Dystopian fiction has become popular in recent years, with the successes of books like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and television adaptations such as Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. High-end publisher The Folio Society’s latest science fiction offering is one of the classics of the genre: a new edition of 1924’s We, by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. It features original art by Kit Russell, and an introduction by the late Ursula K. Le Guin.
The book is widely considered to be the forerunner to the entire genre, helping inform such classics as Brave New World, 1984, and many others. The novel follows an engineer named D-503 living in a nation called OneState. He’s hard at work building a spaceship called the INTEGRAL, which will bring the society and its ideology to other worlds.
When he meets a woman named I-330, D-503 begins to question his surroundings, and learns that she’s part of an organization looking to end OneState. In her introduction, Le Guin — who passed away earlier this year — said that it was Zamyatin’s “brilliant testimony against the growing rigidity and authoritarianism of his nation,” and praised his radical politics and efforts to overcome the censorship he faced in his native Russia.
The publisher also released a short video that goes into the design of the volume:
Russell noted that he first heard about the book when The Folio Society first approached him to create the art, but upon reading it, tells The Verge that he was “blown away by how forward thinking and ambitious We is considering the date it was originally written.”
Tom Walker, the publishing director for the publisher, notes in the video that the “black and white illustrations are superbly matched to the text, reminiscent of Russian futurist art.” Russell explains that they “wanted the book to have an austere, retro-futuristic feel that emulated early avant garde and science fiction cinema.”
To get inspiration for the book, Russell says that he came across an exhibition at the Design Museum in London called “Imagine Moscow: architecture, propaganda and revolution,” which explored the artwork and publications of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and ‘30s that imagined the country’s future. “I found it profoundly interesting to imagine the impact Russian society had upon Zamyatin and how this translated into his writing.”
That artwork helped inform the style of the art in this book, says Russell. “I thought that it was important to embody this idea to graphically represent OneState — concentrating on the geometry of the book rather than characters. When I did integrate characters into the illustrations, views are deliberately obscured using perspective or scale to try and unsettle the relationship with the reader.”