Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brave New World started and finished; The Road started

Normally I post when I start a new book from the list, but things didn't work out like that this time.

I blame the iPhone.

I just got one, and I was extremely distracted by the downloading and utilization of apps. I mean, it's basically a toy that makes phone calls. I know it has several practical applications, but mostly I've used it to play. Not only are there plenty of apps that are fun to use, there are also games that are made specifically for the iPhone, like Angry Birds and Slayer Pinball Rocks. I highly recommend that pinball game, by the way. One review of it basically said get over your fear of satanism and buy this game. I have no fear of satanism (well, not Slayer's brand of it anyway), and so I did. Excellent pinball game. So much fun to play. My high score is 11,561,810.

Brave New WorldSo all these little distractions have kept me from blogging. But not from reading. So without ever taking the time to blog about it, I started Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. And then I finished it, because the book is really short.

Of course if you know anything about Brave New World, you know that it's only appropriate that I was distracted from blogging it by entertainment. Brave New World is a dystopian novel that supposes that the government may seek to control us by providing us with a wealth of entertainment and no desire to ever do anything but work and be entertained. In other words, no time for thought, no time for civil unrest, no time to wonder if things might not be quite right. Likewise, everyone under this particular government is bred from test tubes and raised being conditioned to love being the class that they are assigned prior to birth, and to love the job that is decided upon for them. No one is meant to be unhappy with who they are, what they do, and where life has placed him. It's all by the design of government, a government that has turned Henry Ford into a god-like person. It's an assembly line world, where everything and also everyone is generated on an assembly line.

Of course, not everyone comes out quite right, and a few characters aren't quite happy with the way they live - even though their conditioning is so strong that it makes them reluctant to act on their unhappiness. Enter the character John, a "savage" from a reservation (in other words, a free man that was born naturally and without the restrictions of the government), and the discontented characters begin to break down.

Things go kind of crazy at that point. John is unrealistically chaste, and is fully ashamed at himself for even entertaining the idea of participating in the modern society that he witnesses off of the reservation. He tortures himself as penance. He eventually goes crazy - quoting Shakespeare all along (the title of the book is from The Tempest).

My first reaction to this story is that it's interesting to read a dystopian tale that is not Orwellian. I don't think I'd previously considered that most dystopian tales are basically built upon the foundation of Orwell's work, in which a menacing government forces a helpless public to live miserable lives through force and violence. Brave New World flips that idea upside down with the idea that you might better control a population with the promise of happiness - provide lots of sports and entertainment, teach them to have sex frequently and with multiple partners without denying anyone, and indoctrinate them that if you ever begin to worry about something, you should take drugs - provided by the government. It's a fascinating idea.

The introduction of John causes things to break down. He's repeatedly referred to as "the Savage," which is clearly meant as an ironic statement regarding how he is more civilized than the "civilized" society. But John's growing insanity made me feel like the author treated John as a convenient proxy, and indeed considered him savage - not a representation of the ideals of the intellectual author. He seems too connected to stereotypes of the quaintness and ignorance of tribal people. John's self-abuse and the rituals of manhood from his village - which involve whipping a boy until he bleeds, a ritual that John longs to be tested by - also demonstrate a bizarre theme of the novel: that if life doesn't present you with some pain then you must quite literally create it, or else you can't be a whole person.

Also, I pity any high school English teacher who, upon assigning this as required reading, has to deal with the snarkiness of high school students who decide to use this story as evidence that Shakespeare will apparently cause you to go crazy. Obviously that's not the point of adding Shakespeare to the story, but I know how those kids can be. Conversely, it made me want to go find a good rendition of The Tempest to watch.

Overall it was entertaining, and by stepping out of the typical Orwellian model, I found it a bit more thought provoking than I might otherwise. It's definitely a good read if you like your dystopia a bit on the weird side.


My next book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is a bleak story about a man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. My early prediction - it's not likely to end happy.

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