Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: Brave New World

Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley
Harper & Brothers 1932

Bernard Marx lives in a world very different from ours. People are created in test tubes, specifically conditioned to perform certain tasks. They are brainwashed to not complain, engage in casual sex, move in herds, and take in entertainment from the moment work is over until the moment they go to sleep. Despite the daily supply of soma, a drug that makes everyone happy, Bernard feels that he does not fit into the world in which he lives.

“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave.”

Bernard has the opportunity to visit a reservation, where the last vestiges of 'uncivilized people' live.  Although his girlfriend hates it, Bernard’s eyes are opened to a very different kind of life. He meets John “Savage,” the son of two civilized people who grew up on the reservation. He is wild, believing in both God and Indian deities, he quotes Shakespeare and he even believes in chivalry.

The beginning of this novel is hard to follow. Mr. Huxley opens the novel with a tour of the labs where babies are created. The main characters don’t show up for a few chapters and, even then, Huxley rapidly cuts from one character to the next which makes it hard to learn about them. The real story really starts about three chapters in. I understand the point of the first few chapters, but I wonder if the information about this society could have been woven through the story, instead of putting all of the background up front and the story afterwards.

Throughout the novel, Bernard struggles with his feelings about his society, especially in the face of John’s horror at the artificiality of their existence. Bernard is not typical of his people, and had doubts from the beginning. It might have been more interesting if he had transitioned from a person who believed absolutely in the social order to one who rebelled against it. There also seemed to be a bit of confusion about who the protagonist is. At the beginning, it seems to be Bernard. However, by the end of the story, it is decidedly John.

Brave New World is an obvious predecessor of much of the science fiction that came after it. The novel was written in the 1931 and Huxley saw far into a future he feared might come to pass. When he wrote Brave New World Revisited in 1958, he was shocked by how many things he had foreseen appeared to be emerging as reality.

This is an interesting story and a must-read for any lover of science fiction or dystopian writing. It also really made me want to go read Shakespeare (thanks a lot, John Savage!).

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