Brave New World / 1984

July 12, 2014 at 20:42 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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1984 bravenewworldTwo iconic books written in the first half of the twentieth century, exploring dystopian visions of the future. They are often bracketed together. although the different historical context is interesting; Brave new World was written before the Second World War, at a time when matters of eugenics, conditioning and genetic improvement were of some general interest. Following the horror of Nazism, such ideas lost both their respectability and credibility, and published in 1949 1984 reflects a world much more concerned with the menace of totalitarianism and state-sponsored violence.

I have been meaning to read both of these books for some time, so when the opportunity of a long plane journey presented itself I downloaded them both to while away the hours on the flight. I say ‘quite some time’; I first became aware of 1984 in 1984, when I was about ten years old. At that time my schoolteacher was Mr Boyd, and one of the other children in the class came in with a poster they had drawn of our teacher with the caption ‘Big Boyd is Watching You’. We were all terribly impressed, although I have to say I didn’t really understand what it was all about. Clearly my classmates were more literary than me. Still, over thirty years on I can finally appreciate the joke…

A huge amount has been written about these books; they have been analysed and dissected endlessly. So rather than waffle on about the plots or the literary allusions, I’ll just focus on a couple of points that struck me.

The first was how readable they were, and how undated. This was a surprise; they are both essentially science fiction, and reading old science fiction is sometimes a horribly clunky affair where the author’s  technological naivety (by modern standards) gets in the way of the enjoyment. That was not the case for either of these books; the worlds depicted remain fantastical and wholly believable.

The second was the language. Both books are rich with invented language which is a delight to read and also adds a terrific amount of colour and verisimilitude. I could ramble on here about how this is kind of self-referential, as in 1984 especially the idea of controlling language to control thought is central to the book, but I’ll resist as I’m sure others have already done it better than I could.

Of the two, I think I enjoyed 1984 slightly more; mostly because I felt the end of Brave New World was a little weak. Aldous Huxley evidently agreed, as in his introduction (written some time after the book was first punished) he laments the ending and suggests at alternative. Actually I think this alternative would be even worse, and I think the much more bleak outlook in 1984 is stronger.

So the ultimate question is, of course, who was right? Are we heading for Huxley’s or Orwell’s dystopia? Check it out here, and if you get distracted by the (often NSFW) links on the right hand side, well, consider it game over…


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