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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was published in 1932, but yet is considered a modern classic.  When it came out, critics tore it apart and called Huxley weak and his plot ridiculous.  However, I think that happened simply because the book scared the crap out of them.  Keep in mind that in 1932, the world was war weary, Fascism was on the rise, America’s Imperialist period had drawn to a close, and the Great Depression was  in full swing.  It was not a happy period in America, hell, Prohibition was still in effect and folks couldn’t even get a drink.  Meh.

Anyway, due it BNW’s sexual context and rejection of family and religion, this book was NOT one of those high school required reading lists you would have come across.  BNW made the Banned Books list in 1980, and that alone should have, at some point, called it to your attention as a “must read.”

Set in London in the vaguely distant future of 632 A.F. (After Ford, referring to Henry Ford making the new year system after the day the 1st Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908, making the year 2540 A.D.), the world had been torn apart by war after war after war and finally the powers that be came up with a solution and a new world order emerged.  People were no longer born, but decanted in laboratories.  Each embryo was put into a different caste, graduating from the most attractive and intelligent Alphas to the most lowly Gammas.  Genetic engeneering gave each embryo the exact ammount of chemicals to keep the caste system in check.  Each child was submitted to conditioning as they grew.  Everyone had their place, and due to conditioning, they were happy in their place.  After all, it was good for Society.

No more family structure existed.  The words “Mother” and “Father” became taboo.  The very idea of being attached to another human being was not only distasteful, but discouraged.  The mantra “Everyone belongs to everybody.” was one of the  messages that played repeatedly to children in their sleep conditioning.  Sickness and old age had been conquered through science.  A person stayed young until they died, usually around 60.  And if the world ever got tough or sad, there was government issued soma, a strong antidepressant and hallucinogenic that every citizen had a ready supply of.  Everyone was happy, except a very few.

Alpha Bernard Marx is one of the unhappy.  He has unorthodox views, which constantly get him in trouble.  Rummors say he had too much alcohol put into his decanter and that is why he is (gasp) short and ugly like a Gamma.  But being an Alpha, he has his job and privileges, so when he offers to take the beautiful Lenina on vacation to the New Mexico Savage Reservation, she accepts.  As Bernard goes to get his paperwork in order, the Director of the Hatcheries (the big boss guy) lets slip that he visited there in the past (which is a big deal because the past is never talked about in the new society) and on his trip, his female traveling companion disappeared and he returned without her.

Brenard and Lenina go to the Reservation and are shocked at the Savages, but come across a young, white man.  Bernard puts two and two together and figures out that John is the Director’s son, a true scandal.  John knows nothing about the outside world, except what his mother has told him and what he has read out of a thick tome of Shakespeare, which he quotes constantly throughout the rest of the book.  John’s mother, Linda spills her story about falling down a ravine and being left there, pregnant, and how ashamed she is that she birthed a child.

Bernard takes the Savage, which John is called for the rest of the book, back to the civilized world.  The Director resigns in disgrace and the Savage becomes a media sensation.  John hates the civilized world and cannot relate to anything, although he made one friend, another dissatisfied Alpha named Helmholtz.  His mother immediately goes on a permanent soma holiday, which makes John hate soma.  John and Lenina begin to have feelings for each other.  But of course, Lenina only knows a relationship as casual sex and John wants to marry her.  When she throws herself at him, John recoils, calls her a whore and slaps her.  Mid-fight, John gets a call that his mother is dying and rushes to her side at the clinic.

No one there understands why he is having any kind of emotion and when Linda dies, John flips out, scaring a bunch of Gamma children who are there for Death Conditioning.  His friends Bernard and Helmholtz show up right as John starts screaming about liberty and throwing the day’s to be distributed soma rations out the window.  A fight ensues and all three are brought before the World Director.

The World Director and John have a long philosophical discussion about the new world and John demands his right to be unhappy and have emotions.  Bernard and Helmholtz are to be sent to an island, designated islands for those whose ideas are a danger to society.  This is more like an artist colony than a prison, so they are happy.  John is told he must stay for observation and experimentation.

John is unhappy and runs away to an uninhabited area and sets up shop in a lighthouse to try to live alone.  However, the world finds John and descends on him with cameras.  People begin to show up, demanding John entertain them.  He loses his temper and attacks a girl in the crowd that reminds him of Lenina, and the preconditioned crowd follows suit, attacking each other like it was a game.  John can take no more and hangs himself.  The End.

In 1962, Huxley wrote a follow up to Brave New World called The Island.  I will let you know what happens in a following post.  Now get off the internet and go read a book.

 

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Books you should have read.

 

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I am Legend by Richard Matheson

And would you just look at that price!

If you really want to see an example of Hollywood completely trashing an excellent book, read I am Legend by Richard Matheson.  This small, 125 page book is probably one of the most frightening books I have ever read.  Written in 1954, I am Legend, helped give birth to the zombie genre by introducing readers to the idea of a worldwide disease that, instead of killing, alters the populace into something grisly and leaves them in to a supposed fate worse than death.

The premise is well known; last man on Earth defends his homestead and person from hordes of vampiric creatures.  The hero of the story is Robert Neville, whose character is a far cry from the strong, smart, determined scientist played by Will Smith in the 2007 movie.  Neville is immune to the disease, however he is cowardly, depressed, and a drunk.  During the day, as the hordes sleep and hide from the sun, Neville repairs his defenses, searches for supplies, and might kill a vamp or two.  But at night, he hides in his bathtub, drinks whiskey, and contemplates ending his stand and opening the door to his besiegers.

So what makes this so scary?  Well, unlike the movies, which did a total injustice to the book, as well as cut short the fear factor, the vampires are sentient.  That’s right, they know him.  They sit outside of his house and call to him by name.  The female vamps tease him by exposing their bodies and offering him sex if he comes outside.  His carpool buddy, Ben Cortman, talks to him and insults his cowardice.  They tell him over and over that it is a matter of time before his death.  Eek! is an understatement here.

Finally, Neville decides to do some research and figures out the nature of the disease and why he is immune.  As he is figuring all this out, he finds and captures an uninfected woman named Ruth.  And although Neville is suspicious of her nonviolent attitude toward the infected, they grow close and “do the deed.”

As Neville’s research continues, he convinces Ruth to allow him to draw blood from her and realizes that she (GASP!!!) is actually infected. Ruth knocks him out and vanishes, leaving behind a note that warns him that society has continued through the epidemic and a new world order is emerging.  Although still sensitive to sunlight and needing blood to survive,  civilization is reforming and see him as a threat that she was sent to investigate.  Neville is warned to run and hide as the new authority are coming for him.

Of course, he stays put and is captured.  Neville is taken to a prison.  He learns that the new society is scared of him.  He is the new, ultimate predator, the last living remnant of the old world able to function in the sun.  After being told he is to be publicly executed, Ruth visits him and reveals that she is actually an important member of the new society.  She tells him she was going to help him escape, but it is too late for that.  She gives him a pill that would “make it easier.”  Neville goes to his prison window and sees the crowd gathering for his execution.  He sees the fear in their eyes and accepts his fate, laughing at the irony that he is actually the monster under the bed.

“Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain. … Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend.”  -Chapter 21

Neville takes the pills.  The legend dies.  How frightening.  This book takes the hero beyond worst case scenario.  There is no happy ending.  No puppies and rainbows.  No happy, fuzzy feelings.  Just “what if” thoughts that echo in the reader’s mind when the sun goes down.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Books you should have read.

 

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Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

     
     Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank was written in 1959 and is one of the first nuclear apocalyptic fiction novels ever published.  Written at a time when the Cold War was in full swing, the book demonstrates a very real fear, and the possible fate for our country.  Often used terms like “Mutually Assured Destruction” the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik a few years previous to the book’s release, only reassured the public that an atomic cataclysm was a possibility.   Looking back now, we see that we passed safely through the Cold War.  But to generations past, the threat of a nuclear strike was very real.  This book reflects that fear and gives us the first written word scenario of the future that could have been.
      Alas, Babylon takes its title from The book of Revelations 18:10.  Throughout history, this passage has been repeatedly used by clergy as a warning to great cities who were considered corrupt and sinful. The passage reads “Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.”  And in this book, that is exactly what happens to the great United States.
     The book centers on a small Florida town.  The protagonist in the book, Randy Bragg, a former soldier, is fortunate enough to receive a day’s warning of an impending attack from his brother with high military clearance.  Bragg tries to warn the townspeople and goes about desperately preparing until the attack happens.  He buys supplies and gathers those he trusts to wait for the impending doom.
After the attack, when the dust settles, the town goes about wildly trying to gather supplies and money.  There is a rush on the bank and supermarket.  Convicts escape from a nearby prison.  Gasoline becomes scarce.  Tourists are trapped.  People are killed.  People commit suicide.  People try to leave town, only to never return or to return with horror stories of radiation sickness and lawlessness.  The town realizes that there is nothing left and nowhere to go.  Orlando and Miami are obliterated and their small town is now the safest place anyone can be.
      Bragg takes over and martial law is established.  Under his military leadership and training, the town organizes to find a way to survive.  People with fruit trees and gardens become important.  A neighbor with honey from his beehives finds that he is now powerful.  People begin to teach each other what little they know of food production, building construction, medicine, and so on.  The residents learn to fish, garden, and trade with each other for what is needed.  Small, taken for granted items, like needles, thread, safety pins, and soap become luxury items.  And although times become tough, the people of the town learn to coexist and come together to protect their town from the convicts and lawless men who are outside their boarders.
     Finally, a tentative government is reestablished in Colorado and Bragg is sent word that the people of his town can relocate to the new center of the United States.  Surprisingly, none of the citizens wish to leave their town.  It is decided that they know enough to give survival a chance where they are.  It then comes to light that the small town is the new center of civilization in Florida, as most of the state had been wiped out.
     This book is on the reading list for most high school juniors and seniors.  It usually coincides with American history classes when the curriculum moves into the Cold War era.  At 336 pages long, the book is a quick read and delves deeply into the survival aspect of what it would take to rebuild enough for people to survive.  Alas, Babylon is moving, detailed, and a bit scary.  The book is worth the time to read,  There are no well known actors on the cover, no Oprah stickers, no soon to be a major motion picture headers on the first page, but there are words there that will make you think.  And maybe make you wonder.  And hopefully remind you what it is to fall back in love with reading.
 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Books you should have read.

 

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I love books, real books that is.

Reading is wonderful.  I love to read.  But let’s face it folks, if there are abs on the cover, it’s not a real book.  Words on paper does not equal literature, a lovely and amusing escape, sure;  but not literature.   Most book review columns focus on the top, new, never heard of, flashy, “Oprah liked it” bestsellers.  But bestsellers are not called bestsellers because they sold millions of copies.  They are on the bestseller list because publishing houses THINK they will sell millions of copies.  And do you really believe that Oprah has read every book with her bestseller sticker on the cover?  Gasp!!!

Most of the books on the bestseller list are completely uninteresting to me.  Most are the same old story.  For example, the story of four generations of women who overcome their past differences, and one shocking secret, to see that true happiness lies in family.  Yawn.  Or, top secret agent super smart guy has a short amount of time to solve a political mystery with the aid of an unrealistically beautiful woman who is an unknowing pawn in the scheme which he must save her from.  Didn’t Dan Brown write that book five times in a row?

Quite often I find myself wandering around bookstores for an hour or more before picking up a title from an old, familiar favorite author from decades gone by.  There are books I have read six or more times each, and not one of these have ever been on an Oprah bestseller list.  So this is going to be a blog of not so much book reviews, but book summaries of books that everyone SHOULD have read, but haven’t.  Or they read these books so long ago, that even though they can say they read it, they couldn’t actually tell you what it was about.  Quick, without Google, what was the premise of Catcher in the Rye?  What about Slaughterhouse Five?  Uh huh…busted.

And not just all that “shame on you” stuff, but kids in high school are reading books that their parents have no idea what these books are about.  And yes, these are the same parents that complain about what books teachers assign.  Please, don’t be that guy.  Or sadder still, how many people know that the “I am Legend”  movie that came out is based on a very frightening book that ended totally different from the movie.  The movie was mediocre, the book gave me nightmares for a week.

Read a book, a real book.  Please.  And if you can’t, won’t, or whatever, at least read my posts so you don’t make an ass out of yourself in public.


 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Books you should have read.

 

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