“A Brave New World”, By Aldous Huxley
I was surprised as I began to listen to this novel, of course, downloaded from Audible.com. I looked at the cover of the book and it was the 2008 recording of the 75th anniversary edition of the novel. I didn’t think they even had science fiction back then.
This is my second ‘distopian’ novel in a row, and though my word processor draws a squiggly red line below the word, I’ve seen it written enough recently to believe it really does mean the opposite of utopian, when describing a real or fiction society. I have started listening to my third distopian, ‘We’, by the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. ‘We’ begins with background about the author and distopian novels. I was impressed to learn this novel appeared first in English, in 1923, more than 60 years before it would be published in its native language, in Russia.
There was much more science fiction in this book, than there was in ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’. The whole premise of this book is that much of the unsatisfactory has been removed from peoples lives so that they will always have the opportunity to be happy. To achieve that for everyone, all people are cloned and raised in ‘bottles’. Their embryos are treated with the appropriate chemicals and hormones at the appropriate time to create various levels of intelligence and drive. The children are raised together, giving appropriate educations, play, and unconscious mental programming.
Alphas are at the top with high intelligence and motivation, the gammas are way down low with barely the intelligence to do their menial jobs. But with no great motivation and plenty of the mind numbing recreational drug, ‘Soma’, everyone is happy to do just as they are predestined.
I think the author hit it right on. He wanted a society which would have no family relationships. The word ‘father’ was bad, but the word ‘mother’ was obscene. To create this absense of affection for a single spouse the children are encouraged to experiment with erotic play from a very early age. The natural bond which develops between married partners in a monogamous relationship from sexual interaction with the single partner is completely lost to dilution from the countless experiences in their childhood and adolescence. While some are attracted to others because of mild differences in personality or appearance, the idea to partner with a single person regularly is considered abnormal.
It is in this environment that two of our main characters take a trip to New Mexico, from England, to observe ‘The Savages’ on a reservation. They fly in a ‘Rocket Plane’; jets hadn’t been developed when the story was written. This couple finds a woman, who became lost on the reservation many years before, and the son she raised there. The woman and her son are brought back to London to create conflict and contrast for the novel’s theme.
That’s all the plot I’ll tell, other than, once the savage is introduced to the modern society, it sometimes had the feel of, “Stranger in a Strange Land”.
This is a classic and well worthy of being considered such. It’s well written, consistent, and absorbing. There is a part at the beginning where multiple activities are going on at the same time and you get two or three lines from each conversation or activity. It is probably easier to understand what is happening if you read this, instead of listen, as I did.
Philip ‘Norvaljoe’ Carroll is a staff editor at Flying Island Press. He usually tries to says something clever in his byline but was up all night with a sick child and is too tired to think of anything creative.