Monday, June 26, 2006

Book Review: Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I finally finished the first of four books that I need to read by July 10 for my Barnes and Noble reading group. I don't normally read so slow, but children tend to put a huge dent in one's free reading time (for the better, normally!).

Huxley creates a futuristic world where technology has taken the place of the natural in terms of reproduction. Babies are no longer born to parents (in fact the terms "mother" and "father" are taboo and embarassing). Babies are created by "artificial" means, women give an ovary out of a sense of social responsibility- and for a big paycheck. The actual reproduction process is generally recreated quite well, the fetuses live in a simulated womb.

There is a caste system and the classes are separated by letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. The fetuses are conditioned according to which class they are predestined to become. Each class is happy because they have been given the physical and mental capacity only to fufill which role has been predestined to them. For example, the lower classes have been genetically engineered from eggs which have been split up to 96 times, producing up to 96 twins. The Alphas and Betas, however, are always of one egg and one sperm and are never twins. Another example of the "genetic engineering" that allows the lower classes to be perfectly happy in their lives is the injection of alcohol into their "blood surrogate" when they are fetuses to stunt their growth, physically and mentally. All diseases are wiped out through fetal injections as well.

After they are born (decanted), they are further conditioned while they are sleeping ("I'm so glad I'm a Beta... I love buying new clothes...") to be happy in their station, to be promiscuous, to take the civilized world's "happy drug", soma, and to encourage economic prosperity. This reminded me a great deal of Ayn Rand's Anthem, it's a world where no one thinks for themselves, it's all predestined, and the motto is "community, identity, stability."

The year is given as "A.F. 632." While it is never spelled out, I deduced that "A.F." stands for "After Ford." Henry Ford is their god- not like God or Jesus (they worship no such god), but as the best person who has ever lived. The people reproduce the letter "T" as the symbol of this "religion," in their jewelery (like crosses around the neck), in midair (forming a letter "T" instead of a cross), all as tribute to the Model T.

Throughout the world, in areas where the "civilized" men have determined the area to be inefficient to inhabitate, there are "savage reservations." These are places that are separated and fenced in where people live like they used to. It's when an Indian reservation is visited and a woman who was stranded and left there from the civilized world and her (gasp) son are found and brought back to civilization that the majority of the plot unfolds and we see what happens when an individual (the son, his mother dies) is brought into this type of world.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. The prose was excellent. I would give it a high recommendation as it passed my two main criteria: it wasn't a waste of my time and it provided brain candy.

Now, I will be re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird and hope to have it done by Wednesday.

NOTE: Once upon a time, when doing a research paper, I stumbled across The Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list. This list was compiled in 1998 and consists of what the board of The Modern Library considers the 100 best novels as well as what readers consider to be the 100 best novels.

The Modern Library is a subsidiary of Random House Publishings and the methods used for compiling this list as well as the motives for it are highly questionable. However, there are some pretty great works on the list, so when I found it, I decided to print it and highlight what I read or have read as I go. Then, if I'm at a loss for a book to read, I'll read something from the list.
That said (and I may refer to this in the future, but will never explain all of this again!) Brave New World is number 5 on the board's list and number 18 on the reader's list.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead occupy the top 2 spots on the reader's list, but are nowhere to be found on the board's list.

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