Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Review: Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is a classic in dystopian fiction. It shows the world circa 700 AF (After Ford). The world is seemingly ruled by one central authority, which can be looked at in two ways. In one way, the central authority is the Alphas, individuals raised to be the intellectuals and social organizers who keep society running peacefully and efficiently. Part of the efficiency managing the production of all classes of people--Alphas, Betas, Gammas, etc. They are grown in special "Hatchery and Conditioning Centres." Every person is conceived in a test tube. The lower classes's eggs are split as many times as possible (called "Bokanovsky's Process") typically resulting in 96 identical people. They all do the same grunt work, so why have them different? All these people are carefully conditioned as they grow to accept their state in life. The main condition is through "hypnopaedia," where a speaker is put under each child's pillow at night and a constant stream of jingoistic ideas are implanted in their minds. As adults, they are kept in line with "soma," a drug that puts the users in an ecstatic state, and with promiscuity, so people are constantly trying to sleep with each other and no one minds. Marriage has been abolished and part of the youthful conditioning is to take contraceptives regularly. The very idea of motherhood or fatherhood is offensive and embarrassing.

In a second, subtler way, the central authority is science. Science rules the development of new people, what class they are put into, how they develop, and what they do as adults. The society is carefully managed so everyone is happy and contented in their state in life. The main risk is with the Alphas, who are smart enough to think other ways of life might be possible if they can escape the distractions.

Enter Bernard, a physically scrawny Alpha who works for the propaganda machine but isn't too happy in life. He can't get the girls he wants and rumors float around that he was accidentally given some of the conditioning for a lower class during his youth. Since he's in the top tier of society, he can go on vacations. One destination is an Indian reservation in New Mexico, where people still live according to the old ways. People from the Brave New World go there like they are going on safari, to see wild life in its natural habitat. Bernard gets a girl to go with him. She is horrified by what she sees (it's all dirty and they practice religion and they have children the shocking old fashioned way!) but he is fascinated, especially when he discovers a woman who had been abandoned by one of his bosses. She's had a child by the boss, named the child John, and raised him on the reservation. John has some very different ideas about life and society because of his upbringing and the only book he's ever had--The Complete Works of Shakespeare (which is of course banned in the "civilized" world). Bernard brings John and his mother back to civilization to humiliate the boss and become a celebrity. Things don't work out too well for anyone.

The story is very interesting if very bleak. The scientifically-run society is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. The natural family is completely destroyed and all substantive bonds between people are so weakened that it is easy for the powers that be to run things smoothly and efficiently. The substitutes provided (soma and sex) stifle everyone's imaginations and creativity. Science isn't about discovering new things but about maintaining the status quo as much as possible. Many ideas are explored and satirized in the novel.

Brave New World Revisited was written by Huxley twenty-seven years later and is a philosophical and scientific exposition on the ideas in the novel. Huxley goes through the various predictions he has made and is quite discouraged to see that things are moving much more quickly towards a real Brave New World than he thought back in 1931. His analysis is thought-provoking but it's fairly clear that his pessimistic predictions haven't turned out true yet. The essay isn't as good as the novel but it is still worth reading. I'll probably reread the novel but not the essay.

4.5 stars for the novel, 3.5 for the essay.

Also, the edition I've linked to on Amazon is not the one I read. My edition has an introduction by Martin Green which is the typical spoilerific fan boy introduction. Happily, I skipped over the intro (why do these authors always assume you've already read the book?) and read it after reading the novel and the essay.

1 comment:

  1. When I first read this book I could only find it in Portuguese. The fact that I only understood 65% of iit and was stilll blown away, shows what a powerful story it is.