Literature: Uglies

Uglies is the collective name given to a series of books by Scott Westerfeld: Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and a companion book, Extras. They are set in the future, three hundred years after a petroleum-destroying bacteria and genetically modified orchids went out of control, leaving the humans of the world to rethink their destructive ways.

Indeed, at first glance, this future seems to be a better place: clothes can be recycled on the spot, the environment is in better shape, and no one goes hungry. The people of the world live under a caste system: once they turn sixteen, teenagers are given operations to become 'Pretties,' beautiful, popular youths who can do what they want all day and night in New Pretty Town.

Nothing is wrong with the world—or so it seems.

A quick summary of the books can be found here.

This series provides examples of:

  • Animated Tattoo: In Pretties and Specials, Tally and the Cutters have facial tattoos that pulse with their heart rate.
  • Arc Words: "Informed consent." Also, "Special Circumstances".
  • Aerith and Bob: Tally, Zane, Peris, Fausto, Ho, Az, Tachs...David and Andrew Simpson Smith. This is very much on purpose, as the last two are the only characters born outside the city.
    • In Extras, Aya, Hiro, Ren, Miki, Udzir and Jai/Kai/Lai/Ai are all names contrasting with Eden Maru, Nana Love and Frizz.
      • Extras has an interesting twist on this. Aya, Hiro, Ren, Miki, Jai/Kai (though not Lai), and Nana are all rather standard Japanese names for today's time; Eden is not and Frizz not even possible to say using current standard Japanese phonemes. In terms of surnames, however, only Frizz's is a viable surname (Mizuno) and Eden's a Japanese word (maru, meaning circle).
  • Aesop Amnesia: At the beginning of every book Tally has to re-learn why the status quo is bad. But it's justified because it's not stupidity, (not intentional stupidity at least). In the beginning of Pretties the Pretty operation has made her vapid and oblivious, while in Specials she starts out brainwashed to serve the city.
  • After the End: Petroleum-eating bacteria and an overgrowth of genetically modified white orchids cause destruction for the Rusties, who are now regarded as greedy and insane.
  • All There in the Manual: All the interesting worldbuilding that Westerfeld couldn't put in the books, plus explanations for many of his ideas, are in companion book Bogus To Bubbly. It also addresses, if leaving ambiguous, some fanon, like that the Rusty Ruins are Seattle, and could easily serve as a sourcebook for a Role-Playing Game set in the Uglies verse.
  • And Man Grew Proud
  • And That's Terrible:
    "If you've just created a cool new building with smart matter supports, you don't want someone coming along and turning that matter into, say, liquid. Because that would be bad."
  • Assimilation Plot: Inverted with the people who started the utopia: they solved racial and image problems by making everyone a generic sort of beautiful.
  • Audience Surrogate: Tally.
  • Bad Ass: The Specials in general. The Cutters and Tally especially.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Dr. Cable in Specials.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Taken to an interesting extreme.
  • Becoming the Mask: Tally, at first sent to infiltrate the Smoke, comes to like it and love David.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Cable.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Shay eventually becomes this, though in Specials after receiving the cure she becomes the inversion. The exact point that she does is an exercise left to the reader.
    • Though Shay's character is treated with bafflingly little sympathy, considering that her original role was to save Tally from Pretty obscurity by introducing her to another culture only to have Tally return the favor by (mostly unintentionally) betraying her trust, moving in on her crush, and ultimately bringing ruin upon her home.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Once a book, with the exception of Extras.
    • In Uglies David's father Az is dead as a result of Dr. Cable trying to install new lesions, and Maddy may have developed a pretty cure but they have no subject on which to test the pills. Tally decides to perform a Heroic Sacrifice in offering herself as a test subject, outing herself as the traitor who destroyed the smoke, and willingly turn herself in to have the operation.
    • In Pretties once again Tally accidentally betrays the New Smoke, this time through Zane's false tooth. She decides to stay with him as the New Smoke members escape, taking the cure with them, and Shay turns her into a brainwashed Special.
    • Tally ends the war that she and Shay started, but not before Zane dies and as the only Special in existence she has to make sure the new world doesn't destroy itself the way the old world did. David joins her in the wilderness as she vows to keep the world safe.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The Specials except for Dr. Cable are revealed to be this, when Tally gets turned into one against her will courtesy of Shay and suffers Mind Rape as a result of new lesions.
  • Break the Cutie: Tally becomes progressively more broken as she's dicked about with by the various authorities.
  • Can Not Tell A Lie: The members of Frizz's clique in Extras, Radical Honesty, take (brain) surgery so that it's impossible for them to lie.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Dr. Cable saves Tally from the surgery that would make her normal, since Tally is the last Special in existence.
  • City in a Bottle: Andrew Simpson Smith's reservation. Tally's city can be considered one of these, too: the self-sufficient citizens don't seem to know that there's much outside beyond Rusty Ruins.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: There's a trilogy that tells the story from Shay's point of view.
  • Crap Saccharine World: It is a dystopian novel after all.
  • Creator Provincialism: Ai, a non-English speaker, changes her name by adding a new consonant to the beginning, going through the English alphabet in order. Lampshaded in Bogus to Bubbly.
    Note: Jai/Kai/Lai's names change in alphabetical order, which makes no sense for someone who doesn't even speak English.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Meta-example. Westerfeld gets this way in Bogus to Bubbly.
    Obviously [Tally's] name can't be annoying or unwieldy. My original name for her, "Pazercappitastica Bonechmper," was dropped for this reason.
  • Don't Try This at Home: The reader is advised not to use nanotechnology to rewire your brain.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Dr. Cable kills Az, David's father, when trying to surgically give him Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • After receiving the surgery that makes her pretty, lesions and all, Shay is bubbly with Tally despite their earlier fight over David. This makes Tally feel even worse. Averted later on in the series, though, as Shay remembers what Tally did and continually does.
    • Subverted with David's mother. She doesn't forgive Tally for betraying the old Smoke, accidental was it was, and getting her husband killed.
    • David himself forgives Tally, even when Tally betrayed the Smoke by accident and she called him ugly to make him leave her and Zane behind in pretties.
  • Epigraphs: the beginnings of the different parts of books in the Uglies Trilogy.
  • Eternal English: Averted, English has become much more flexible and has different grammar rules. Tally comments that old black and white movies are "in an English she could hardly understand."
  • Every Episode Ending: With the exception of Extras, the companion book, each book ends with what the operation Tally receives turns her into, i.e. "pretty" for Uglies or with the name of a stage of life.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Shay in Pretties, though she turns back in Specials. Tally arguably pulls one of these as well, but since it's mind control, it may not count; while we don't see Shay actually choosing to join the Specials, it's not at all a leap to assume she did so willingly.
  • Fan Disservice: In Specials, Tally's operation. She's naked, conscious and about to be cut into pieces. Eww.
  • Fantastic Caste System: In the tie-in book Bogus to Bubbly, Scott Westerfeld tells about the strict age-defined hierarchy in the society. Littlies (age 0-11) lived with their parents and were the only people allowed to have traditional family bonds. In fact, parents were encouraged only to have one child every 10 years to keep the population down and stop sibling bonds from forming. Uglies (12-16) were forced to move away to dorms and socially programmed to hate themselves and anticipate the upcoming "Pretty" surgery. New pretties were people who had just had the surgery to make them prettier and more complacent, and they were encouraged to live a crazy lifestyle. Middle pretties were pretties with children and jobs. Late pretties or crumblies were the elderly, who often lived to their middle hundreds
  • Fantastic Honorifics: People in Tally's city use '-wa' (if the name contains an L) or '-la' (if it does not) at the end of names to refer to their friends.
  • First Guy Wins: David.
  • Five-Man Band: Technically, if Aya is The Chick / Sixth Ranger.
  • Facial Markings: The flash tattoo Tally gets in Pretties sticks around.
  • Full-Name Basis: Andrew Simpson Smith.
  • Future Slang: 'Happy-making', 'bubbly', 'icy'...Mostly notably, the English language has become more flexible. For example, instead of saying "It looks pretty", you could say "It's pretty-making." Amusingly, the author decided the only way to determine if the slang is good enough for a book series and not just silly is to try it out in real life, so he actually did use words like "bubbly" in real conversation without explaining to others what it was all about.
  • God Guise: The tribes maintained by scientists believe Pretties are a race of gods, because of their beauty.
  • Green Aesop Sometimes mildly Anvilicious.
  • Grey Goo: In Specials, Tally and Shay release a vial of silvery nanomachines that eat all but three things: the vial they were kept in, a special black foam, and dirt.
  • Healing Factor: The nanos in the Specials' blood.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Approaches Buffy-level in the third book. Zane rejects his new neural grafts at the same time the war Tally accidentally started jammed Diego's comms network. As a result the doctors don't reach him in time, and he is reduced to a vegetable. They have to switch the life-support off, yet she must dash over to her home city and give herself up.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • Defied by Maddy in Uglies; although she wants to try the pretty cure on Shay she won't force it on the latter without "informed consent." As she explains to Tally and David, Specials like Dr. Cable killed her husband Az by forcing experimental surgery upon him, and she doesn't want to stoop to that level.
    • Played straight by the town of Diego, though. They consider Tally in Special form] a weapon and even though they'd need her consent to change her mind, her body can be Brought Down to Normal. [[spoiler: For Tally, though, it would be a Fate Worse Than Death. They then heavily drug her when she throws a temper tantrum and is reduced to begging for it not to happen, and would have succeeded if not for Shay.
  • Hover Board: The only way of transportation for uglies. Pretties aren't able to focus enough to use them.
  • Instant A.I., Just Add Water: Moggle from Extras. Despite being a cheap, run-of-the-mill video camera. How's that for a Playful Hacker achievement?
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Don't read the back of any of the books if you haven't completely finished the previous book. The very first sentence on the backs of Pretties, Specials, and Extras give away, respectively, that Tally becomes a Pretty, Tally becomes a Special, and Tally brings down the dystopian system at the end of the original trilogy.
  • Leap of Faith: Finding your way to the Smoke includes making one.
  • Love Triangle: Tally, Shay, and David. Tally, David, and Zane.
  • Magical Floating Camera: Apparantly, the protagonist of Extra saved a backup copy of the entire Internet on her hovercam (which isn't even exactly a high-quality model). It should be noted that the future's version of the Internet is mostly video data (with some blogging).
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted with David and Zane. In From Bogus to Bubbly, Westerfeld reveals that he just chose the names of Tally's two love interests without knowing that both of them mean "beloved".
    • Played straight with a lot of names, though.
    Westerfeld: Yes, you actually can be that obvious as a novelist, and no one ever seems to notice.
  • The Mole: Tally in Uglies. This was also Shay and Tally's plan for Zane in Specials.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Cable.
  • Nanomachines: In Specials it's revealed that the Specials have nanobots in their blood to make them heal quickly, and Tally and Shay accidentally destroy a museum with some destructive nanos.
    • Nanotechnology is so pervasive in this world that there is a type of glue with nanos in it that allows it to bond any materials together forever.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A minor version of this is used as a plot device in the first two books; In the first, Tally is given a medallion to use to signal the specials to come take out the Smoke. She throws it in the fire once she decides to stay in the Smoke, not knowing that damaging the pendant causes it to automatically send out a signal. In the second, she and her new boyfriend find pills to reverse the Pretty brain lesions. Turns out that the two pills were supposed to be taken by one person. One pill eats the lesions. The second pill stops the first pill from eating the entire brain.
  • No Fame, No Wealth, No Service: Aya Fuse's entire city has a fame and merit economy. You get merits by having a job, going to school, cleaning the streets etc. and can spend them on items or save for a bigger house/apartment. Fame however is what people value, and without fame you cannot get into any parties. They even have a ranking system for everyone in the city, from the most popular to the most obscure.
  • No Poverty
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-universe in Extras, thanks to their new economy system.
  • Note to Self: Tally writes a note to herself in Uglies to inform herself that she gave informed consent for the pills she was given the same time as her note that could reverse the lesions she got from the pretty operation.
  • Once per Episode: Each book begins with party crashing
  • Only One Name: Only Tally, Dr. Cable, and Andrew Simpson Smith get last names in the original trilogy. Most of the Extras characters get last names, but we still don't find out those of the trilogy characters who show up.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Gods? You mean those invisible superheroes in the sky that the Rusties believed in? Later subverted, in Extras Aya mentions that the post-mind rain society has rediscovered religion. There are even Tally Youngblood cults.
    • And then double subverted, as religions are largely out of fashion after the first few years.
  • Paparazzi: In Extras, all the people with high ranks have paparazzi cameras following them at all times.
  • Plucky Girl: Tally. She reverses her own brain damage through sheer determination.
    • Could also have partially been a placebo effect. Even though the pill she took didn't do anything to fix her, she didn't know that at the time.
  • Post-Cyberpunk: Arguably.
  • Post Peak Oil: What caused the new world to come into being.
  • Premiseville: New Pretty Town, Uglyville, and Crumblyville. And in Extras, there is also a Prettyville.
  • Running Gag: Tally's hatred of SpagBol.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: This seems to be Zane's tale. First we find out he was responsible for the Specials wanting to track down Shay, then his brain gets eaten up by nanites, crippling him and his girlfriend is brainwashed into becoming a Special. Just when it seems that he gets the surgery he needs, his brain rejects the new implants, and he becomes a vegetable on life support in the middle of a war. The hospital has to take him off it for the other wounded people coming in.
  • Super Soldier: The Specials.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Tally. Arguably all the Specials/Cutters.
  • Totally Radical: Prettyspeak. And it's infectious—beware, oh reader, of Got Me Doing It.
  • Translation Convention: Averted in Extras. Aya does not speak good English.
  • Trilogy Creep: Extras is dedicated to all the people who wrote to the author to "reveal the secret definition of the word 'trilogy'".
  • Trouble from the Past: People in the future still have to clean up the hole in the ozone layer and contain a species of nigh-invulnerable genetically engineered ecosystem-destroying orchids.
  • Unusual User Interface: Most not[spoiler: iceable in Extras, where the characters could view the in-universe equivalent of internet, television, and video games through screens inside artificial eyeballs.
  • Unwitting Pawn / Spanner in the Works: Yep,Tally again.
  • Urban Segregation: Uglies, New Pretties, and Middle and Late Pretties all live in different parts of the city.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Sure, it's a utopia of sorts, but Pretties are mindless airheads.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Dr. Cable after Tally cures her near the end of Specials.
  • Weather Report Narration: Uglies begins with "The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit." And then describes the diet said cat would need to get all the colors right.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Word of God says that the brainwashing was originally intended to prevent people from becoming as destructive as the Rusties were.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: One of the benefits of the Pretty operation.
  • We Will Use WikiWords in the Future: Freeze-dried food is labelled like this. For example, 'SpagBol' is spaghetti bolognese.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lots of fans on the author's website wondered what happened to Croy.
    • Well Scott Westerfeld has said that there is going to be more Croy in the future, so that may be answered.

Alternative Title(s):

Pretties, Specials