Before 1984, before The Handmaids Tale and even before The Hunger Games (imagine that kids!) there was Brave New World. Written in 1931 the novel was originally written as a parody of HG Wells’ utopian books and in response the political climate after WW1. Reflecting on the book’s progress, Huxley himself admitted ‘I got caught up in the excitement of my own ideas’ and the result is a terrifyingly prophetic tale.
The story takes place in 632AF (after Ford), in our calendar this would be 2540AD, in the peaceful, stable ‘World State’. Here, children are created in test-tubes (sound familiar?), with the genetically best being singled out for higher things whilst the lower castes are cloned and physically or mentally hindered in order to produce the working classes and hence, the bulk of the population. Because these children are limited in their scope, ability and ambition they are much easier for the governments to control. With no need for natural reproduction, (children are hatched) sex is regarded as a social activity and is encouraged from an early age. Spending time alone is absurd and obscene as is wanting to be different. Death isn’t feared as, without family ties or marriages there is nobody to mourn. (I hope all you conspiracy theorists are listening to this!)
Citizens are encouraged to live in a throw-away society with slogans such as ‘ending is better than mending’ and ‘more stitches less riches’ being bandied about. This increases demand which increases economy. Nobody really seems to mind as they are supplied with regular doses of Soma – a hallucinogenic that relaxes and de-stresses the citizens. With every worry or discomfort being relieved with Soma there is no need for religion or beliefs outside of the State.
Ok so that’s the setting, here’s the story: A couple (Bernard and Lenina) go on holiday to the Savages Reservation. Whilst there they meet Linda who remained behind with the savages (they grow old and mend stuff and other such horrific things!) after her trip when she accidently fell pregnant. She gave birth to a son, John the Savage and the two have since been treated appallingly due to the colour of their skin and Linda’s promiscuity. Tired of their existence in savage territory, John and Linda decide to travel back to the ‘brave new world’. What we then witness is two ‘savages’ attempting to survive in ‘normal society’.
Original and clever, this is chillingly relevant today. More importantly, it’s also a good story. Ok, so it’s not the easiest read and it’s not as iconic as 1984, but few books are. The main theme behind the story is just how far can we push science before we decide it’s immoral? Eugenics? Euthanasia? Enforced birth control? With all the technological advances in the world we can do so very much, but should we? Ultimately science cannot save us without empathy and humanity. None of which is present in the ‘Brave New World.’
“All right then,” said the savage defiantly, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.”
If you like classic dystopian novels you might like A Clockwork Orange
If you like books about reproduction in a dystopian future you might like A Handmaid’s Tale
If you like books about adapting to life in a savage society you might like The Stand