#649: Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

I’ve wanted to read Brave New World for a while; unfortunately, the first time I attempted to buy it, I actually bought Brave New World Revisited by accident. Yeah, you can say it, I’m dumb. But I finally managed to buy Brave New World for real a few weeks ago, and finished it a few days ago.

Huxley’s “brave new world” is one in which humans are genetically engineered to passively serve the ruling order. It is one in which people are conditioned to have no sexual inhibitions; it is a world where everyone gets everything they want, and when they don’t, they have soma, a hallucinogenic drug, to get away from it all. Above all, it is one in which “everyone is happy now.” Everyone, it seems, except for Bernard Marx.

Bernard can’t quite put a finger on why he is unhappy until he visits a “savage” reservation in New Mexico. There, he discovers a woman there who had once been part of his world—until she became (horror of horrors) pregnant. Her son, John, is just the kind of person Bernard is looking for: one who has not been conditioned the way he and everyone else in London has. Someone who still has some semblance of free will left; someone he can take back with him to London to study. But after living the “savage” life, John is unprepared for this brave new world he encounters. Will he find a way to assimilate—or will it drive him mad?

It’s honestly hard to say how I felt about Brave New World. The extensive descriptions of sleep-conditioning and genetic engineering were sufficiently sickening, but seemed a little lackluster for their sterility. (On the other hand, the very fact of their sterility might be why they were so sickening.) I kept expecting some big rebellion to happen, as is par for the course in most post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels I’ve read, but everyone was so conditioned that there was no way a rebellion could ever happen. Which I suppose is the most horrifying of all.

It’s hard to get worked up, though, when part of you wants to argue for this brave new world because it is so peaceful. But the argument, to me, comes down to the decision between knowing both good and evil, or never knowing true good because there is no evil to counter it. A world in which people are happy all the time is a peaceful one, but it is not a passionate one—and this book, like the world it described, was not nearly passionate enough for me. I will give it this, though: the ending was terribly haunting. I won’t give it away, but I will tell you that it is an image I likely won’t forget for quite a while.

Admittedly, I can see why this is considered a classic, and as dystopian novels go, I thought it was good. Rather less heavy-handed than 1984, and a more complete world. I wouldn’t call it a favorite, but I liked it just fine.

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