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cover, white with silver lines and little paint-by-numbers written in. Some of the cover are coloured in, and there are two swans poking about. Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey is a humorous satirical dystopian novel revolving around the ability to perceive colour.

It follows Eddie Russett, who has been sent out into the Outer Fringes to learn humility. Head Office has set him the task of conducting a chair census (to make sure chair density hasn't dropped below regulatory requirements). Eddie can see red, and is therefore socially and economically above the Greys (who can't see any colour) and below all the other colours--Purples and down; this is a society not only divided but graded on colour-perception. He is courting Constance Oxblood, a much Redder girl, to thereby win back some of the ground his ancestors lost. And Eddie is travelling with his father, a Swatchman taking up a temporary position also in the Outer Fringes.

Eddie is pretty easy-going, curious, and honestly rather naive. He tried to implement a new queuing system in his hometown Jade-Under-Lime (and gets quashed there by the regulations) but he continues probing when in East Carmine, raising the ire of officials. The world of Chromaticia is regulated by merits and demerits, and if you accumulate enough demerits you're sent to Reboot. As he blunders around East Carmine he keeps coming into contact with Jane, a Grey whose sardonic (and violent) personality are completely unlike anyone else he's met.

The novel starts off very humorously and that was a really refreshing change from usual post-apocalyptic literature. But as it went on, the absurdity and humour started becoming more and more horrifying as you realized what was actually going on. Eddie is really very naive, but no more than many of his peers really, something that the Head Office tries to ensure. For me, the explanation of Mildew was what really made me realize just frightening Eddie's world was. I'm pretty burnt out on apocalyptic/dystopias in general, but Fforde eases you into it and I was seduced by the colour-based worldbuilding. Unlike most apocalyptic stories, this one is set so far into the future that the characters don't really care what the apocalyptic event was--it's just something that happened.

[I really liked this book. More details and spoilers under the cut]Wrapped up in that are some pretty pointed comments though. Eddie bumps into a Yellow character called Travis, bound for Reboot, early on in the novel. Travis says that the reason that travel is limited/discouraged is not to prevent Mildew spread (Eddie's thought) nor the usual power-and-control of binding to the land (my thought), but rather "to save the postal service from descending into chaos." The Oxbloods, of whose daughter Eddie is courting, are wealthy and well-travelled and therefore have eighty-seven points of redirection, and get mail nine weeks late. Travis says that furthermore, if you live in one place, leave, and resettle there, the mail service completely breaks down and the mail just starts going into loops, perpetually undeliverable. (He is bound for Reboot because after several frustrating letters to Head Office, he set fire to three tonnes of undeliverable mail.)

Then there are the simply pitiable stories, like what's left of the libraries. Our civilization collapsed perhaps past the 2200s (no definite date given, though an XCVI Olympiad projects a date we know). Successive "Leapbacks", purging of information, discussion, technology, etc, have destroyed a lot of the tech that exists. The libraries are shells of themselves, but the staffing levels never changed so the librarians practically outnumber the books. The librarians basically pass down the knowledge of which books used to be where, so one librarian can quote the title "The Little Engine that Could" and nothing else. She remembers the title "Catch-22" used to sit in one spot on the shelf but the librarians have conjectured it was about fishing, and other names are mangled.

The first thing I noticed was how the writing was constructed--it's a book where all the words are put together purposefully and the prose is rather clever, and it's in first person so you can really get a sense of Eddie's personality. Affable, perhaps a little bit sarcastic sometimes, clever but not cunning.

I am a sucker for worldbuilding. I talk about it all the time and it's a huge part of why I read sf/f in the first place, and this novel fills me with glee. Many terms, for example, has been colourized. They've got a beigemarket (blackmarket) and everyone's last name--and frequently first name--indicates their colour perception. Also his father says this to him (about "green-peeking", akin to mild drug usage): "As soon as you've taken your Ishihara [...] you can look at whatever you beigeing well please." It becomes more and more apparent throughout the novel that Eddie and his fellow citizens are human but have significantly changed visual perception from us, their ancestors. Not only is everyone severely colourblind, their pupils have shrunk so much they can't see at night (or perhaps they have lost the ability to dilate their pupils). Seeing very intense colour or certain shades can cause the brain to do things--see/hear hallucinations, induce emotions or physical responses, etc. Eddie's father is a Swatchman, a doctor. They heal using swatches of colour.

I did some research after reading, and discovered that Munsell invented the colour-system of hue-chroma-value, Ishihara invented the colour-perception test which uses coloured dots to make pictures or numbers, as well as a couple other things. Fforde has a few of the colours listed in the book (they're given in Munsell notation) on his website. Colour is a fascinating and incredibly complicated topic. Finally, I wish I knew more about pop culture though; I definitely am missing some references, like the clip of a TV show or movie which Eddie accidentally sees.

Recommended if you like dystopias or humorous writing mixed with satire or you like colour-based worldbuilding. I could go on for a couple thousand words on the worldbuilding on this one. 10/10

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/150505.html.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2014 07:12 am (UTC)
I bought this book and really tried to like it, but didn't get past the first 50 or so pages. Also, that cover design looks A LOT better than the one I have. :(
Mar. 9th, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
Aww, that's too bad.

Did you get the US version or something? http://www.jasperfforde.com/grey/buyusasog.html I thought they looked really crowded. I think it works better as a full-size book cover than as a little jpg though.
Mar. 9th, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC)
Oh....yeah, that's a bit much.
Mar. 9th, 2014 04:05 pm (UTC)
I read this a while back, but I don't remember much of it. I'd rated it 3 out of 5 on Goodreads. And apparently there are sequels... Are you going to read the sequels? Maybe I should read the book again.
Mar. 9th, 2014 07:01 pm (UTC)
Hm, Fforde says that this will be a trilogy. Unfortunately, it appears he is a serial-WIP kind of author, the sort that pushes back publication dates endlessly (arrghhhh). So we might get it by 2015, but I'm not holding out hope :( I will definitely read the sequels!

This book hit a lot of things I really love - ROYGBIV worldbuilding, amiable protagonist, clever prose, future society that carries traces of today, etc.
Mar. 9th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
It was one of Fforde's amusing, improbable worlds until -- I hit the very end. The choice he has to make is brutally harsh and doesn't really fit the tone.
Mar. 9th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
I guess I'd have to disagree! I think seeded in the story are some pretty horrifying things, which don't really coalesce into "horrifying dystopia" until the end. For example [Spoiler (click to open)]people are literally rendered down into tallow and other useful things after death. People barter and trade their children into marriages (and you can see Eddie's dad get into it, even, near the end, which kind of killed my love for him.) Jane kills Courtland and chucks Eddie into a yateveo to cover up--Travis gets killed by Courtland--the entire village of Rusty Hill, hundreds of inhabitants, are killed by Mildew once the rumours of Pookas gets out--once you show symptoms of Annex XII or whatever, you're instantly killed by Mildew. To me, Eddie will have to make that sort of decision eventually, because the world isn't as nice as he thought it was. I think in the beginning Eddie is pretty naive, and as are all the other characters except Jane. Even unscrupulous and cunning Tommo has no idea. So I think it makes sense (since we've got narration from Eddie) that everything seems okay on the outside but inside...
Mar. 9th, 2014 08:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely, there are horrible and dystopian things throughout. The problem is that the pressure on Eddie takes a sudden, discontinuous jump. It's a problem of tone not escalating properly.
Mar. 10th, 2014 12:27 am (UTC)
I think we'll have to agree to disagree--it was a bit sudden but in context I'm okay with how it played out. I can believe a rude awakening.
Mar. 9th, 2014 10:27 pm (UTC)
I adored this book. Read it for my book club, maybe a year ago? It's killing me that book 2 isn't out yet!
Mar. 10th, 2014 12:24 am (UTC)
Me too, to both your points. I love this book and I hate waiting for sequels, especially books whose releases just get pushed farther and farther...
Mar. 9th, 2014 10:27 pm (UTC)
Also if you haven't yet I recommend checking out the propaganda videos on Jasper Fforde's youtube channel :)
Mar. 10th, 2014 12:25 am (UTC)
I haven't! He has a youtube channel?!
Mar. 12th, 2014 04:48 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Mar. 9th, 2014 11:26 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a really cool book, sort of like The Giver meets 1984.
Mar. 10th, 2014 12:26 am (UTC)
It is! I don't think I've ever read the Giver (just Gathering Blue, many many years ago) but yeah, it does borrow from dystopia/post-apocalypse tropes. Less grim than 1984 overall though! (Thank god. Love 1984 but there's only so much one can take.)
Mar. 10th, 2014 09:58 pm (UTC)
Colours vs b/w plays a certain role in The Giver which is why I thought of it. (1984 is really alienating, isn't it?)
Mar. 11th, 2014 04:03 am (UTC)
Oh, I see! I remember almost nothing of that book, so yeah.

It really is. It's written so well that the bleakness feels real.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )



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