A Brave New World

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Aldous Huxley

GENRES:
Sci-Fi, Satire, Dystopian

SUMMARY:
Written in 1932, Huxley's novel unveils a pseudo-Utopian society in which individuality and freedom do not exist and indeed are undesired by most of the population. Natural reproduction has been virtually eliminated. Instead, citizens are genetically engineered with set levels of intelligence and specializations. Each role is reinforced through lifelong conditioning. This prenatal programming and repetitive conditioning ensures that each citizen will not only have the appropriate ability for their social role, but that they will enjoy it also. The entire society hinges on this caste system which ranges from alpha pluses, the leaders and corporate geniuses, to the episilons, the dwarfed morons who work like machines.

In addition, citizens subdue their emotions and control their experiences by taking soma, a mind-altering drug that keeps everyone in a content daze. Combined with "feelies", sensory-stimulating media programs, Huxley's characters seem to have no concept or need of spirituality, philosophy, or individuality. They occupy their time by shopping or engaging in sports or sexual activities. While sex is considered perfect for amusement and happiness; love, marriage, and especially parenthood are taboo.

Brave New World centers around Bernard, an alpha whose lifelong programming for happiness and conformity seems to be deficient. He spends time alone thinking and questioning his purpose in life, and worse yet, he actually seems to be falling in love with a woman named Lenina.

When Bernard takes Lenina on a holiday to a savage reservation in New Mexico, his questions seem to find resonance with the discovery of John, a child of a utopian citizen who visited the reservation 20 years before and stayed when she became pregnant. Bernard brings him back to his society where he is billed as John the Savage, providing entertainment to the masses. However, John finds it impossible to adapt or understand their lifestyle and eventually ends the fiasco, leaving Bernard with an increased disillusionment towards his world.

RESPONSE:
This was yet another book I was required to read in high school. I distinctly remember that even with the assignments and detailed analysis that can often kill any young student's interest in something they would otherwise enjoy, my entire class seemed to like this book. Even the kids that claimed they hated sci-fi thought 'A Brave New World' was justifiably a classic.

It's quite slow in the very beginning, but BEAR WITH IT. Although it's a difficult read, most readers will find the experience enriching and well worth the time.

Despite the fact that it was written many years ago, this novel presents some eerily similar aspects to modern times. For example, soma parallels not only the burgeoning drug and alcohol abuse of the latter half of the century, but the increased use and acceptance of prescription drugs designed to alter or improve mental states. The reaction of Huxley's characters to "feelies" is uncomfortably similar to our fixation on television, movies, and celebrities. Finally, the genetic manipulation of Huxley's characters is no longer far-fetched as modern genetic engineering will soon allow us to chose the sex, physique, and maybe even intelligence of our children.

This novel is one of my friend's favorites, and when he heard I was listing it on my scifi site, he got very defensive and claimed it wasn't sci-fi. His reason? Because he actually like this book. Don't worry, it will appeal to any bonafide sci-fi dork out there.

POINT BLANK:
A necessary read for anyone who lives with technology and society. Yup, that'd be EVERYBODY.