In the world of novels about dystopia, two stand out above the rest, George Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. While Orwell’s novel is incredible, it does not compare, in my opinion, to this breathtaking novel. 1984 levels a powerful critique against state control, regulation of everyday life and the dangers involved therein. Huxley, alternatively, levels his fictional critique against capitalism and thought control through desire. In Huxley’s allegory, the world is ruled by a privileged class of professionals. The class system is rigorously, hierarchically structured, and each ensuing class possesses less power. Everyone remains in check by a culture of over-consuming hedonism. Sex, drugs, and other sensory overloads keep everyone addicted and therefore maintaining the status quo. The critique this book offers modern society is immense. Let me simply say it revealed to me the informal class caste system we currently inhabit but refuse to talk about. It also prevented me from engaging in drug use since most drugs (including alcohol and nicotine) serve to de-politicize people. By becoming an addict, one will not question authority if that authority keeps the addictive substance steady and profitable. Brave New World shows all this and more.
This may be the greatest anti-war novel ever written. It is unbelievable. Set in World War I, the entirety of the novel is set in the mind of the main character who lost his legs, arms, hearing, vision, sense of smell, and ability to breathe on his own from a mortar blast. The only functioning parts of his body left are his heart and his brain. In his brain, he scrutinizes not only WWI but the ideologies behind all wars, particularly their knack for benefiting the few at the top while the poor fight and die. For me, this book introduced me to questioning what I considered to be the redeemable traits of American (sic) ways of thinking. Take for example this excellent commentary on the valued U.S. characteristic of liberty:
Of course a lot of guys were ashamed. Somebody said let’s go out and fight for liberty and so they went and got killed without ever once thinking about liberty. And what kind of liberty were they fighting for anyway? How much liberty and whose idea of liberty? Were they fighting for the liberty of eating free ice cream cones all their lives or for the liberty of robbing anybody they pleased whenever they wanted to or what? You tell a man he can’t rob and you take away some of his liberty. You’ve got to. What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It’s just a word like house or table or any other word. Only it’s a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let’s fight for liberty and he can’t show you liberty. He can’t prove the thing he’s talking about so how in the hell can he be telling you to fight for it.
No sir anybody who went out and got into the front line trenches to fight for liberty was a goddam fool and the guy who got him there was a liar. (110-1)
See what I mean. It is powerful.
This may be one of my favorite books of all time. Oftentimes, people complain about how books should not be compared to movies since they are different mediums. However, the movie version of this book took an incredibly rich, brilliantly crafted story and turned it into violent pornography. Do not watch Watchmen; read it! Anyway, Watchmen is an incredible story tracing the rise and fall of masked crime-fighters who basically live in a delusional world of grandeur. Unlike most heroes, who manage to solve all problems with wit and violence, these characters suffer severe flaws. Haunting, hopeful, and human, Watchmen unveils the logic of divine tribal predilection, and exposes the horrifying corruption of human behavior while simultaneously presenting the tragic beauty of human existence. This book is worth reading again and again. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. Who watches the watchmen?
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
V for Vendetta was a good movie; it is an unbelievable graphic novel. Again, Alan Moore creates an unlikely hero. The unique character of his heroes is that they do not serve the authorities in the way Batman, Superman, or Spiderman do who work for the police and politicians albeit outside their official channels. In Watchmen, the superheroes attempt to work on the side of the officials, but ultimately, they either fail severely or become villains themselves. In V, the hero works against the authorities. This book pits a superhero against the government rather than criminals. He works to liberate the people from the state, and he does it through blowing up government buildings. Moreover, he holds the people responsible for not awaking to injustice and throwing off their oppressors. Most crucially, the hero, V, is a creation of the government out of one of their science experiments, indicating that the state, by trying to create new weapons, ultimately ties its own noose. Remember, remember the 5th of November.
Set in late 1980’s New York, this tragic yet hopeful tale chronicles the struggles of a young incest survivor as she works to raise her two children while living with her brutally abusive mother. At age 16, she cannot read, and she is significantly behind in school. She goes to a special charter school in which she meets an incredible teacher who gets her to write every day. Through writing and learning to read, she attains the confidence to stand up to her abusive mother and take control of her life. This is an extremely short yet immensely powerful novel that I would recommend to anyone. Please read it!
This book is written as a Socratic Dialogue between the narrator and a hyper-intelligent, telepathic gorilla. Essentially, the gorilla and the narrator spend the entire book discussing how, ultimately, dominant human culture has put themselves at odds with the entire world by saying that they can manage themselves, and they need not rely on the bounty of the earth in order to survive. The common myth held amongst our culture is that the earth exists for humans and not the other way around. I cannot say a whole lot more about this book, but I can say that anyone who feels a sense of dis-ease about the whole human project should read this book. It will totally rearrange how you view everything.