Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is one of those classics. It is a book that you have to read at some stage in your life, you may not necessarily enjoy it, but it is important. I started reading it with some trepidation as I’d started and abandoned another of his books earlier this year. I actually managed to finish this book and was quite pleased about it, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it. It was quite challenging with some of its concepts, most especially as we live in a world where recycling is the norm and those who don’t are looked upon very strangely. Let me set the picture for you.
It’s set some time in the future where people are totally brainwashed. Recycling, even reusing, is something that just doesn’t happen. If you need clean clothes you just buy them. Things generally don’t get used more than once as buying creates jobs and that means more people are employed. People are conditioned from birth to believe that they shouldn’t lead solitary lives and they shouldn’t be monogamous. Actually, they’re conditioned with these ideas and many others from conception, while conception through to birth happens in a ‘test tube’. People who somehow break out of this mold are looked upon as very strange. The lead character had something happen to him in the ‘test tube’, he got the wrong level of chemical and that lead to some ‘peculiarities’ in his personality that didn’t mesh with society. He tried to do things that were different and that lead to his demise. This included a trip to another part of the world where things were more like they are today and the society there was considered backwards.
Things that didn’t sit well with me were the assumptions Huxley made about this society he created. While I liked the idea that everyone was concerned about everyone else being employed I didn’t like the waste this created. I recycle, reuse and reduce as much as possible and I found it really upset me to read of things being thrown out as they’d been used once. I didn’t like the pack mentality this society had, everything had to be done together. They had communal bathrooms, they talked about the people they, and others, had slept with as if it was the right thing to do, as if it was wrong to be with one person for more than a week. The conditioning really worried me. I don’t like being told what to do and this conditioning amounted to that. They would listen to certain phrases a certain number of times while they slept to ensure they were conditioned to be like everyone else. The phrases they listened to depended on where they were in the hierarchy which in turn depended on which chemical they were given before birth. In other words, their caste was determined before their birth and they were conditioned to liking and enjoying this status.
This whole concept left me feeling very uncomfortable. I know this book is tongue in cheek and is hitting out at the society Huxley lived in at the time, that’s the only saving grace of the whole book. I strongly recommend this book even if you don’t normally read science fiction due to its discussion of society. If you’ve already read this book I’d like to hear your comments about it.