Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ahh, Dystopia. You're a place everyone writes about, but nobody really wants to visit. You're the land in which we all face our darkest fears and learn about ourselves -- our hopes, our skepticism, our optimism, and our certainty of both failure and success despite the steepest odds.
Aldous Huxley's Dystopia is one of the most mildly horrifying places I've ever imagined. The simple question of "is happiness more important than free will?" is answered by removing ambition from 80% of society through selective breeding and programming. What's left is a spoiled upper crust and a genetically inferior series of lower castes who are raised to aspire no further than their own stations. Anxieties and stress are buried under a drug called soma. Motherhood is not only terrifying, but vulgar to these bottle-born people. The extent of their human connection is sexual, but constant, which prevents individuals from thinking too much and coming to the conclusion that this reality is totally bug-nuts.
Add to the mix a traditionally-born "savage" named John, through whose horrified eyes we get to truly appreciate the level of this society's depravity. His honest emotions are met with confusion. His attempts to woo a woman -- not just to be his bed partner for a night, to which she would readily agree, but to be his exclusively, for life -- scare her away. He becomes estranged from the automaton-like constant happiness of "civilization," but even after he finds a solitary place for himself, he's hounded by those who offer him happiness with no content and no meaning.
The last scene is one that will haunt me.
Do I think that society could ever come to such a pass? Thanks to Huxley's exposé, I do not, but it's a close thing, and I owe him a debt of gratitude -- because, just between me, you, and the computer screen, I find myself wishing for a little soma right now.
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