Here is what I thought of one of the books I read for July’s classic-themed #AYearAThon. All the links lead to GoodReads.
Brave New World
By: Aldous Huxley
Genre: Dystopian sf classic
First published in 1932
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing, and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers.
Brave New World is set in a future society, the World State, where people are bred for a specific social status and work place – a caste system made possible by genetically modifying embryos, as well as conditioning toddlers and subliminally teaching the kids by playing them recordings while they are sleeping. People fill all their free time by consuming goods and services, or tripping on drugs. Silence is perceived to be scary (just turn the radio on), and any less-than-happy feelings are corrected quickly (just take some government approved drugs). The society is believed by most of its residents to be a utopia, but the reader clearly understands it to be a dystopia.
The story itself follows a few characters: two men that don’t quite feel like they belong, who value other things – one an unpopular outcast, the other a popular member of the society. There’s also a woman, who is a pretty normal follower of the society’s standards. Then there is “the Savage”, a young man brought into the society from the outside, having grown as the only white kid at a reservation. Through these people, but mainly Bernard, the unpopular outcast, and John, the Savage from outside, Huxley deals with the question of nature vs nurture, as well as the morals of different societies.
The concept and ideas are the carrying force of the novel, and while the book works on an intellectual level, the main plot and characters left me a bit cold. Where Huxley really triumphs, in my opinion, is by not hailing either the practices of the utopia, or of the reservation, as the better practice. They both have their faults. The “everyone belongs to everyone” sexually promiscuous society is no more or less unhealthy than when John lashes out at a woman because of how he has seen people violently react to a similar person in his childhood at the Reservation. Also, while the members of the World State automatically utter platitudes which were subliminally taught to them as a child, so does John quote his beloved copy of Shakespeare’s works, even when he sometimes has no idea of the meaning of the words. Both of the main male characters fall in love with a female character just based on her looks, assigning qualities to her in their minds that don’t match the reality, then are disappointed in her because she fails to deliver, simply by being the product of her society.
My edition included the authors foreword (better to be read after finishing the novel), written in 1946. Years after finishing the novel, Huxley takes a look at how the forecasts of his books have or have not come true, and makes some new predictions of the future. It is very interesting to read, and compare his predictions, both in the book and in the foreword, to the world of today.
There were a couple of things in the book’s future that seemed funny and endearing in our modern day, so I’ll list some below.
There’s the large government facility that stores all their information in:
“Eighty-eight cubic meters of card-index”.
“Containing all the relevant information.”
“Brought up to date every morning.”
“And co-ordinated every afternoon.”
In the age of computers, it does feel a bit silly. Also, the scientists of the World State can make one ovary yield over fifteen thousand adult individuals (via cloning). So, how huge is the population of the planet, then? “Two thousand million inhabitants.” Two billion people… vs. our 7 billion.
Then there’s a field reporter who has an aluminium hat that can sprout antennae, a microphone, and receivers over his ears. The power source with the required wires he carries around his waist. He presses a switch on the hat and has a radio connection to his paper’s headquarters, and can now make his interview. In this day and age, he would only have to grab his cell phone from his pocket. I did like how Huxley had thought of an apparatus that can do it all, though.
This was supposed to be a mini review, but it did turn out to be quite a long one, now didn’t it? Brave New World definitely earns its place as a dystopian classic that is still relevant to the modern audience, with a lot of comments on consumerism and the constant feed of entertainment. Like I said, the characters and main plot did leave me a bit cold, and while I do appreciate its ideas and understands its place as a classic, my personal reading experience gives the book 3 out of 5 stars.