Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Tropes used in Uglies include:

  • 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 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. 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 betraying her trust, moving in on her crush, and ultimately bringing ruin upon her home.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Epigraphs: the beginnings of the different parts of books in the Uglies Trilogy.
  • Eyes of Gold: Zane.
  • 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."
  • Face Heel Turn Shay in Pretties. 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 Honorifics: Strongly based on Japanese honorifics.
  • 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."
  • God Guise: The tribes maintained by scientists believe Pretties are a race of gods, because of their beauty.
  • Green Aesop Sometimes mildly Anvilicious.
  • 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.
  • Honorifics: Young people use (fictional) honorifics as part of the Future Slang.
  • Hover Board: The only way of transportation for uglies. Pretties aren't able to focus enough to use them.
  • I Lied: Heroic example. In Specials, Tally and Shay get Zane to agree to lead them to the Smoke's third version, and in exchange, the Special surgery should treat the brain damage he received from the pills that he and Tally split. Zane points out that the Specials turned Tally unwillingly into one of them, so why the hell would he agree to that? Shay said it's because Tally is guilty about what happened to him, and wants to fix her mistake. Out of love for his girlfriend, Zane agrees...only for it to be implied that he knew Diego would have similar medical facilities as well as the security to rout the Specials. The New Smoke easily cures Shay when they encounter her, as well as the other forcefully-turned Specials, while Diego detains Tally and successfully knocks her out as she attempts to infiltrate the city.
  • Instant AI, Just Add Water: Moggle from Extras. Despite being a cheap, run-of-the-mill video camera. How's that for a Playful Hacker achievement?
  • Instant Plastic Surgery: Justified. While the surgeries themselves are not necessarily easy to get-- they do require anesthetic and have to make adjustments-- they are more convenient than they would be in real life. Books two and three start with Tally suffering no physical complications from being turned Pretty and later Special. Emotional complications, however, are another matter: when Tally undoes the brainwashing from the lesions by sheer Magic Feather, she's shocked and broken by the end of the series. We also find out that surgeries have more complications when performed on people with brain damage, because there's a high risk of the tissues being rejected. While Zane agrees to receive the Specials surgery if he betrays the New Smoke haven when a brainwashed Tally and Shay persuade him, turns out he lied. He knew it would be futile to fix him. To make it worse, his brain dies on the operating table when Diego surgeons attempt to repair his tissue.
  • 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: Appearantly, 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.
  • My Greatest Failure: Tally is wrought with guilt in Specials when learning that Dr. Cable used hers and Shay's museum heist as a pretext for war on Diego. Bombs fall on the city, right when Zane's surgery fails. His body rejects the new tissue, turning him into a vegetable. All Tally can think is that it's her fault.
  • 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.
  • 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, but destroying it sets it off as well... 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 obsucure.
  • No Poverty
  • 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.
  • Plucky Girl: Tally. She reverses her own brain damage through sheer determination.
  • Post Cyber Punk: Arguably.
  • Post-Peak Oil: What caused the new world to come into being.
  • Premiseville: New Pretty Town, Uglyville, and Crumblyville.
  • 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'".
  • Unusual User Interface: Most noticeable 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.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Sure, it's a utopia of sorts, but Pretties are mindless airheads.
  • Villainous Breakdown
  • 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 Wiki Words in the Future: Freeze-dried food is labelled like this. For example, 'SpagBol' is spaghetti bolognese.
  • What Could Have Been: Extras was originally going to be told from the point of view of Aya's brother Hiro, but in Bogus to Bubbly, Westerfeld says that he felt that all the interesting things happened to Aya.
  • 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.
  • Women in Refrigerators: Rare male example with Zane.