Brave new world was written over 80 years ago; back in 1932 and describes London in the year 2540 - or 632 AF as the year is described in the book. The AF stands for "After Ford", meaning the American industrialist Henry Ford who has become something of a messianic figure in Huxley's World. It's been listed in a number of the more influential "Top 100" lists and is considered a classic of 20th Century literature.
It began life as a parody of HG Wells Utopian visions and depicts a profound change in society where the government control the masses through advanced cloning - which completely replaces natural reproduction - psychological & pharmacological manipulation and advanced forms of entertainment. While people do still work they seem to have lots of free time and are encouraged to make the most of recreational sex, mood altering drugs and games including a magnetic version of golf, an advanced version of swing-ball (known as Centrifugal Bumble-puppy), 4 dimensional pornography and advanced forms of films known as "feelies".
Through these various measures the government exerts a rigid form of control over the general populous; happy consumers in a cold, loveless existence. The population itself is restricted to a maximum of two billion lives, all reared in conditioning centers and engineered to fit into one of five distinct castes - each of which are designed to fulfill a specific role. Few ever think that their existence is anything other than ideal and don't think to question the status quo. Most manual labour is handled by one of the genetically engineered caste who are bred to have a very limited intelligence and lack of free thought.
Bernard Marx is one of the few who are unwilling to accept things as they are and goes on a voyage of discovery to one of the last remaining places in the world where humans still live an old, "imperfect" life of natural reproduction and simpler survival (known as a "Savage Reservation").
The main message running through the book is how the industrial revolution has drastically changed the world and the people in it, along with the fear that the continued fast-paced and automated mass production leads to an increasingly controlled society, a loss of individuality and ultimately, that of identity. This is expressed through the idea that Henry Fords ideals of production on a grand scale, automation and consumerism are adopted and used as the basis to form a society (known as "Fordism") which not only replaced other political ideologies but religious ones too.
I can see how the novel created such a stir all that time ago as not only does it deal with political and religious ideals, government brainwashing, genetic enginneering, the loss of individuality through strict government population control and artificial reproduction but it also deals with sex and drugs in a recreational sense too. I think it's important to remember that we are talking about 1932 here, a time when the majority of the people wouldn't have even heard of half this stuff - "revolutionary" doesn't even begin to describe it.
Almost thirty years after Huxley wrote this book he wrote "Brave New World Revisited" a non-fiction account of how he considered the world had moved on since Brave New World had been written. He concluded that if anything the world was becoming more like his depiction much faster than he could ever have imagined. That was 1959, more than 50 years ago and today we can still see many parallels with Huxleys work. Even considering the fact that technology has gone in directions that were never predicted, the mass growth of consumerism and with it the increased reliance on capitalism has led to a loss of the freedoms we had - losses that we as a society are accepting as "consumers".
Of course we are still some way off the vision presented in Brave New World but more worryingly we don't seem to be moving further away from it either, who knows how much closer we will get in the next 50 years?
Brave New World is an enduring masterpiece of classic science fiction, a bleak future vision as concerning today as it must have been over 80 years ago.
Written on Friday 3rd January 2014 by Antony.
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