'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley is one of those classics, must-have-read type of books, along with Fahrenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Catch-22 and others. They're books which portray a world which is a dystopian version of our own world, taking elements from it and showing us a world which 'could also be'.
I first read Brave New World many years ago, and the story didn't really stick with me. So after working my way through those other classics last year, I decided to refresh my knowledge of Brave New World by reading it again. In conclusion, while not a bad story by any means, it nevertheless fails to reach the depths required to make the world it describes as tangible or realistic. This is a shame.
The book portrays a 'utopian dystopian' world, a world in which nobody has to ever feel sad, distraught or bad about anything any more. Through the means of careful genetic selection and the growing of humans specifically bred for a specific purpose and copious amounts of entertainment - not in the least through the use of 'soma', a type of recreational drug which erases all worries - as well as the elimination of sex for procreation, conflict is eliminated.
This carefully balanced world is upset when an individual from one of the Savage Reservations - where people still live according to the rules of the old world - is introduced to this seemingly utopian society. Chaos ensues, leading up to a confrontation where the reasoning behind the whole system is revealed. In essence it's the only way humanity could live in harmony, ergo it's for the good of the people.
What somewhat annoys me is that when one is used to a book like Animal Farm, or Nineteen Eighty-Four - both by George Orwell - the world of Brave New World does never truly feel alive. In Nineteen Eighty-Four one can almost feel the world and experience it. It's a grimy, gritty experience, easily visualised and imagined. There are no real gaps left in the story-telling and the end result is that of a crushing sense of defeatism and acceptance of the inevitable in the final scene.
No such thing with Brave New World. The concept could have worked, but it's all too light, too fleeting and distant. More of a glimpse at this world, but not enough time to truly explore and understand it. This sadly leads to an underwhelming experience.
That said, I do agree with the general premise of the book and it's utopian dystopian view of the world is spot-on when looking at today's world. Even if not implemented as described in the book, the end result is fairly similar. Recreational drug use is everywhere, as is casual sexuality. Everywhere is cheap entertainment and there is never any necessity to contemplate the world if one does not want to.
That is, unless one falls outside of this system. Those who cannot accept the status quo. Those who wish to bring freedom and justice to themselves and others. Those who cannot just accept society the way it is.
In that sense we live in a similar dystopia as in Brave New World. Yet it's also like the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both stories - both worlds - are essentially the same, with some differences in how order and peace is accomplished, yet order and peace are there and will remain. No matter the cost.
Are they terrible worlds? The people in them are generally happy and there are few things to worry about, except on the battle lines between the three countries that remain in Nineteen Eighty-Four. If only one can accept the world the way it is.
The way I see it, both books are not about what people generally perceive them to be: commentaries on the threats of mass-entertainment, mass-surveillance, genetic engineering, etc. Instead they provide us with a mirror of the human mind in all its self-absorbed, easily entertained and distracted glory. They are more of a reminder that how easily subverted the human mind is to accept something is ultimately harmful to themselves and the rest of society.
They also provide a chilling reminder of what happens when one dares to go in against popular opinion, or the opinion of those in charge. It's a look back - and forward - on totalitarian regimes, who whisked opponents away to 'colonies' or labour camps, to be an outcast, re-educated or simply be worked to death.
In that sense Nineteen Eighty-Four did what Brave New World somewhat failed to do, even though the latter did something the former did not: provide a glimpse of a world in which one might actually want to live. None but members of the Party would truly want to live in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, whereas the world of Brave New World would be an easy match for many members of today's society for whom it'd be only the slightest of changes.
Maybe that's why in the end Brave New World has the more chilling world, as it's one we as a society would be all too eager to slip into, not realising the consequences as we surrender every last trace of what ultimately makes us human, or simply not caring about such trivial matters before embracing the warm comfort of ignorance.