Mind-Rain is a collection of essays by various authors about Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. It is literary analysis, though not necessarily academic. Some essays were more academic than others. Westerfeld, who edited the book and wrote introductions, also included two short stories with similar themes to Uglies.
It’s particularly difficult to review literary analysis by multiple authors. Instead of talking about each of the essays, I’m just going to hit on a couple I found particularly bad or good.
– Best Friends for Never, Robin Wasserman. This essay tells us why Shay is the real hero of the Uglies series, and how horrible Tally (the main character and commonly-considered hero) is. I disagree with everything she said, and it was the only essay in the book that actually made me angry.
– All that Glitters is Not Hovery, Lili Wilkinson. This essay discusses language development, especially how it applies to the teenage years of life. Fantastic essay. Very insightful.
– Beauty Smackdown, Jeanette Rallison. This discusses the price of striving for beauty, and whether the concept behind the original Uglies world (equalizing beauty for everyone) could be considered good, if you took out the brain damage part. Very interesting discussion. Much to think about.
– Conformity by Design, Linda Gerber. Compares/contrasts American society to Japanese society and peels away the layers of conformity standards. Again, very interesting. Made me think differently.
– Naturally Unnatural, Will Shetterly. This goes over the multiple ways we’ve altered our bodies throughout history to attain “beauty” (think ‘neck rings’ and ‘Mayan head-squishing’) and shows that they aren’t all that different from what’s happening in the Uglies series. Once again, fantastic essay. I learned tons.
As for the short stories:
I loved “The Beautiful People” by Charles Beaumont (published 1952). It had a very “The Cold Equations” sort of feel to it. I believe it’s considered one of the bedrocks of science fiction, and while I’m not generally a fan of traditional science fiction, I’d highly recommend it. It’s very dystopian.
The second story, “Liking What You See: A Documentary” by Ted Chiang, was also interesting, though perhaps because it’s more modern in style and I’m partial to classics, I didn’t like it as much as “The Beautiful People.” I did love the idea of calliagnosia – repressing certain impulses in the brain that measure attractiveness; calliagnosia makes a person unable to determine if someone is attractive or not, while not changing their ability to see or distinguish features. So that’s also a good story to read. **Update: Years later, this particular short story is the only thing I remember from this book at all. It really stuck with me!
My favorite part about this whole book is that there can BE a book of literary analysis for the Uglies series. It shows that while I may have been completely tongue-tied in all my various reviews, there is something (or some things) far deeper than the surface level of these books.