Friday, December 3, 2010

Review: Brave New World

Brave New World is one of those classics of literature I've never gotten around to reading. I know most people read this one back in high school or something, but my high school was a joke, and they let me read The Wheel of Time books instead. Well here I am years later, finally getting around to reading this classic.

I sort of feel like a plot synopsis is superfluous, but here's one anyway. Brave New World is set in the distant future in "the year of our Ford 632...or if you do the math, somewhere around the mid 2500's. In this super advanced society, people no longer give birth to cute, squealing babies, they are instead grown in laboratories, and bred to do specific jobs for their whole lives. Not only are humans split up into caste structures, they are also conditioned from birth to behave certain ways. On top of that, people are encouraged to take a hallucinogenic drug called "soma" that helps them feel happy. Essentially, the people of the future only do three things, work, play weird sports like obstacle golf, and have lots and lots of recreational sex. If you don't do those last two things, and do something odd, like say, spend time on your own, you are seen as an oddball or outcast.

The first few chapters of the book focus on building up the setting firmly in the reader's mind, then introduces Lenina and Bernard. Lenina is a perfectly normal promiscuous woman, and Bernard is a bit of an oddball. Though he is an Alpha-plus, he is smaller than those of his caste, and the ridicule he receives from his peers has caused him to do "odd" things like spend time alone, and think for himself.

For reasons that don't necessarily fit societies norms, Lenina finds Bernard interesting and they decide to travel together to New Mexico to visit the "Savage" Reservation there. As far as I can tell the "Savages" of this novel refer to American Indians. These "Savages" live on a reservation, and don't hold to the tenets of the mainstream society. They still have live births, and live off the land, and create the things they need to survive.

While on their trip, Bernard and Lenina meet Linda and her son John, who live on the reservation, but have interesting ties to the World State. It is when Bernard decides to bring them back to London that things really get interesting.

The book is cleanly broken up into three parts, the introduction, the visit to the reservation, and John's visit to the modern world. Things only really get interesting in the third part, as John reacts to the strange society. John is pretty much the ultimate outsider, and the only character of the novel that I could even remotely relate to. The lack of characters I found interesting or engaging made the first half of the book a bit of a drag for me. Bernard and Lenina are more like robots, and in many ways, only serve to move the plot to the point where Huxley could introduce John, thus having him be able to interact with the society the author had created.

That interaction between John and the World State society Huxley created was the greatest aspect of the book, and I think Huxley really nailed the pitch-perfect ending. Reading John experience life in the new world, and reading the people of the new world react to and experience John was a delight. I really don't see how things could have ended differently for John, and though it saddened me to read how his life turned out, I think it was brilliantly written.

Brave New World is considered a classic, but reading it now, over 75 years after its publication, it feels very dated. For one, nuclear technology didn't factor into the wars that led to the World State society being formed, and that really stuck out as an anachronism. Huxley's prose left me feeling a bit cold. Maybe that was deliberate, seeing as it would fit with the cold and empty society he created for this novel, but it made it hard for me to enjoy the reading experience. The characters also left me feeling cold, but that is because by their nature they were, more or less, empty vessels. Still, I prefer to like, or at least care about what happens to the main characters, and while that did happen with John, I found it hard to do the same for Bernard, or Lenina. Yes, I know they are just victims of their society, but still, it was hard to be sympathetic.

Though I didn't enjoy this read as much as I would say, eating ice cream, it is still very much a great read, and every bit a classic. I found the novel interesting and thought provoking. It was cool to look back to the early 30's and see what people thought the future would hold. If you are like me, and haven't read this yet, give it a whirl. It is one you don't wanna miss.

Grade: C+


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I thought this review was indefatigable, which word Brave New World is brought to you by. :)

But seriously, I found it pretty much the same in addition to the fact that I listened to it on audiobook and the narrator drove me nuts.

Ryan said...

If I had listened to this on audio, with a dull narrator, I don't think I would have made it through. A good narrator is crucial to audiobooks.

Prose style aside, I think the ideas put out there in the book make it worth the read.