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David Hofmeyr on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: 'a subversive, cool and unsettling work of genius'

On the anniversary of Aldous Huxley’s birthday, the author of the Stone Rider series explains how Huxley set the benchmark for all dystopia to follow with his work of sinister genius, Brave New World
Aldous Huxley, author of the classic dystopia Brave New World

Aldous Huxley, author of the classic dystopia Brave New World. Photograph: Rex Features/Rex Brave New World, published in 1932, imagines a fictional future in which free will and individuality have been sacrificed for complete social stability.

Brave New World

The book introduces us to a benevolent dictatorship: an efficient, totalitarian welfare state. There is no war, poverty or crime. Society is organised by genetically predestined caste. Intellectually superior Alphas are the top dogs. Servile, purposely brain-damaged Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons toil away at the bottom.
This idea of radical division in society is a familiar theme in modern dystopia and features strongly books such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Ready Player One to name a few. It makes sense too. Our fascination with the concept of haves and have-nots is more relevant today than ever before. The rise of an increasingly wealthy elite at the top and a growing pool of low-income consumers at the bottom is a worldwide phenomenon, propelling us at light speed to an uncertain future.

David Hofmeyr, author of the Stone Rider series

David Hofmeyr, author of the Stone Rider series. Photograph: PR
Divisions are rife in my own books. In Stone Rider, I depict a world fallen on ruin and a society divided between the Watchers and the Left-Behind. The uber-wealthy Watchers are those with enough power and influence to leave the diseased Earth and escape to space. The Left-Behind are less fortunate, condemned to a brutal existence under toxic skies, either mining the Earth’s Mantle for a miracle rock that gives the Watchers their power, or competing in Death Races simply to provide entertainment for the Watchers.
Maybe a little bleak, I hear you saying. Fear not, there’s hope. It lies inside us. Our humanity. Our fire. Our will, not just to survive but also to live.
When I first read Brave New World I found it subversive and cool. Unsettling. The idea that a peaceful utopian life is only possible in a world where emotion is restrained. Huxley himself describes Brave New World as a nightmare. But it’s hardly the terrifying future vision depicted by Orwell in 1984. This is a more sinister, insidious nightmare. Brave New World inhabitants live a sterile life, subdued by the drug, Soma. And they go willingly into this numbed utopia. I love that idea.

Stone Rider

There are definite echoes of this in Stone Rider. The Left-Behind yearn to escape to space and the promise of a better life. On the surface this seems like their only chance but perhaps the world they ache to leave is by far the richer of the two. Perhaps hope lies closer to home.
Then again … maybe not. You’ll have to read the books to find out.

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