, one that affects the future of the entire world.
I found Extras an interesting commentary on our world of blogs and twitters and feeds, not to mention reality television and paparazzi, if taken to extremes. Westerfeld also explores truth, through a character who has been genetically modified so that he can't lie, and environmentalism.
But what Scott Westerfeld truly excels at is world-building. His characters have their own vocabulary of terms, and even a manner of speaking that stands out. I think I could read a couple of paragraphs from, say, a future book in the series, and immediately know what it was. Here's an example:
"Once Aya recognized a snow monkey's scream in the roar of the wind -- hardly dangerous and person-eating, but the thought of untamed animals out here sent a nervous shudder through her. Or maybe that was just the cold. Even wrapped inside two dorm jackets, a three-hundred-klick wind was shiver-making." (Page 104)
"Person-eating". "Shiver-making". Westerfeld uses a very distinctive voice. Here's another example showing Westerfeld's descriptive flair:
"Aya had never realized how annoying the wild could be.
The jungle was unimaginably hot, snarled, and logic-missing. Every direction was blocked by massive roots that spilled down from the trees. Spiderwebs glistened among the ferns, and the humid air was choked with clouds of insects. Ankle-grabbing vines covered the ground, which the rain had turned into a maze of waterfalls, rivulets, and mudslides. Her Ranger coverall was having trouble staying slime-resistant, and Frizz's clothes -- the formals he'd worn to the tech-head bash last night -- were threatening to fall apart." (Page 310)
I think that fans of the series will be pleased with this installment, especially with the glimpse of "what happens next" to Tally, and the chance to see what happens to Westerfeld's future society once the bubblehead restrictions are removed. I think that Extras stands on it's own as a story, but that readers who've read the earlier books will get more out of it. I recommend this series, and this title, to readers age 13 and up.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.