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Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Year: 1932

Brave New World is the kind of book that’s easy to think one knows everything about even without having read a single word of it (1984 comes to mind as being similar in this regard. In some way, this is true because the themes presented in this 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley have been used again and again since its publication (and some of them were certainly used before as well). However, if this kind of novel only presented a dark and intriguing vision of the future, the would never have become classics. They need something more than that, which makes them worthwhile to read even though the plot and the setting is quite familiar.

In Brave New World, I think the presentation of the setting is what I admire most. Even though the book was written almost almost eighty years ago, I can still feel that the authors message in coming through loud and clear. The characters inhabiting the world are not that interesting, even though the story fulfills its function, focusing on Bernard and Lenina, their visit to the savage reservation (a preservation of the old ways, i.e. something we as readers can relate to as being fairly normal and natural, as opposed to almost everything else in the novel), their subsequent successful quest of bringing one of savages into the modern world to show him civilisation and the ultimate consequences of these events.

There are many kinds of dystopian novels out there and I’ve read quite a few of them. What makes Brave New World unique? Quite a lot, which is stunning considering the books age (it means that nobody has been able to write anything that can seriously contest his description in the past eighty years). The scariest thing with Huxleyis vision is not the gene manipulation of humans, the categorising of society into various classes, the omnipotent World State or the banning of art, literature and creativity, because all of these future have been more adeptly criticised elsewhere since the 1930s. No, what makes Brave New World unique in my experience is the fact that in this vision, there is no need to ban anything, the World State doesn’t need to oppress the people, it doesn’t need to quench rebellions or make sure people don’t step over the line. They don’t need to, because nobody wants to.

In my opinion, this is much scarier than any alternative, because even though present day politics seem to be moving in the direction of more control and less freedom, I still harbour the perhaps naive notion that this can only be persuaded up to a point before such a system collapses under its on weight. In a sense, I don’t think a society like that presented in 1984 could survive and thrive over time; the problem would solve itself eventually, one might say. Not so with Huxley’s dystopia. In a sense of ignorant bliss, people in a brave new world would never break away from their tethers, would never smash the invisible walls surrounding them. Only an impetus from the outside could bring that about, and in the novel, the author shows that even such an external force would have hard time disturbing the peace. In a way, I feel it’s much more likely that complacency will be the death of modern free society, rather than terror and oppression.

The setting is also interesting in an unexpected way. Huxley makes use of a technique which makes the world look quaint or slightly hilarious, even though it still retains its precision and accuracy. For instance, substituting God for Ford (as in Henry Ford) or mocking referring to the old title Archbishop of Canterbury as Arch-Community Songster of Canterbury.

In short, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is something everybody should have read, because it deserves its position as one of the great classics of science fiction. It’s only sporadically brilliant and the story is not superb, but the setting and theme more that makes up for these shortcomings. In stark contrast to most other science fiction novels, I fear that this novel will be more and more relevant as time passes by. Perhaps you should read it before you sink too deep into complacency to care.

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