Brave New World (Revisited)
by Aldous Huxley (1932, 1965)
Doesn’t hold up to my high school reading experience, that’s for sure. Huxley’s writing is even worse than I remember (and I’ve read enough of him to know he was never a prose specialist). Even the ideas are so extreme as to be mostly cartoonish. Wrapped in his clunky, halting, comma-heavy, purely expositional writing, with no real characters to speak of, the fact that this has become a lasting cautionary classic speaks more to the paucity of sound ideas in the early 20th century than to any real quality it might have.
Not that there aren’t some accurate predictions here. A society of drugged, distracted consumers is one of the main problems Huxley was warning about, and — voila! — here we are, in 21st century smartphone-landia. And we may not have soma, but we sure as shit got every other prescription drug you can imagine. I’ve seen lots of people debating just which of the dystopian classics we’ve come more to embody, this or 1984, and my response to that is: why can’t it be a little bit of both? Orwell’s double-speak and police state are certainly either omnipresent or imminent.
As for which is the better novel, well it’s 1984 by a long shot. Honestly the only thing that Brave New World appears to have of lasting value is the concept of soma. I hate to say it because I’ve always considered Huxley one of my favorite thinkers, and I still love his minor masterpieces Island and The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell, but upon re-reading this (and the mostly middling, dated commentary he included thirty-some years after the fact), I’m having to reconsider that status.