Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review: Brave New World

After writing my last review of 1984, I was inspired to reread Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. In this futuristic fantasy, one that predated Orwell's, we find a gentler way for a government to maintain order. In this society, happiness is maintained through social conditioning and pleasant distraction. No one needs to be tortured or imprisoned. On the rare occasion that a person refuses to conform, they are simply sent away to live on an island.

I think the links between Huxley and Orwell are fascinating. In 1917, Orwell was a 14-year-old student in Huxley's French class. In 1932, Brave New World was published to lackluster critical reviews. In 1949, Orwell published 1984 and received a letter from his former teacher.

Essentially, Huxley writes this letter to say that his own fictional future is a better prediction than Orwell's:
"My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World."
For the most part, I agree. I think both authors imagine governments that waste their energy trying to exert absolute control over the population. They differ in their methods - in 1984, it's force; in Brave New World, it's drugs and brainwashing - but the two books have an awful lot in common.

Both worlds are obsessed with "orthodoxy". Both see overproduction as a problem to maintaining necessary class division. (Orwell solves this problem with perpetual war; Huxley with consumerism.) Both dismantle families and any sort of close human relationships. Both discourage any time spent on one's own. Time is filled with community activities. Books and historical records are destroyed.

Actually, it seems to me that 1984 is simply an earlier evolutionary stage than Brave New World. Force is necessary as long as people can still remember being raised in families. Once those relationships have been forgotten, the pleasant distractions of Brave New World are all they need. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: 1984

"The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already."
                                                                                             -Winston Smith

George Orwell's futuristic (at the time) novel about a totalitarian government feels especially relevant in today's political climate where our president keeps secret "kill lists" and has claimed the right to indefinitely detain or assassinate American citizens without due process. When people describe these things as "Orwellian", they aren't far off.

With record levels of poverty and wage stagnation, America has made greater gains in wealth than any other country. Meanwhile we are in secret wars in around 100 countries. Passages in 1984 that explain the use of perpetual warfare to maintain class division and inequality were especially dog-eared:
"The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labor power without producing anything that can be consumed... In principal the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population."
By the third section of the book, Orwell pushes from cautionary tale into an extreme that doesn't seem to relate to our current problems. The Party maintains power for it's own sake and expends so much of it's energy to degrade and cause pain in order to control even the thoughts of the citizenry. I feel like the people in power may not care whether we are in pain, but that our pain is not their main goal. They're bound to have more free time to enjoy their power if the masses are distracted by cable and overwork.

Which reminds me of the following comparison between 1984 and A Brave New World:

Perhaps it is a mix.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep

The premise of this book hooked me: a woman has experienced a trauma that results in her memory being wiped out on a daily basis. Christine wakes every morning to a stranger in her bed who tells her he is her husband who has been caring for her since her accident. He shows her photos and gives her a tour of her house, then leaves for work

Eventually, Christine begins seeing a doctor in secret, writing down her daily experiences in the hopes of recovering her memory. As she reads her journal each day, she begins to find inconsistencies in the stories her husband tells her. Is he lying to her? And, if so, why?

If you're looking for a plot-driven, suspense- this might be a good choice. The plot twist at the end was something I did not see coming and I had that great moment where a book gives goosebumps on the scalp.

However, if you enjoy character-driven fiction where you connect with a story- this is not it. Perhaps by virtue of her condition, you never even get to know the main character. She doesn't remember who she is and is in a constant primal state of fear and confusion. She trusts no one and neither does the reader. None of the characters are people you understand or root for, including Christine.

In the end, I was disappointed by this read and probably would not recommend it.