Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

It has been awhile since I read something different that just fits right into my favorites like this and that I feel needs to be added to my bookshelf and will inspire me in my future writing.  This book was written in 1932 and it's obvious that George Orwell was inspired by this for 1984, published in 1949.  There is one scene in particular that is almost the exact same in both books and I was very angry when I read it because I didn't want to find out that Orwell was ripping off Huxley, but that scene was the only one like it, so I'm glad.  (In both scenes, characters who don't quite fit in to the utopia are participating in a group event and go through the motions while feeling like it's ridiculous.  In 1984, it's the 2 Minutes Hate.  In BNW, it's an orgy.  Yeah.)

BNW, like 1984, deals with a supposed utopian society.  Unlike 1984, this civilization is encouraged to give in to all their sexual urges.  People are not born to parents, they are mass produced in labs and predestined and conditioned to different castes and jobs.  From infancy, they are trained hypnopaedically with phrases like "Every one belongs to every one else.  I'm so glad I'm an Alpha.  I love new clothes."  Like I mentioned before, people have group orgies.  It's kind of like all the community activies that Winston Smith does in 1984, except they chant and have sex instead of repress their urges and make banners for holidays and whichever current war is going on.  In Brave New World, the perfect drug has been created called soma, but it's not like our soma of today, which is a muscle relaxer.  This BNW version of the drug is freely distributed to everyone. Taken in a small dose, it elevates the mood.  I imagine it to be like taking a low milligram pain pill.  In higher doses, the person falls asleep and goes on "soma holiday" and the effects described make me think of being on acid.  At the end of the book there is a biography on Huxley, and I discovered this author did end up trying LSD in later years, and I would have thought he had already tried it when he wrote BNW!

Another difference between BNW and 1984 is that BNW is much more technical and could be classified as science fiction, and 1984 isn't really like that to me.  In BNW, up to 96 identical babies can be born from a single fertilized egg.  At different stages in their development, embryos can be manipulated into becoming a high class Alpha (these are only one person per egg) to a low class Epsilon which will be raised with their identical siblings and conditioned to grow up to be whatever job deemed necessary.   Even the Alphas go through conditioning, but they have the most freedom and are more self-aware of their conditioning.

The main characters are Bernard Marx, an Alpha who is extremely intelligent but due to an unknown anomaly while he was an embryo, isn't as tall as the other Alphas, and so is one of the only people around who has anything to be unsatisfied about.  There is also a woman named Lenina, who is the perfectly conditioned female:  happy with everything, loves soma, sleeps with several men, prattles off learned phrases all the time.  And finally there is a character named John, who was born to a woman who got stranded at the Savage Reservation in America and was raised by Indians, without any conditioning to the utopian life whatsoever, and has a copy of Shakespeare's works as his only book.  In the utopian cultures, all books except reference books are banned.  Bernard and Lenina take a holiday to the Savage Reservation, and there they meet John.

What I think is funny about reading futuristic books are the things that the author doesn't think about making futuristic.  In Brave New World, everyone travels by helicopter, people are mass produced, most of the women are sterile, and the fertile women aren't allowed to get pregnant, but can donate their eggs.  Also there is no war, most diseases have been eradicated, and people look youthful until they are 60 and then basically go senile and die, and yet people still have to look up numbers in the phone book and use landlines LOL. 

My only complaint was Huxley's use of Henry Ford as a revered godlike character in the book.  I don't have a problem with that in itself.  Again, there is a comparison to 1984.  Henry Ford, long dead, is kind of like Big Brother.  Except in BNW, there is no enemy to hate like in 1984.  People in high positions are called "your fordship".  All of that is okay and funny, because he is the creator of the assembly line and the whole world has become an assembly line.  Where I think it goes too far, is people use Ford's name in vain in the place of God, and I think that's just a little much and kind of corny. I don't have a problem with the fact that they don't worship God anymore, but reading someone saying "Oh, Ford!"  all the time is just kind of lame.  Other than that, the book is obviously something that inspires me, as I usually don't ramble on and write long reviews at all!

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