Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932) 255 p.

Brave New World is a classic of both literature and science fiction, depicting a future world state which is (depending on your point of view) both utopian and dystopian. The populace is kept controlled and perpetually happy by a mixture of drugs, sleep learning and infant conditioning, the family unit has been abolished, free love is the norm (“everybody belongs to everybody else”) and there is no longer any religion, literature or non-conformist thinking. In certain parts of the world, people are kept in “savage reserves,” and the plot of Brave New World largely revolves around a “savage” from New Mexico who is taken from his reserve and brought to London, where he clashes with what he sees as a numbing and degraded civilisation.

Brave New World is most often compared to George Orwell’s 1984, both being British science fiction novels from around the same time which examined a dystopian future. It actually reminded me much more of Fahrenheit 451 – a novel which no doubt was greatly drawn from Brave New World. In 1984, the state oppressively controls information; in both Huxley and Bradbury’s novels, the state has successfully trained the populace to not desire information. In both novels, people are kept entertained with the science fiction version of bread and circuses. Huxley argues a little less forcefully than Bradbury that most people are dumb, since the characters of his novel have been manipulated and conditioned from birth, but the feeling is still there. Orwell’s novel, to my mind, is more timeless and important. Elements of all three books have been realised to at least some extent, but 1984’s government surveillance and propaganda is probably more pertinent than, say, drawing some kind of parallel between the trashy mass media of Brave New World and modern society’s love of reality TV and talent shows.

Both books, however, are classics because of the important (and at the time, unprecedented) things they have to say, rather than their worth as actual literature. Brave New World is required reading for anybody working their way through the human canon, but I didn’t really enjoy it.