This fast-paced and ebullient science-fiction novel for teenagers is the fourth in a three-part series that already contains Uglies, Pretties and Specials. The author dedicates it to readers who wrote to him ‘to reveal the secret definition of the word “trilogy”’. The book is an extra. Its heroine in the futuristic world it depicts is Aya, a 15-year-old girl, who is one of multitudes of ‘extras’ (cinematically speaking) in her city – a nobody in a world that worships celebrity. Everyone in this high-tech city world has a ‘face-rank’ in the hierarchy of fame, and Aya’s is low. She sets out to correct this by ‘kicking’ (i.e. publicizing) stories, and thus acquiring fame for herself by conferring it on others. Her exploits in this quest for fame lead her to another set of ‘extras’, would-be extra-terrestrials.
Our own world is long gone. We are the ‘Rusties’, identified by the metal relics left behind as evidence of our self-destructive civilization. But most features of Aya’s world are actually our own, carried to a (techno-) logical extreme. The cult of celebrity, the omnipresent cameras and paparazzi, the mad all-consuming communications technology, are completely in charge. Aya typifies this culture: she hopes to win fame by spying on and exposing a gang of secretive feisty girls who (very unusually) are trying to avoid the public gaze. Her learning curve is very steep.
Extras is a highly entertaining roller-coaster futuristic yarn, but also a witty, shrewd and provocative critique of the way present-day global life is going. Readers unfamiliar with the earlier books may find the first few chapters daunting while they adjust to the vocabulary of Westerfeld’s invented world, but the effort is amply rewarded by this alarmingly topical fantasy.