A Shameless Plug

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m trying to get back into the game of fiction writing. Along the way, I’ve met plenty of awesome people who got involved in the game after I left, or never left and went on to do amazing things. Charles Barouch is one of the latter. We worked together years ago when we both wrote game review columns for Gateways magazine, which has long since disappeared into the mists of time.

Charles now had his own small press, HDWP Books, and is currently producing an intriguing short fiction series called “Theme-Thologies.” The idea is simple: create a theme for a book then find the best stories possible to fill the space.

I’m not in any of the books currently on the shelf but I am working to get a piece into one of the future anthologies. I do believe in the project and the staff and writers involved, however, so I’ll be putting some cash down for these titles. You may consider doing the same. If nothing else, let’s share this far and wide and get some exposure for these guys.

 Charles’s post as it appeared on his G+ account earlier today reads as follows:
I need $6
You are all nice people. I’m sure if I asked you for $6, just because I needed it — or even wanted it — a lot of you would reach into your pocket. I’m not asking for me. Well, not exactly for me…
Here’s my problem: I need to jumpstart the sales on Theme-Thology. These are really good books but we aren’t visible enough. Can you spare $6 to help 18 authors and artists?A Promise: From now until April 21st, if you buy the first two Theme-Thologies (total: $5.98) and post a review of either of them (on Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, or GoodReads), I will send you the first eBook from our new science fiction series: Interrogative: Tiago and the Masterless. Just post a link to the review at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou and the book is yours.A Prize: Additionally, from now until April 21st, if you buy any of the first three Theme-Thologies ($2.99 each), I will enter you into a drawing to win one of the following eBooks: one of five different Mike Reeves-McMillan books (City of Masks, Hope and the Patient Man, Hope and the Clever Man, Realmgolds, Gu), A Noble’s Quest by Ryan Toxopeus, Adjacent Fields by Charles Barouch, or The Tower’s Alchemist by Alesha Escobar.
Just buy the Theme-Thology of your choice and post at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou.● Already bought them? Post a review (on Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, or GoodReads) and I will send you the first eBook of our new science fiction series: Interrogative: Tiago and the Masterless and put you in the drawing. Just post a link to the review at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou.

● Received the Adjacent Fields signed, limited edition print book at Spectrum 2013? Post a review (on Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, or GoodReads) and I will send you the first eBook of our new science fiction series: Interrogative: Tiago and the Masterless and put you in the drawing. Just post a link to the review at http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou.

Full Details Here: http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/thankyou

Buy if you can, click on one of the share buttons below if you can’t.

RIP Richard Matheson, Story Teller

Richard Matheson, best known as a science fiction writer, died Monday night. He was 87.

I say ‘best known as a sci-fi writer’ because that’s how the obituaries are identifying him. Reuters did so, The Atlantic Wire says that he “defined sci-fi”. Others, like io9.com, remember him as the author of I Am Legend.

I don’t want to take any of that away from him. It’s just that I never thought of Matheson as strictly a science fiction writer. I thought he had a greater range than that. He told fantastic, memorable stories that spoke to legions of fans.

My first encounter with Matheson’s work was a copy of his Shock! anthology that my parents bought me when I was ten. I had encountered his work earlier than that–multiple episodes of the Twilight Zone (including favorites like “Mute“, “Death Ship“, “Steel“, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“, “Night Call“, “Spur of the Moment“) and a particularly wacky episode of Star Trek TOS (“The Enemy Within“)–but it wasn’t until much later that I started paying attention to him specifically. Shock! has a bunch of sciencey-type stories between the covers: “Dance of the Dead”, about battlefield zombies harnessed by unscrupulous nightclubs for entertainment; “Lemmings”, a very strange short-short about a country-wide suicide episode, and “The Creeping Terror” about a madness-inducing fungus that spreads across North America, are three that stay with me.

Other works from that collection have nothing to do with empirical reality but are just plain fun to read: “The Ledge”, about a wager gone horribly wrong; “The Legion of Plotters”, about a touch of persecution, and “Death Ship”, about three astronauts forever trying to get home and failing miserably, are three without any science at all but which are compelling fiction nonetheless.

Then there are stories like “The Splendid Source” (which was recently turned into a Family Guy episode) which are just a good, weird flavor of awesome.

Anyway, I got older, and I read everything from Matheson I could find. Luckily, his work was in constant circulation and I come from a long line of old school sci-fi geeks, enabling me to find original prints of stories like “Born of Man and Woman” which appeared in the Year’s Best Science Fiction of 1950. Considering that gems like “The Weapon Shop” by A.E. van Vogt and “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby were in the same volume, Matheson had excellent company. “Steel” of course gave rise to the Twilight Zone episode of the same name and while I haven’t seen Real Steel yet, I want to eventually. I mean, come on, who doesn’t really want to see Wolverine teach a ten foot robot how to box like a pro?

I purposely stayed away from his longer works for years. I liked his short stories so much, I didn’t want to ruin the appreciation I had for them. But I was in the habit of seeing the films that had been made of his longer work before reading the books. (That was how we rolled in the 70s, yo.) Films like The Omega Man and The Incredible Shrinking Man were enjoyable in their own campy ways. They weren’t great works of art but they were fun. The Legend of Hell House was a fair adaptation of the frankly terrifying book of the same name–except the movie managed to be even creepier in the way that only 1970s ghost movies can be. As for the film Robin Williams made of What Dreams May Come . . . well, after having finally read the book, let’s just say the film didn’t quite measure up. I read I Am Legend for the first time around the time the Will Smith film came out (never saw it, not planning to) and thought it one of the bleakest books I’ve ever read.

I admit I haven’t read The Incredible Shrinking Man yet, either, although it sits on my shelf. That book is a big deal, or became a big deal once I found out that Scott Carey was a stand in for Matheson’s father who lost his job and his confidence some time in middle age. That hits a little close to home.

Then there are books like The Path. I read that one years ago, right after reading What Dreams may Come . . . which, Matheson swore in the acknowledgements, was written purely from research except for the characters. I’m still not sure if it’s meant to be fiction or not.

If you’re a good enough story teller, then the science doesn’t really matter. Richard Matheson was. He will be missed.

 

A Book A Week: Flashforward

Proof positive that Robert J. Sawyer is a visionary writer in at least two respects:

Lloyd and Theo disengaged, and Lloyd surged across the room. He reached out and took Michiko’s hands and pulled her to her feet, then hugged her.

“Honey,” Michiko said, “what is it?”

Lloyd gestured at the console. Michiko’s eyes went wide. “Sinjirarenai!” she exclaimed. “You got it!

Lloyd grinned even more. “We got it!”

“Got what?” asked one of the reporters. “Nothing happened, damn it!”

“Oh, yes it did,” said Lloyd.

Theo was grinning, too. “Yes, indeed!”

“What?” demanded the same reporter.

“The Higgs!”said Lloyd.

“The what?”

“The Higgs boson!” said Lloyd, his arm around Michiko’s waist. “We got the Higgs!”

Another reporter stifled a yawn. “Big fucking deal,” he said.

In honor of the fact that the world of science has more or less identified the Higgs boson–a.k.a. The God Particle–and, judging from the relative lack of news coverage it received, that the world could not care less (except for us science nerds), I figured I’d take the chance to review Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer. Published by Tor in 1999, it’s a neat book and a fun read which had nothing whatsoever to do with the television series that was ostensibly made from it.

Well . . . it had some similarities. In the show, main character Lloyd Simcoe was the dashing young physicist with Alan Richman’s accent (if not his delivery) and a son on the autism spectrum; in the book, Simcoe is the middle-aged Canadian physicist with a Japanese girlfriend a decade junior to him, who has a daughter who dies on page 10. And there is a strange event that renders all humans on the planet unconscious whereupon they experience their lives decades in the future. But that’s where the overlap kind of ends.

Let’s start with the book.

Lloyd Simcoe is the head physicist on an international project to  identify the Higgs boson. The experiment is planned for April 21, 2009. They throw the switch, and every human on the planet falls unconscious for two minutes and seventeen seconds as they experience their lives twenty-one days in the future. They wake to find the world in chaos. Automobile collisions are everywhere (Michiko’s daughter was hit by a car and killed instantly), swimmers have drowned, aircraft have crashed on take-off or landing; people have burned to death after collapsing on their stoves or broken bones while falling down stairs. And no surveillance camera anywhere caught any of it; two minutes and seventeen seconds of snow is all they can show.

Simcoe’s ALICE project has created a temporal event, we learn. Everyone has an experience of themselves at a future point in time. This bring up a slew of paradoxical arguments, suppositions, and flat denials that there is such a thing a time travel in any form (Sawyer bring up Larry Niven’s Law of Time Travel, and mocks a James Randi-like character).

The bulk of the book is an exercise in scientific methodology, as the characters work to figure out what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. In the meantime, everyone wants to work through what they saw (or didn’t see . . . those who were dead in the future merely stayed unconscious; Simcoe’s co-worker Theo Procopides is one of these). A wiki is set up so that individuals can tell their respective stories. Every new story becomes another piece of the mosaic.

Ultimately, the cause is determined: at the very second the Large Hadron Collider was revved up to full power, the Earth was being hit by a wave of neutrinos emitted from a remnant of supernova 1987A. This remnant is not a proper neutron star, but a quark star, an incredibly weird object composed of superdense strange matter. These pulses happen in response to frequent (in human terms) starquakes. As the date of the future visions approaches, a satellite is launched to orbit Pluto so it can give a few days’ warning to Earth (neutrinos have mass so they travel slower than light; a radio message would arrive earlier.) The intent is to create another flashforward.

The final part of the book takes place twenty-one years later and  follows Simcoe’s co-worker Theo Procopides; one of the few remaining scientists at CERN, which was abandoned years earlier. The satellite has flashed a warning, and the LHC needs some repair to activate. Descending into the machinery he finds the embittered husband of a woman who died in the flashforward attempting to sabotage the gear. A chase and fight ensues, and Theo both manages to put down the attacker and prevent his own death.

It turns out that the flashforward transported everyone to the day of the second neutrino burst. People prepare for the flashforward by lying in bed or on the floor; the switch is thrown, and for nearly everyone nothing happens except for an hour of mere unconsciousness. Lloyd, however, experiences a bit of life far into the future, well after the Moon has been turned into a partial Dyson Sphere. After the event, he is offered the chance (along with Nobel laureates from around the world) to partake of a treatment that will allow a form of immortality by means of biomechanical bodies. Lloyd realizes that the flashforward was a connection between two points of quantum connection occurring within the lifetimes of the people involved. Since death severs the connection, only those who were offered the immortality treatment had visions.

This is what makes an awesome science fiction story: smart characters doing smart things, trying to solve a problem that threatens to change everything. It does not, however, make for necessarily compelling television. So, they turned it into a cop show. Simcoe became a side character, the FBI became the stars of the show, and the flashforwards became an attempt by shadowy forces to manipulate the world.

I watched the show. Every episode. It was fun and I’m glad Sawyer got the recognition (and, I’d hope, the money) that he deserved. But it wasn’t the same.

There were a few bits in the book that I just couldn’t get over. The reason that the cameras did not record anything, for example, was reportedly due to unobserved (and unobservable) wave functions. In short: every observed event is the result of a collapsed wave function. The cat in the box might be alive or dead–mathematically, it is both alive and dead–until you look in the box. Then the wave function collapses to a single state: alive or dead.

Sawyer’s premise is that if every human on the planet falls unconscious, then nothing really happens in the sense of  concrete events; what follows for that period of time is mere potentiality of events. Which might make sense mathematically (my Math Fu is not up to that particular task) but doesn’t quite work in the world we all experience. Clearly the universe existed in a concrete, measurable fashion before humans showed up to observe it, before there was such a thing as conscious thought.  I think one can make a good case for the fact of big-brained mammals (dolphins and the great apes, at least) being competent observers. I think one can make a case for the first bacteria being the first observers.

And Sawyer has a thing for immortality. It shows up in a number of his books. Sometimes the subject is parenthetical, as in Starplex and Calculating God, but once in a while it becomes the focus of the story, as in The Terminal Experiment. I admit that I’m years behind in following his books, but I’m eager to see if he ever works through that particular issue, and if so, how.

Anyway . . . we got the Higgs!

A Book A Week: Redshirts

In writing, you must kill your darlings. –William Faulkner.

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of. –Kurt Vonnegut.

Writers are always selling someone out. — Joan Didion.

 

This week:  Redshirts by John Scalzi.

This wredshirts-coveras actually the first Scalzi book I read. I was hooked from the prologue. The novel deals head-on with a question we all have had after watching our first episode of televised SciFi (I’m looking at you, Star Trek). Namely: why do characters do things that will obviously get them killed in predictably stupid ways?

Short answer: because the story demanded it.

Long answer: because that’s how the writers wrote it and here is why they wrote it that way.

We don’t get all this up front, of course. The format of the story is very much like a TV show. Scenes and dialogue  are written perfunctorily, with a minimum of explanation and introspection. TV is an expository medium, so the book reads in much the same way.

Our protagonist is Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned crewman to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union (aka “DubU”).

Dahl’s first few weeks of duty are normal. Desk work, drills, assignments in the xenobiology lab. Dahl starts wondering about his coworkers in lab after he notices strange behaviors. Like whenever the ship’s Science Officer comes around looking for bodies to put on an away mission, Dahl is somehow the only one in the room. There’s also an alien gizmo in the lab known as The Box, which will deliver an analysis of any substance put into it–but never a complete one. The result always necessitates a visit  to the bridge where Science Officer Q’eeng can cluck over it, make a few changes, and then hand the complete data back to the messenger with instructions on what to do with it.

It gets weirder. One crewman named Jenkins has taken to living in the cargo spaces between decks to avoid what he calls The Narrative. “Stay off the bridge,” he tells Dahl, “Avoid the Narrative. The next time you’re going to get sucked in. And then it’s all over for you.”

Ultimately, Dahl does get noticed by the Captain and his officers and does get assigned to away missions, where he watches his fellow crewmen destroyed by events apparently beyond their control, but somehow not. If a root is sticking out of the ground, someone will trip over it. The weapon the security guy pulls out is exactly what will drive the man-eating worms into a killing frenzy, even if no one in charge mentions that fact in the mission briefing.

Even the captain has noticed that things explode on the bridge whenever a battle with an enemy ship comes out, even if that other ship is pathetically underpowered compared to the Intrepid. “There is not a damn reason why everything on the bridge has to go up in sparks every time we have a battle,” he gripes to Dahl.

Along the way he watches his coworkers literally disappearing in hails of bullets, consumed by life forms filled with teeth, destroyed by killer robots that sprout new weapon at will, and otherwise lost to the drama of one away mission after another.

Before long, Dahl is learning that the Narrative is not just a metafictional construct but a persistent dimension that intersects with the ship and her crew. Ultimately, Dahl learns that today’s events are being directly influenced by events deep in the past and that it’s possible to get there using physics that only exist around certain crew members and that’s where shit gets real, as the kids say.

What follows is a masterpiece fourth wall osmosis that twists What Is around What Cannot Be, secures it with Because I Said So and sends your sense of perspective screaming into the darkest forest in the process. Everything can and does make sense if you just learn the rules of the universe and follow them to their natural conclusion.

The real gems of the novel don’t appear until one gets to the final three ‘Codas’, one each written from the first, second and third person point of view, each narrated by a character only tangentially dealt with in Dahl’s story, but just as essential to the plot. They nicely resolve what few loose ends appear and make complete sense in so doing.

Scalzi insists that the book has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he worked as a creative consultant on Stargate Universe for two years, and I believe him. I watched SGU, I liked it. The writing was solid, even if I personally consider SG:Atlantis to be the best part of the Stargate franchise. Having said that, I can see how a reader with some experience watching TV would think of this book as a memoir in disguise. Tina Fey for instance was very up front about the fact that 30-Rock was based on her experiences at SNL. But fiction in general and particularly  television or movies can be disconnected from reality, which is why it’s fun. (They don’t call it escapist for no reason, folks). For the first three seasons, Numbers had an actual mathematician on staff as a consultant and the writing made sense. He left at the beginning of Season 4 and that was the end of that. The writers of Eureka were more focused on what they wanted: whatever they thought was cool, they wrote about; sometimes the science made sense, sometimes not so much. In an industry where Randy Quaid can blow up a mile-long spaceship with a Harpoon anti-ship missile or California can slide into the Pacific Ocean, fans overlook the impossible bits of our favorite shows because they’re  favorites.

Bottom line: Redshirts is a brilliant book, a great read, and will appeal to anyone who has ever thrown a shoe at a TV.

Top Genre Fiction Titles

Our reference librarian asked me to think about what we might want on the shelves to represent genre fiction titles.

My writing for genre fiction has been limited to a couple of RPG adventure books a long time ago and an epic SF series (The Blockade) that I hope will be published sooner rather than later. I have shared opinions on Andrew Burt’s Critters workshop. I’ve taken writing workshops in college, which, to my mind, is the only time anyone needs to take such classes, because, hey, 3 credits!  I know my own writing here can be kind of rushed sometimes (like, when I’m in a rush) and I try to avoid that.

On the other hand, I know what I like to read. I can tell a good story from a bad one. I know what good writing looks like, or I think I do. And God help me, I know what bad writing looks like. That said, I do enjoy thinking about what titles I’ve read recently (or not) that remain with me.

Granted, the genre stuff I read these days  is limited to sci-fi. I have read and enjoyed fantasy books in the past but it’s been years since I found anything in that space that I like enough to suggest.

At the same time, I’m slogging through titles which I think are amazing (The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, for one) which I don’t think our students are likely to enjoy. My favorite horror write of all time is Joe R. Landsdale, but unless you really enjoy reading about the freakish things that happen in East Texas, you’re unlikely to share that opinion. We got requests for Urban fantasy, too, but in that realm, your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, because your guess is as good as mine I’m looking for feedback on this one. I’d appreciate hearing from readers (all three of you) what you’d suggest for the genre fiction shelf.

My nowhere nearly exhaustive sci-fi list is as follows:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Redshirts by John Scalzi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Long Earth by Terry Prachett and Steven Baxter

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Expiration Date by Tim Powers

Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman

Moonfall by Jack McDevitt

 

And on the fantasy side:

The first two Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson

The River of Dancing Gods series by Jack L. Chalker

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein (obviously)

 

What do you think? What did I miss?

BBW 2012: Brave New World

In my experience, no one uses the word “utopian” correctly. The incorrect way is to do so in a hyperbolic sense rather than the literal one. For example, those who say that our tax system could use some progressive tweaking are being utopian. Not true, as the tax system gets tweaked all the time. The offenders intentionally misuse the word in order to halt the discussion.

Utopia comes from a pair of Greek words: ou, or ‘no’, and topos, or ‘place’. Utopia, therefore means ‘no place’.  A perfect society is a logical and moral construct rather than an expression of reality, so it can’t exist. We don’t even really want to live there. We just like to dream about it.

Dystopia is the rhetorical opposite of Utopia.  In this case the stem dys (also from Greek) means ‘bad’, so ‘bad place.’ Except in this sense, it’s a place as bad as we can imagine. That’s easy–work a shift in a Foxconn factory for a few weeks. Get yourself a cup and beg in the slums of Calcutta for a while. I guarantee a life lesson or two.

I sometimes tell my students that I think calling Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World dystopian is unfair. That gets a discussion going pretty quickly, as the allure of utopian societies remains subject to opinion. One writer’s paradise is another writer’s hell. There are elements of both extremes in this story, but the book isn’t usually taught that way in classrooms.

First a few historical bits. Brave New World is #52 on the ALA’s list of most frequently banned books. It’s been banned for its politics (communism, socialism) and for the sexual content (pornography). As far back as 1932 the book was being challenged for its language and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. In 1980 it was removed from a classroom in Miller, Missouri, and in 1993 an unsuccessful attempt was made to remove it from California readings lists due to its “negative activity.”

The year is 2540 (or 632 A.F. –After Ford–as it’s known locally). In terms of physicality, it’s not that different from the world we see around us now.  No flying cities (there are personal helicopters), no teleport booths. But . . . all aspects of human behavior and physiology have been standardized. People are cloned in factories, raised to specifications in education centers, and every aspect of their lives is predetermined by a centrally planned state. Society is completely managed, but the level of stimulus-response training people receive as they grow up avoids the need to micro-manage the population. Once grown, people are sent into careers of the government’s choice based on economic need and they live out their lives. They wake up, go to jobs, do their work, eat, sleep, and take a hangover-proof wonder drug called soma when they need a break from reality.

And that’s it. Literally, that’s all there is to this world. There are no new discoveries about the universe or insights about people themselves. No sexual hangups, no real problems other than deciding how to entertain oneself. No real skills except for those needed to do one’s job. No parents, no children, no psychological trauma. No emotions, which means no drama, so no comedy or tragedy. No illness. It’s a well managed world where where everyone is perfectly average. Everyone is happy, healthy, and productive literally until they day they die.  The world is homeostatic.

So . . . what’s not to like?

Quite a lot, actually. For example, the happiness that is considered normal here is more like a self-reinforcing apathy. No one has any real worries about work because jobs are there, waiting for every human being who emerges from the education centers. Famine and disease are unknown. Personal relationships as we understand them don’t really exist. Death is inevitable, but the lack of connection between people makes grieving unnecessary. Monogamy is considered a social disease, and wanting to be alone is thought pathological. Sex is cheap and soma use is mandatory, at least, at certain times of the month. (A state pseudo-religion which glorifies sex and soma allows co-workers to bond and blow off steam on Friday nights.)

We learn about this world by watching Bernard Marx (Huxley named every character after a real life fascist or communist), a state-employed psychologist, run through the matrix as it were on his way toward what he thinks are laudable goals. Understanding how society operates curses him to awareness of just how low in the pecking order he is; he craves status, sex, and authority. Bernard is the physical and mental antithesis of what people expect: he’s short, smarmy, socially inept, and thinks much too much. He is a loser. And that’s what makes him wonderfully human, but that comes at the end of the book.

He pursues a co-worker, Lenina, who likes him well enough but no more than her other male partners. Bernard figures his chances with her will improve if they go on vacation together, but his idea of a vacation is a visit to a “savage reservation” in North America. When they arrive, they ooh and aah at the natives, but they get a surprise. They meet a young man named John who is the son of a civilized woman who was herself stranded there decades ago.  Lenina is utterly fascinated by John, while Bernard plans to use him to bolster his career.

They bring John “home”. Things get worse when Bernard’s supervisor threatens to send him to an island, i.e., banish him to the equivalent of a leper colony in the North Sea. Things get horrible when Bernard exposes his supervisor as John’s father, which to civilized morals is so freakish that the gentleman resigns in disgrace and the matter is literally never mentioned again.

Bernard shows John around the equivalent of high society and gets his status (and Lenina for a while), then mishandles it rather badly when he mistakes his new admirers for friends. John’s mother dies in hospital, and John handles it badly. John stops co-operating with Bernard. Barnard handles it even more ineptly. Mustafah Mond, the World Controller of West Europe, finally takes an interest in the savage’s integration into civilization, and things end badly for everyone.

Or do they?

John and Bernard have a lot in common: neither belongs in civilized company, and both try to use the other to access what they want (status for Bernard, Lenina for John). Both exacerbate their own misery and make the people around them miserable in turn. Square pegs jammed into round holes tend to do that.

One of the more absorbing aspects of this novel is the fact that the protagonists are the State’s failed subjects. Think about it.  Bernard is responsible for maintaining paradise but is physically and mentally ill-suited to living in it. Lenina’s perfect man is one that was born outside civilized society. John wants no more than to be accepted by the tribe of natives he was born into, and is rejected out of hand due to his foreign origin. Even Mustafah Mond, the Guy In Charge of Western Europe,  began his career in social control by being too smart for his own good. The fact that he was offered an out by going into politics was a fluke. Had things really worked properly, he should have been banished decades ago.

There are holes in the plot. Giant holes that you could drive a UPS truck through. One is John’s exposure to the English language by way of an old Shakespeare collection his mother just happened to be stranded with way back when. There is no way that John could have learned his absorbing command of the bard just by reading it. For that matter, his mother is described as a twit, and the idea that she’d have any book in her bag when they arrived is not exactly credible. As Neil Postman noted in Amused to Death, Orwell feared the banning of books, where Huxley feared a lack of respect for and interest in them. The only books we ever see live in Mustafah Monnd’s office safe.

Another problem (and one that Huxley acknowledges in the introduction) is the either/or nature of the world as presented in the text. There is civilization and there is savagery, but there’s no in-between. Neither universe informs or acknowledges the other. We’re told that the islands are numerous enough to house the total sum of all social misfits but we don’t get to see what life there is like. We’re told by Mond that an entire society of elites was sent to an island to carve out what life they could and have to take his word that the situation imploded rather quickly.

There are similarities to our here and now, too. Economics is the reason given for everything that happens in BNW. The economy isn’t everything–it’s the only thing. A person’s entire meaning in this world is the sum total value they can add to the machinery of commerce. His labor feeds it, his money lubricates its guts, his leaders direct it. In Huxley’s world, the economy is purely mechanical. All humans are its servants, one way or another.  Worse, there is no place on Earth to get away from it. Our current political discourse, where the lower orders are placed in the position of defending their right to eat at every turn, differs from the reality of BNW in degree only.

So. Are we there yet? Well, yes and no. The book assumes that all the wacky assumptions of utopian science fiction–unlimited energy, resources, and perfect balance with nature–have already been achieved, in defiance of history and the laws of physics. Since new inventions that don’t directly serve consumption are illegal–you will be banished if you try to pursue what Mond calls “real science”–it’s expected that there’s no new information about the world or the universe is being discovered, either.  Material concerns reign supreme. Clone people, give them jobs, feed them, extract their labor, convert the dead to fertilizer for crops, repeat as necessary. The modern idea of economic growth has no place in a world that depends on homeostasis. I doubt we’ll go there.

On the other hand, in the respect that iron-clad social control is maintained by a central authority standardizing human behavior for the sake of the wheels of commerce, you can argue the details all you like, but I think we’ve been there for at least 50 years.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...