Some books are snapshots; products of their time. It’s fascinating to read them, and consider how society has changed, and how attitudes have developed and evolved – to imagine how one would fit in to a time which is so different to one’s own. (Who else has fantasised in abject horror about being a woman in Austen’s world… no reading after dark?! No working!? Forced to marry out of convenience??!)
And then there are the other books. The ones which seem – worryingly, in this case – to transcend the bounds of recent human history, and maintain currency and relevance long after the author has died.
Brave New World (like 1984, one of my all-time faves) is one such book. I’m not going to write much about it, simply because I feel that smarter and more eloquent people than I have already said much more, and better, than I will ever be able to, but in reading this classic I am stuck once again with how terrifyingly prescient it is.
In case this wasn’t one you read in school, or it’s one of those which you have added to the mental pile of books you probably ought to have read but just haven’t really considered, here’s a quick plot summary:
Set in a dystopian future (I do love my dystopian future novels), the narrative opens in a literal baby factory. In this world, procreation has been sanitised, standardised, and outsourced – no longer left to crude nature (imagine! A baby born, with a *hushed whisper* mother and father??), all children are conceived, carried and conditioned in bottles on a carefully calibrated production line. (I am enjoying alliteration today. Just roll with it, k?). Sex, on the other hand, has not been outlawed – it’s just that it’s for fun instead of making babies. Promiscuity is encouraged, just as exclusive relationships are considered dangerous and vulgar. Young children engage in ‘erotic play’ as a matter of course – sex is considered part of the natural order of things, just like taking soma (a synthetic, hangover-free recreational drug) and shopping for new stuff. Why would anyone be exclusive? Everyone belongs to everyone, after all – and exclusivity is the enemy of happiness, breeding jealousy, passion, and instability.
Society, in short, has been perfected. Every person is perfectly conditioned to their work and social status; everyone has everything they could want or need – sex, food, drugs, shopping, games (which require more shopping), and a job for which they were literally born.
It’s a short book, and an easy to read one – it’s not one of those dense classics which you need three months and a dictionary to get through – and it’s most definitely worthwhile.
If, you know, a little terrifying.