Brave New World is probably one of the more interesting science fiction novels I’ve read over the course of the past few years. Like George Orwell’s 1984 it provides us with a vision of a future society where people’s individual freedom’s are restricted. The main difference between Brave New World and other seminal works in dystopian science fiction is that the future in Brave New World is a future brought about by over-indulgence. People are genetically developed to be as happy as possible in their roles, with the population born exclusively in laboratories where they are conditioned from birth to fill their roles in society.
They are kept in check by a hedonistic lifestyle where time alone is frowned upon is actively encouraged, and things such as sexual fidelity and chastity are completely foreign to the general population. On the surface one would believe it to be an utopia of sorts, but behind the surface there are little things like the increasing lack of individuality, the banning of works of seminal literature, which are considered subversive, and then there is the “savages” people who embody the old world and live outside the system and are treated similar to how Native Americans are treated, living in specialised reservations where they are generally treated and viewed as inferior beings.
The setting is interesting because it is such a chilling prediction of modern culture, and the extent of the predictions is quite impressive for a book written in 1932. It’s a vision of what could happen if modern culture went too far, and in my opinion the setting has a far more realistic chance of actually developing in contrast to the settings of 1984 style dystopias. The “savages” are an interesting parallel to the Native Americans, but it is interesting since their culture has evolved in ways despite the fact that they are perceived as following the old ways, but it is clear that along the way the old ways eventually became distorted.
The plot is strange in places, since it can’t seem to decide on who the protagonist is, or rather it switches protagonists. The main characters for the first portion of the novel are Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne, with Bernard appearing to be the novel’s protagonist. He seems to fit. He has conflict with the system due to some slight imperfections, and seems like the kind of person who would reject the system outright if given a chance. Yet, when he and Lenina go to a savage reservation for a holiday the reader is introduced to a “savage” from within the reservation John, who turns out to be the son of a World State woman who became trapped in the reservation and chose not to return out of shame for her pregnancy. John returns with them to World State, where he quickly becomes the protagonist as he begins to challenge the fundamental nature of the World State and its morals.
John is a very interesting protagonist but I feel like he should have been introduced earlier, since to me his introduction felt like a bit of a plot shift. At first the story seemed to be about Bernard and his struggle with the World State, but after John is introduced it’s suddenly about John and the culture clash between his upbringing and the World State, with Bernard’s character arc becoming little more than a sub-plot for the remainder of the novel. I believe the problem could have been solved if John had been established as a protagonist earlier, since ultimately his parts of the book are stronger and the book might actually have benefited from introducing him nearer the beginning.
Despite this, Brave New World remains a strong novel and certainly one of my favourite works in the sub genre of dystopian science fiction. Unlike a lot of futures, Brave New World seems to be scarily accurate in its predictions of modern day culture, and while we have yet to reach those levels of extremes there are certainly parallels. This is a unique dystopia since to some readers it may barely seem like a dystopia at all, just a vision of an imperfect future. A very good book, and I would recommend it for those who do not consider 1984 and its ilk to be realistic enough.
IN A WORD: SCARY