Monday, November 1, 2010

Brave New World: A Book Review...

Ahhh...another overrated 20th Century "classic"...

Much like 1984 I found Brave New World to be a solid but certainly not earth-shattering novel.  Numerous "best of" lists put both books in the Top 10 of the 20th Century but I question whether those lists are created merely off of word of mouth or from actual readings of the works listed.

Brave New World is set in a future where individuality is lost via governmental imposed consumerism, stratification, conditioning and drug use.  Instead of the violent, fearful existence of 1984, here we find a world in peace and tranquility where individuality is not beaten out of you but where you have no desire to be different as every want and need is met.

There is not the tension, violence or suspense that 1984 contains simply because the antagonists aren't as strong as those in that novel.  Here, even the powers that be treat malcontents with kid gloves.  No beatings or torture just get sent off to an obscure island to live in peace with others of your ilk.

One point I won't argue is the ability of Aldous Huxley to forecast the future.  Huxley has a keen insight into what was to come from Western society and science, predicting everything from what amounts to virtual reality, the over sexualiztion of society, genetic manipulation and psycho analysis.  He does more than just look at the immediate trends of the late 30's and extrapolate them.  He has delved deep into the burgeoning sciences of the time and shown whole new branches that would come to fruition.  Orwell saw Lenin and Stalin and saw police states.  Huxley wrote this novel before the term DNA even existed and yet projected the human manipulation of the genetic code to create a "worker" class and an "elite" class in addition to a birthing process completely separated from the need for human beings all together.

My largest issue with Brave New World is in terms of its focus on sex.  Yes, here again we have an overly educated English writer focused on sex.  Maybe I'm odd, but I find sex in general (not specifically to me) to be one of the LEAST interesting things about human existence.  Most reactions to sex are occurring on a biological level and not intellectual one.  Delving into a human being's desire for sex is like delving into a human being's desire for food--sure the steak may be delicious but I certainly don't wonder why one would want to consume the steak in the first place--We all love a good steak!

In Brave New World we have a situation where "everyone belongs to everyone else", to quote from the book and Huxley has created a world in which there is no "ownership" as it were of a sexual relationship with anyone else.  Humans are portrayed as a pack of overly intelligent bonobos, comingling when, how and with whomever they wish--though at least Huxley presents females in as powerful a position when it comes to sex as men, exhibiting an attitude much more advanced that many in the 1930's would ascribe to the Western female.

So, yes, Brave New World does do some excellent work in terms of showing what human society could become if allowed to go way off the tracks.  It projects a number of innovations, developments and consequences that we are all familiar with some 80 years after Huxley wrote the novel and casts a critical eye towards a number of Western trends.  But all this is done through a very conventional story structure, conversational, rather elementary English and stereotypical characters.  It would take a lot more than just the ability to forecast the future for me to anoint any one book as being amongst the "best" of a given century.

No comments: