I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier -- and whatever alien species are to be found there -- will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.
One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful 1-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery -- or rediscovery -- of inner space...and that disease the ancients called the soul.
The beginning of the novel is mesmerizing, following the calm, logical, mathematical life of D-503 as he lives every day doing all the good things that his State requires of him: chewing every bit of food/organic glop a requisite number of times, sleeping an exact number of hours each night, rising at exactly the same time each morning and watching his neighbours do exactly the same things because they quite literally live in glass houses. If someone deviates from the scheduled norm, everyone knows. Sexual liaisons are also scheduled by the state, requiring pink tokens and thereby gaining permission to “draw the shades” so that your fellows can’t observe you. D-503 is a highly successful member of the One State, primary builder of the spaceship Integral, until the day he runs into a highly attractive and non-conformist woman, I-330. He immediately loses his desire for his lovely former sex partner, O-90, and as time progresses, he feels like he is losing his mind.
You can’t help but feel for this man, who never expected to run afoul of the State, who expected that life would continue to run smoothly, when he encounters “radical” ideas—he has been taught that freedom and happiness are mutually exclusive and when this assumption is challenged, he is thrown into sanity-disturbing turmoil.
Zamyatin wrote this in the Russia of the 1920s, and it is easy to see how it influenced both George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, both of which I love. I can see that when my reading project is finished (or farther along), I will be backtracking to read anything else by Yevgeny Zamyatin that I can find translated into English.