Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Title: Brave New World
Author:  Aldous Huxley
Genre: Anti-utopian... maybe.
Rating: 5/5
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Far in the future, the World Controllers have finally created the ideal society. In laboratories worldwide, genetic science has brought the human race to perfection. From the Alpha-Plus mandarin class to the Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons, designed to perform menial tasks, man is bred and educated to be blissfully content with his pre-destined role.

But, in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, Bernard Marx is unhappy. Harbouring an unnatural desire for solitude, feeling only distaste for the endless pleasures of compulsory promiscuity, Bernard has an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…

A fantasy of the future that sheds a blazing critical light on the present--considered to be Aldous Huxley' s most enduring masterpiece.

I spent six hours writing two paragraphs today. And ended up deleting them. Since that almost never happens to me, I thought maybe my literary battery was fried from all the writing I've been doing lately, and I should recharge. First I took a nap. When that didn't help with writing, I did some online shop-browsing. When that didn't work, I threw in the towel and decided to read. Reading other people's writing always inspires me to do my own thing.

The writing is archaic and uses words that had me at more than once, so it took me a couple of pages to adapt. (I like this style of writing, though, so for me it was a good thing.) Once I was in a couple of pages, I was so enthralled, and horrified, by what I was reading I couldn't stop. I could only read. And I just now looked at the clock and realized that four hours of my life have disappeared just like that.

That's how good this book is.

To quickly summarize, there's a main character who I would never call a hero, Bernard Marx. He's a simpering, pathetic sort of man, who at once hates society and secretly longs to be part of it. He is of the upper-upper crest of society, an Alpha-Plus, but his body type is that of the Epsilon-Minus, the lowest caste in society. There's a high-mid-rank woman he's got a thing for, Lenina, who oddly, is infected with lupus, which seems to make her more attractive to everyone. And then he's got a friend, Helmholtz Watson, another Alpha-Plus who is physically superior to the other Alpha-Pluses, simultaneously making him one of them and yet not part of them, just like Bernard.

In this society, happiness and pleasure is the norm. Society exists as part of a whole--no individualism--and "families" are a vulgar word. Embryos are fertilized in tubes, and even in their small little embryonic states, are conditioned to be prepared for their destiny--whatever it may be. (Just as an example, one set of embryos were being prepared to work on fuel jets. The embryos were hung upside down, and when turned right side up, were blasted with pain. In the end, according to the Centre director, they would only be happy when they were on their heads.) Babies reaching for flowers and books are electrocuted. Children are taken to death wards to watch people die to desensitize them from death. And "everyone belongs to everyone," is a common chant as people take multiple partners whenever they desire and the sanctity of marriage is tossed out the window as a dirty word. There's also soma, a drug that induces a hypnotic, euphoric-like state, that keeps the people blissfully blitzed when they're not working.

So, Bernard takes Lenina on a date to an Indian reservation in New Mexico, where they meet a woman who had been part of their civilization in London until she fell down a ravine and was abandoned by her civilized partner. She's taken in by the Indians, and to her surprise, had a son. Bernard takes her and the son back to London with him and Lena, and thus begins the character growth/change, and the "great revelation" of the book.

One of the things I didn't like were the constant character shifts. In the beginning of the book, Bernard was a weak, spineless, but pitiable character. As the book progresses, the hopeful future I'd imagined for Bernard was quickly thrown out the window, his character regressing to deplorable and downright disgusting. Lenina at first appeared smart for her caste, and I had hope for her as well, but she went through a period of airheadedness that while making sense, didn't fit with the initial impression I had of her. (If you've read The Uglies, The Pretties, or The Specials by Scott Westerfield, you will know exactly the type of airhead I'm referring to. Actually, after reading this, I'm 100% positive this was the basis of Mr. Westerfield's novels.) The Savage, the son of the woman who was taken in by the Indians, took morality to an odd extreme, and coming from me, I think that says A LOT. It actually felt like the author didn't quite know how to write a highly moral character. It felt forced and out of place. Maybe I just didn't understand it, but it didn't ring very true for me.

The best character was, oddly, the one you would think of as the antagonist. The Controller. He rules over Europe, and makes all the rules for their happy little society of drones. It's in the conversations with him that I feel you get the most poignant lessons in the novel. Particularly fascinating was one comment he made about happiness being harder to care for than unrest. And it's during a conversation with the Controller and the Savage that I found myself hating myself just a little bit. Because even though I sometimes cry thinking about our world spiraling into one of these horrible, government-run dystopian societies, I couldn't help but agree with every point the Controller made for it. My moral compass screamed, "No!", my logical side said, "He has a point." Ah, the slippery slope to dystopian societies.

So you may be wondering why I would recommend this book. And why so highly. The characters weren't ones you could relate to, they were at best annoying and at worst abhorrent, and the book made me hate myself just a little bit.

For one, there's the writing. It's beautiful; a masterpiece. I tend to skim long descriptions, but I found myself reading every word in this book. For two, there's the concept. Surely the basis of more dystopians than I know, I immediately recognized The Uglies series plot. And for three, because it's profound. Because it sends chills up and down your spine thinking about how easily we could fall into the pleasure-trap. Because it has logic behind its a-moral teachings.

It's not 1984 by George Orwell, which was a beautifully crafted, poignant masterpiece of its own. We tend to think of dystopians set up by being ruled with an iron fist; of living in fear, but this is not that type of rule. No; if society allows the government to take over, they will do it because of the same reasons as in a Brave New World--because the rulers promised, and delivered, pleasure. They took away all the bad things and let the people live a nice, peaceful, happy life. The kind of prison we all secretly want and are terrified of having.

Read it. Definitely read it. Then warn your friends, family, and children to never fall into its trap.