I love listening to or reading books--especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, classics, & historical.
Brave New World is a bitterly funny and humorously tragic dystopian novel in which Aldous Huxley satirizes modern civilization’s obsession with consumerism, sensual pleasure, popular culture entertainment, mass production, and eugenics. His far future world limits individual freedom in exchange for communal happiness via mass culture arts like “feelies” (movies with sensual immersion), the state-produced feel-good drug soma, sex-hormone gum, popular sports like “obstacle golf,” and the assembly line chemical manipulation of ova and fetuses so as to decant from their bottles babies perfectly suited for their destined castes and jobs, babies who are then mentally conditioned to become satisfied workers and consumers who believe that everyone belongs to everyone. In a way it’s more horrible than the more obviously brutal and violent repression of individuals by totalitarian systems in dystopias like George Orwell’s 1984, because Huxley’s novel implies that people are happy being mindless cogs in the wheels of economic production as long as they get their entertainments and new goods.
Michael York does a great job reading the novel, his voice oozing satire for the long opening tour of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and then modifying in timbre and dialect for the various characters, among them the self-centered brooder Bernard Marx, the budding intellectual poet Helmholtz Howard, the sexy, sensitive, and increasingly confused Lenina Crowne, the spookily understanding Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond, and especially the good-natured, sad, and conflicted Shakespearean quoting “savage” John.
I had never read this classic of dystopian science fiction, so I’m glad to have listened to this excellent audiobook, because it is entertaining and devastating in its depiction of human nature and modern civilization, especially timely in our own brave new Facebook world.
Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) is an absorbing tale about the attempt by the colonists of Luna to revolt against the exploitative Lunar Authority of the Federated Nations of Earth. Because the Loonies are outnumbered 11 billion to 3 million and because earth has all the spaceships and soldiers, it would seem to be a doomed fight for freedom. But the Loonies have a secret weapon: Mike the supercomputer who runs Luna’s infrastructure and who has become self-aware, a fact known only to the three people who plan the revolution, Mannie, Wyoh, and Prof.
Mannie narrates the action in an appealing voice, with Australian (e.g. cobber), Russian (e.g. da/nyet), and Loonie (e.g. earthworm) vocabulary spoken as if by a Russian speaker of English (e.g. “Was good plan”). It was a revelation to hear reader Lloyd James read Mannie’s Russian accent, because I didn't notice it when I encountered the book 20 years ago, and James is good at bringing the other characters to life with their own distinctive voices, especially Mike (though his French speakers evoke Pepe Le Pew).
The novel has many virtues. It is often funny, as when Mannie says, “I’ve seen a woman [nude] before,” and Wyoh retorts, “What a thrill it must have been for her.” Or as when, during a serious discussion about organizing the revolution, Prof is distracted by Mike’s potential use for winning bets on horse races. It also boasts many provocative ideas, as in the minuses of government and pluses of “rational anarchy,” the nature of sentience, the differences between genders, the benefits of group marriages run by women, and “tanstaafl.” Mike’s awareness and friendship with Mannie begin humorously but end movingly and mysteriously, while Mannie’s desire to get away from civilization finally recalls Huck Finn’s. And Heinlein extrapolates a convincing Luna culture based on physical realities of rock, ice, air, and gravity, and then works out how a mongrelized population originally comprised of “jailbirds” from various nations on earth with men outnumbering women 2-1 would live in cities and farms tunneling down into the moon.
I question the novel’s anti-taxation, libertarian philosophy. And I doubt that harsh situations would make most bad actors disappear, or that all big mouths should be eliminated. And Bog knows that Prof is sometimes a know-it-all, and some passages make me cringe at their gender stereotypes or for their attempts to break them, and perhaps Mike is too good to be true (though when he feels the equivalent of an orgasm when lining up a number of rock-bombs to simultaneously hit the earth I shiver and remember HAL from 2001).
But overall I was impressed by how readable the novel remains and how (for Heinlein) tightly written and plotted it is, and if you are interested in the history of science fiction, or in tales of revolutions or of AI, you should listen to this audiobook.
I've been a fan of the Callahan Novels, and this isn't them. But oh, boy, is it wonderful.
The publisher's summary is inadequate. This is not just Shara's story, and in fact it goes quite far beyond it. But I shan't spoil it. If you like Spider Robinson, or Robert Heinlein, or indeed well-written sci-fi... this is your book.