Review: “The Rosewater Insurrection” By Tade Thompson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for some sci-fi. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Tade Thompson’s 2019 novel “The Rosewater Insurrection” (the sequel to Thompson’s excellent “Rosewater) since a relative pre-ordered a copy of it for me as a gift a few weeks before I prepared this review. And, yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.

Before I begin the review, I should probably also point out that “The Rosewater Insurrection” is a direct sequel to “Rosewater” (and is the second book in a trilogy). Although it contains a few recaps, the story probably won’t make that much sense if you haven’t already read “Rosewater” first. So, this is a series that should probably be read in order.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Rosewater Insurrection”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2019 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “The Rosewater Insurrection” that I read.

The novel begins in Nigeria with a flashback scene set in 2055. Eric is a sensitive (someone with psychic-like abilities, due to alien spores) working as a field agent for Section 45. He has been sent to Camp Rosewater, the settlement surrounding a mysterious alien bio-dome that has recently arrived on Earth, with orders to track down and kill a local revolutionary called Jack Jacques.

Eric infiltrates Jack’s camp and spends quite a while working as a labourer there, waiting for a chance to get close to Jack. But, when he eventually does, he gets a message from Kaaro telling him to get the hell out of there, because Section 45 consider him expendable and are going to use him as a human targeting beacon for an air-strike. Eric flees and is demoted to a desk job.

And, after Molara delivers a short lecture about the symbiotic history of humans and aliens to the reader, we flash forwards to the city of Rosewater in 2067, where a woman called Alyssa wakes up and finds that she has no memory whatsoever…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, like “Rosewater”, it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 As you might expect, this sequel tells a larger and more epic story than “Rosewater” does. Although this means that the story doesn’t feel quite as focused during the earlier parts, if you stick with it then you’ll be rewarded with a gripping, spectacular sci-fi thriller that could probably put even the largest-budget modern movies to shame 🙂 Seriously, why hasn’t this series been turned into a film or TV series yet?

In terms of this novel’s sci-fi elements, it expands a lot on some of the stuff introduced in “Rosewater”. Not only do we get to learn a lot more about the aliens’ backstory, motivations and plans for Earth (including a novel twist on the familiar “alien invasion” trope) but the novel also includes all of the intriguing background details that you’d expect from a biopunk/cyberpunk novel too 🙂 The world-building is as good as ever, and the novel’s technology, alien fauna etc… also plays a role in the story in all sorts of dramatic, and occasionally surprising ways, too. Even so, this novel is very slightly more focused on it’s thriller elements than it’s sci-fi elements.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, it contains a really good mixture of suspenseful scenes, fast-paced action set pieces, tech/sci-fi based scenes and political/military/war drama too. All of these things also exist in both large and small scale versions too, adding even more thrilling variety and depth to the novel too. Although the novel takes a while to set up all of it’s many plot threads (which can make the story feel mildly confusing or unfocused at first), everything comes together in a really spectacular way and the mid-late parts of the story. Reading this novel feels like watching a much more intelligent, complex, creative and immersive version of a large-budget CGI blockbuster film 🙂

As you might expect if you’ve read “Rosewater”, the novel also contains some elements from the horror genre too 🙂 Although these are less prominent than they were in “Rosewater”, they turn up in a few wonderfully creepy moments (eg: the scene with Bewon and the plant growing in his apartment) – but their main purpose here is to add more atmosphere/realism to the setting and also to add extra impact, creativity and epic-ness to some of the novel’s action scenes. Even though this is less of a horror novel than it’s predecessor, these horror genre elements (eg: body horror, gory horror, zombies and psychological horror) really add a lot to the novel 🙂

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. Not only is this a novel about how power corrupts (shown through both Jack’s character arc and a few references to “Macbeth”, amongst other things) but it is also a novel about the environment, politics, warfare, how history is recorded etc… too. Most of this thematic stuff is more of a subtle background thing, but it plays a fairly major role in the events of the novel and also helps to add extra depth and realism to the story too.

As for the characters, this novel is as good as ever 🙂 Unlike “Rosewater”, this novel focuses a lot less on Kaaro (although he still gets some character development and a few really cool moments) and instead focuses a lot more on Aminat, Alyssa and Jack. All three of these characters have a decent amount of characterisation and character development – with Aminat going from being a slightly squeamish mid-level agent to a much more tough and heroic character, with Alyssa coming to terms with what is happening to her and with Jack slowly becoming corrupted by power. Yet, in an interesting twist, Jack isn’t the novel’s villain – but someone that the other characters have to reluctantly work with for the sake of their collective survival.

In terms of the writing, this novel is both similar and different to “Rosewater”. For the most part, this novel uses present-tense third-person narration that is informal enough to add personality to the story and keep things moving at a decent pace, but also descriptive and/or informative enough to add a lot of atmosphere to the story and make everything feel solid enough. The third-person narration also allows for a more complex and large-scale story. There are also a few mildly experimental flourishes too – such as random “extracts” from an in-universe historical novel (written by a character called Walter) that appear occasionally and provide extra backstory.

The novel also includes several first-person perspective segments and, although the jump from one perspective to another is a little surprising, the narrative voice is consistent enough and these segments are signposted well enough (each chapter title tells you which character it focuses on, and the infrequent chapters focusing on Eric and Walter are in first-person perspective) that this didn’t really become too confusing. Still, I’m kind of puzzled by this aspect of the novel – although, at a guess, Eric’s segments are in first-person because his opening segment is similar to the first-person narration used throughout “Rosewater” (and it provides a good bridge between the two books) and Walter’s segment is in first-person because it focuses a lot more on his thoughts, reactions etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 374 pages, it is shorter than “Rosewater”, yet manages to tell a much larger story 🙂 And, although the story’s plot may feel a little less focused at first, all of the novel’s plot threads blend together well and provide a lot of payoff. The novel also contains a really good mixture of fast-paced action and moderately-paced drama/suspense, whilst still being as compelling as you’d expect from a thriller novel. Plus, although this novel is the middle part of a trilogy, the ending contains as much drama and resolution as you would expect from a stand-alone novel 🙂

All in all, this is a really enjoyable and compelling novel 🙂 Yes, it takes a little bit longer to really get started than “Rosewater” did (and the perspective/focus changes might take you a while to get used to), but it tells an even more spectacular story 🙂 This novel is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, taking everything good about the first novel and turning it up to eleven 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” By Philip K. Dick (Novel)

Woo hoo! It’s November 2019! So, it seemed like the perfect time to re-read Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” 🙂

For those of you not in the know, this sci-fi novel was later adapted into the cinematic masterpiece “Blade Runner” (which is set in the distant future of November 2019). And, yes, there are some fairly major differences between the book and the film. But, more about those later.

Although I first saw “Blade Runner” on VHS at least a year or two before I discovered the novel, I read it at least twice during my mid-late teens (and even ended up getting two different editions of the book, one of which I can’t find). So, I was curious to see whether it was as good as I remember.

So, let’s take a look at “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1986 Grafton Books (UK) paperback edition of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” that I read.

Set in the dystopian future of 1992, most of the Earth’s population have emigrated to other planets following the nuclear devastation of World War Terminus. Even so, some people still live in the habitable parts of Earth. One of those people is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco police who tracks down and kills android labourers who have illegally returned to Earth.

Rick is having a bad day. After having arguments with both his wife and his neighbour in the first hour after he wakes up, he goes into work and learns that the police’s top bounty hunter, Dave Holden, is in hospital. Holden had been tracking an escaped android called Polokov, who had got the drop on him and let rip with a laser tube.

But, whilst Rick is eager to collect on all of Holden’s outstanding bounties, Chief Bryant wants him to go to the offices of the Rosen Association and run some tests on their latest android model – the Nexus Six – to see if they can still be detected by the police’s testing equipment.

Meanwhile, in a run-down block of flats in one of the abandoned parts of the city, a driver for an artificial pet repair company called J.R. Isidore is getting ready for work. Isidore is stuck on Earth because he didn’t pass the IQ requirements for emigration. Stigmatised as a “chickenhead”, he finds solace in the empathy box – a virtual reality device central to the new religion of Mercerism. But, just before he is about to leave his apartment, he hears someone else in the building….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s even better than I remembered 🙂 It’s an atmospheric, quirky, hilarious and thoroughly imaginative retro sci-fi novel that has stood the test of time surprisingly well 🙂 It is a novel that has a lot of personality and manages to cram a surprisingly large amount of detail, story and worldbuilding into what, by modern standards, is a fairly short novel.

I should probably start by talking about how this novel differs from the film adaptation. Basically, although a few character names, several themes, a couple of plot elements and a few lines of dialogue are the same, everything else is different. Yet, at the same time, you can see where the inspiration for pretty much everything in the film came from. In fact, even the Las Vegas locations in the recent “Blade Runner 2049” film take heavy inspiration from this novel’s dusty, kipple-filled, decaying locations.

Yet, despite all of these major differences, the novel and the film adaptation are pretty much as good as each other. Both have very detailed fictional “worlds”, both have a lot of intellectual depth, both are wonderfully unique things etc… Seriously, don’t let the numerous differences put you off of reading this book.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re really brilliant. In addition to the laser guns and flying cars that you’d expect, this novel has a lot of brilliant worldbuilding. With Earth being a semi-apocalyptic irradiated planet, almost everything in the novel’s world is defined by this.

Whether it is the lead codpieces men wear to stave off infertility, whether it’s the more prosperous off-world colonies, the much higher (financial, legal and emotional) value placed on the few surviving animals, the prejudice towards those born with radiation-induced brain damage, the empathy-based religion of Mercerism etc… Everything in this novel feels like a logical extension of the story’s dystopian premise.

Another awesome thing about this novel is it’s atmosphere 🙂 Although the novel is set in a realistic semi-apocalyptic version of Earth, all of this bleakness is balanced out with lots of subtle moments of comedy and brilliantly quirky background details. If you’ve read any other Philip K. Dick novels, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. Seriously, this is a story that has a lot of personality to it 🙂

Thematically, this novel is really interesting too. In addition to being an exploration of the value of empathy and how it makes us human, this novel is also a critique of nuclear war, a psychological tale where reality is never an entirely certain thing, a humanist exploration of the emotional/social nature of religion, a tale about old evils still existing in the future (eg: slavery, jealousy, violence etc..), an exploration of nihilism and a tale about how ideals and reality often come into conflict.

Not to mention that some of the novel’s other themes feel more relevant than ever. Whether it is the unprincipled tech company owners who always try to stay one step ahead of any official oversight, the scenes involving emotions being manipulated by technology (which are somehow more ethical than their real equivalent) or the possible implication that human androids aren’t allowed on Earth because of fears that they may replace humanity, this novel still feels surprisingly relevant at times.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly interesting. Rick Deckard is the sardonic, morally-ambiguous main character than you might recognise from the film. However, he gets a bit more depth in this novel and is also portrayed as much more of a middle-class suburban “everyman” than the “film noir” detective you might expect if you’ve only seen “Blade Runner”. In addition to this, the novel clearly states that Deckard is a human rather than an android.

Like in the film, the novel’s android characters are presented as being fairly “human”. However, they are presented in a much less sympathetic way than in the film, with their lack of empathy meaning that they act in a much colder, crueller and more selfish way than most of the novel’s human characters. In fact, this in itself is a really interesting plot point – since, when Rick meets a cynical and cold-hearted guy called Phil Resch, he can’t be entirely certain whether Resch is human or not.

The novel’s other main character, John Isidore, is really well-written too. He’s a really sympathetic, if slightly naive, guy who gets a decent amount of characterisation and is also designed to evoke empathy in the reader too. Plus, although many of the novel’s other characters don’t get a huge amount of characterisation, they get enough to come across as interesting and/or realistic people.

In terms of the writing, it is really good 🙂 The novel’s third-person narration is written in a descriptive and atmospheric way which, whilst slightly more formal than most modern novels, has a lot of personality to it 🙂 Seriously, I cannot praise the narration in this novel highly enough 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit more slow-paced than you might expect but it’s good enough to justify this 🙂

As for length and pacing, this novel is really good. At a gloriously efficient 183 pages in length, this novel tells a story that most other sci-fi writers would struggle to tell in 300-400 pages. But, due to all of this detail and worldbuilding, this novel is a bit more slow-paced than you might expect. Even so, this isn’t a bad thing. Thanks to a compelling story and lots of fascinating background details, you’ll probably want to spend more time with this novel 🙂

In terms of how this fifty-one year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, the novel’s gender politics are a bit dated at times, there are a couple of references to the Soviet Union and the writing style is a little bit more formal than most modern sci-fi novels, but the novel as a whole has stood the test of time really well 🙂 It’s atmospheric, the settings feel believable, the quirky humour still works and the story still remains compelling too.

One other interesting thing about reading this novel these days are the novel’s references to the old sci-fi novels of the 1930s/40s. In the book, these are presented as artefacts of a more imaginative and optimistic age. Of course, now that this novel is also an old sci-fi novel too, this adds a whole new dimension to these parts of the story.

All in all, this novel is brilliant 🙂 If you love the movie “Blade Runner” or if you just want an imaginative and quirky dystopian sci-fi novel, then this one is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “The Accidental Time Machine” By Joe Haldeman (Novel)

Well, after I read Jodi Taylor’s amazing “No Time Like The Past” a few weeks before writing this review, I decided to look online for other time travel-themed novels to tide me over until later novels in Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series came down in price.

And, after a bit of searching, I found a second-hand copy of Joe Haldeman’s 2007 novel “The Accidental Time Machine”. Which, for some reason, I only got round to reading several weeks later.

So, let’s take a look at “The Accidental Time Machine”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2008 Ace Science Fiction (US) paperback edition of “The Accidental Time Machine” that I read.

The novel follows Matt Fuller, a research assistant in a future (late 2050s) version of MIT. After Matt presses a button on a piece of scientific equipment, the machine quite literally disappears for a second. Puzzled, he tries it again and the machine disappears for slightly longer. So, after convincing his boss to let him take the machine home for “repairs”, Matt begins to experiment with it.

However, things aren’t going well for Matt. His girlfriend leaves him for another man and he is made redundant from MIT because his boss thinks that he’s over-qualified. But, since he still has the machine, Matt decides to do a major experiment with it. The type of experiment that Nobel prizes are made out of. After connecting the machine to a friend’s car, he gets into the car and presses the button…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is absolutely brilliant 🙂 Imagine a slightly more serious and atmospheric version of the 1990s TV show “Sliders”, mixed with a little bit of the quirkiness of 1960s/70s science fiction, mixed with a bit of “hard” science fiction and sprinkled with a few subtle hints of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, H.P.Lovecraft, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“, the game “Deus Ex“, the movie “Army Of Darkness” and the TV show “Doctor Who” and you might come vaguely close to this novel. It is a compelling, atmospheric sci-fi thriller that has personality and heart.

In terms of the novel’s science fiction elements, they are really good. There is enough scientific jargon, explanations, experiments and academic stuff to give the novel an authoritative weight, but enough mysterious unexplained stuff to evoke a feeling of wonder and curiosity.

One theme in this novel seems to be that basic scientific knowledge is a constant throughout most periods of history, with it being one of the relatively few useful things Matt carries with him as he jumps through time. Likewise, this novel also covers topics like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, time paradoxes etc…

Likewise, the novel’s time travel elements are handled in a vaguely “realistic” way, with Matt only being able to jump forward in time at ever-increasing increments. The time travel process itself follows a number of other rules too, but the main emphasis of the story is on Matt finding himself a “stranger in a strange land” in different versions of the future. This helps to add a lot of intrigue, suspense and wonder to the story.

Another awesome thing about this novel is it’s atmosphere. Virtually every location in this novel (including a snowy near-future version of Boston, a run-down theocratic dystopia, a futuristic version of LA etc….) feels wonderfully vivid and fascinating. Seriously, this is the kind of novel which should be adapted into a film, but which would probably lose a lot if it was. The atmosphere of this book is a little bit difficult to describe (it’s a little bit like a movie/TV show from the 1990s), but it is one of the best things about this novel 🙂

One interesting feature of this novel is that it is both a utopian and a dystopian novel. The strict, poor and theocratic version of Boston is contrasted with an A.I. controlled version of Los Angeles where everyone is rich. Yet, both places are presented with a degree of nuance.

The physical and intellectual horrors of the theocracy aren’t shied away from, yet hints of free thought still bloom in secret, the people there are content because they know little better and – in a conservative US theocracy of all places – there is actually sensible gun control too (although this could be there to foreshadow a later plot point). Yet, in contrast, the refreshingly prosperous and laid-back A.I. controlled utopia has fallen into a vaguely “Brave New World”-style state of mediocrity, vapidity and torpor.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is really good. It is formal and descriptive enough to give the story atmosphere, but it is also informal, nerdy and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a decent pace. In a lot of ways, the narration in this novel is bit like an updated modern version of the narrative styles used in the sci-fi novels of the 1950s-70s.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is also really good too. At an efficient 257 pages in length, this novel tells a full story without any of the bloat you’d expect to find in a modern novel. Likewise, the story remains fairly compelling throughout – with a good mixture of slower-paced scenes of suspense/atmosphere/world-building and more thrillingly fast-paced moments.

All in all, this is a really brilliant sci-fi novel 🙂 It’s compelling, atmospheric and wonderfully intriguing too. As I mentioned earlier, it’s the kind of book that should be adapted into a film, but would probably lose a lot if it was. So, if you’re a fan of time travel stories, then this one is well worth taking a look at.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Transition” By Iain Banks (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a slight break from detective fiction and read an interesting-looking literary sci-fi novel from 2009 (that I found in a charity shop in Petersfield last year) called “Transition” by Iain Banks.

Although I’d heard of Iain Banks before, I’d never actually got round to reading anything by him before, so I was kind of curious. Plus, this was a novel that was about one of my favourite sci-fi subjects – parallel universes 🙂 Not to mention that one of the early segments talked longingly about 1989-2001 (eg: the 1990s), so naturally I was curious.

So, let’s take a look at “Transition”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2010 Abacus (UK) paperback edition of “Transition” that I read.

The novel begins with a narrator mentioning that he is an unreliable narrator, before musing about the time between 1989 and 2001 – when the world was a bit more innocent and optimistic. The narrator then explicitly tells us the story’s ending, where he is suffocated by a mysterious assailant. He then shows the reader something that hasn’t happened yet, an armed man entering a train carriage.

Then, after this, we get to see glimpses of the lives of several different characters such as an ambitious social climber and drug dealer called Adrian Cubbish, a man called Mike Esteros pitching a film to a Hollywood studio, a mysterious patient in a psychiatric ward called Patient 8262, a mysterious traveller called The Transitionary, a rather bitter and bigoted character called Madame D’Ortolan, a creepy torturer known as The Philosopher etc…

Needless to say, all of their lives will collide in all sorts of intriguingly strange ways…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, if you can understand it, then it is an absolutely gripping and brilliantly well-written sci-fi thriller. Although the novel’s plot becomes more streamlined (it’s a classic “evil despot vs. plucky band of rebels” story) as the story progresses, this is one of those novels that will require you to think and pay attention whilst reading it. In other words, like with Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” and Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall“, this novel isn’t meant to be relaxing easy reading.

Yet, despite containing numerous things that would usually annoy me (eg: the story isn’t told in chronological order, there are multiple narrators etc..), this novel remained fairly gripping throughout. In part, this is due to the quality of Banks’ writing and, in part, is due to the fact that some of the more “confusing” parts of the novel are fairly well-handled.

Not only does the story tell you who is narrating whenever the narrator changes but, even though the novel’s numerous flashback scenes aren’t explicitly signposted, you can usually tell what chronological order things are supposed to happen in if you pay attention to the rest of the story. Although, again, this is one of those stories that will either leave you feeling really confused or really delighted.

Still, this is a novel that you’ll get the most out of if you’ve read more experimental or avant-garde fiction beforehand. In other words, some parts of the story are deliberately meant to be confusing and disorientating – and you’ve just got to let the words wash across you until you can work out what is going on. But, given that this novel is a story about jumping between universes, timelines and bodies – this confusion is an integral part of the story and, once you get used to it, it works really really well 🙂

The novel’s sci-fi elements are pretty interesting too. Although some elements of the story are left deliberately mysterious, the mechanics of jumping between parallel worlds are explained reasonably well and will usually follow a fairly consistent set of rules. Likewise, the parallel worlds themselves also allow for a few interesting alternate histories too (although this isn’t explored as much as I’d hoped). The novel also contains a few other sci-fi elements too, although I won’t spoil the most interesting one of these.

Thematically, this novel is absolutely fascinating. In addition to exploring the topic of parallel universes, multiple timelines etc… it also covers a lot of other topics too. For example, it is a fairly grim novel about how violence begets violence, it is also a novel about the greed that led to the 2008 financial crash, a scathing criticism of the post-9/11 use of torture by some governments, a novel about the nature of evil, a story about the value of good in an indifferent multiverse and a novel about the dangers of things like authoritarianism and solipsism too.

This is also a novel which, whilst not “laugh out loud” funny, certainly has a gleefully dark sense of humour about both itself and the world. Everything from the narrator telling the reader the ending very early in the story, to the ironic deaths of several characters, to countless other satirical and/or ironic moments have a wonderfully twisted sense of humour to them that really helps to keep the story interesting.

One interesting thing about this novel is that it’s also something of an “edgy” novel (and isn’t for the prudish or the easily-shocked). For the most part, the “edgy” elements of the story work reasonably well (such as the disturbing scenes that explore what makes people become evil etc..). However, the novel will occasionally do fairly silly things like including exposition-filled dialogue segments that take place whilst two characters are making love.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good. Although all of the characters are fairly stylised, they have distinctive personalities, backstories and motivations. Plus, since this is a novel where people can inhabit the bodies of people living in parallel universes, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about how much of a character is their real self and how much belongs to the body they’ve jumped into.

In terms of the writing, it is brilliant. Although the novel does use multiple first and third-person narrators, this is never too confusing thanks to the fact that the changes between narrators are clearly signposted (by both a mention of who is narrating and, sometimes, a distinctive change in the narrative style) . Likewise, the novel is written in a way which is both intellectually, descriptively formal and refreshingly informal. Seriously, this is one of those novels where the writing itself is one major reason to keep reading it.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is something of a mixed bag. At 469 pages in length, it’s a little bit on the longer side of things and would have probably benefitted from some trimming.

However, although the novel can be a little slow-paced at times, the pacing is reasonably good – with the story moving along at a fairly moderate pace most of the time, with some more fast-paced and suspenseful moments at various points too. Even so, working out when many of the novel’s flashback scenes (which aren’t always in chronological order) take place can slow the story down a little at times.

All in all, this is a really good novel. Yes, some parts of it are deliberately meant to be confusing and it is the kind of novel where you will need to pay attention. But, this is one of those deep, interesting stories that is worth sticking with. It’s a complex, intelligent, moderately-paced literary sci-fi thriller that slowly gets more gripping as it goes along.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “Brave New World” By Aldous Huxley (Novel)

“Brave New World” is one of those novels that I’d been meaning to read for literally a decade or so but never got round to it.

Although one of the very first Iron Maiden albums that I ever bought (at about the age of thirteen or fourteen) was named after this book, the thing that made me interested in “Brave New World” was the fact that someone in one of my seminar groups when I was at university kept speaking highly of it. So, I bought a copy of it and… about a decade or so later, I finally got round to actually reading it.

So, let’s take a look at “Brave New World”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2001 Voyager Classics (UK) paperback reprint of “Brave New World” (1932) that I read.

“Brave New World” is set in a distant future “utopia”, where people are cloned and organised into a hierarchical structure. It is a world where a type of heavily-controlled community-based hedonism is used to maintain order and conformity. However, one member of this world’s upper class – Bernard Marx – is having subversive thoughts of solitude and monogamy and other such things.

After convincing his occasional girlfriend Lenina to join him, he sets out on a “research” expedition to one of the few parts of Earth that isn’t controlled by the utopia. Whilst visiting there, Bernard meets the son of a former citizen of the utopia (who was accidentally abandoned there during another expedition). Out of curiosity, he decides to take the young man back to the utopia to see what he makes of it….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that I both loved and hated it at the same time. It is a brilliantly clever, thought-provoking and unique novel that is filled with quotable moments. It is a novel that can both amuse and horrify you with expert ease. Yet, at the same time, it’s also a book I found myself strongly disagreeing with at times and rolling my eyes at occasionally. Yet, there’s no denying that it has earned it’s reputation as a classic.

This novel is both the literal opposite of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and yet also very similar to it too. In short, it is a novel about individuality versus conformity. This is the only real way to look at this novel. If you try to break the novel’s opinions down into polarised modern categories, then you’ll end up confused. It was written during a more nuanced age (in Britain at least) and thus can be both left and right wing at the same time. In other words, it rises above simplistic political categories.

For example, the novel is both strongly anti-capitalist and strongly anti-communist at the same time. It contains bitterly satirical depictions of advertising, fame, commercialism, class systems etc… Yet, at the same time, the novel is also sharply critical of many of the hallmarks of communist regimes (eg: propaganda, brainwashing, ideological censorship etc…), and the utopia’s motto of “everyone belongs to everyone else” is also used to critique communism too. In both cases, the novel brilliantly criticises how these ideologies promote unthinking conformity.

One of the central themes in the novel is the horror of mass production. Not only are people quite literally cloned and raised in a mechanical fashion, but the religion of the novel is based on Henry Ford‘s production lines. Characters exclaim things like “Oh, Ford!” (rather than “Oh, Lord!”) – and there are even sign of the cross -like gestures that mimic the “T” of the Model T Ford. Likewise, there’s also a lot of darkly comedic satire of Pavlovian conditioning, subliminal messaging and the pharmaceutical industry too.

This novel also tries to be a fierce satire of hedonism too. I’m guessing that if you grew up in the more traditionalist age that the novel was written in, then you’d probably find the novel’s depiction of hedonism (including things like *gasp* contraceptives, popular music, recreational drug use etc..) to be frighteningly immoral and the novel’s celebration of religion, ageing, mourning, Shakespeare, self-flagellation etc.. to be warmly reassuring. Still, if you think about the novel as being about individuality versus conformity, then the novel’s satire still makes some sense when read today.

And, yes, this is what this novel is truly about. Individuality. Often, the characters’ opinions will be shown to be part of their conditioning or there will be these absolutely beautiful passages about the joys of solitude (and, if you’re a bit of an introvert, then these passages are still thrillingly subversive in this age of smartphones, social media etc..). If you ignore all of the story’s traditionalist moralising, then this is a brilliant novel about the value of self-reflection and thinking for yourself.

In terms of the writing, it is surprisingly good and – once you’ve got used to Huxley’s slightly older writing style – it is a joy to read.

One of the interesting techniques that Huxley uses is to suddenly jump from scene to scene and conversation to conversation very quickly (with about six pages just consisting of short paragraphs from different alternating conversations). This is vaguely similar to the style of later writers like William S. Burroughs and it was possibly inspired by the modernist writers of the 1920s.

Likewise, the novel’s narration is filled with pithy observations, darkly comedic dialogue and other such things too (which occasionally reminded me of later science fiction stories by Philip K. Dick). The story also contains a few almost stream-of-consciousness like segments that could easily have come from a gritty, edgy novel written thirty years later.

In terms of how this eighty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged both brilliantly and terribly. Whilst there are some parts of this book that reflect the attitudes and prejudices of the time it was written, other parts of this book still seem remarkably ahead of the time they were written (but behind our time). Put simply, this book is a satire of the 1960s… that was written during the 1930s. Then again, it was written a couple of years after the “Roaring Twenties” – so, this might explain it too.

Still, some other parts of the novel are unintentionally modern – such as the use of metric measurements (they’re ordinary now, but were no doubt frighteningly futuristic during the days of ye olde imperial measurements), or the novel’s cynical critique of mainstream entertainment. Not to mention that, once you read this novel, you’ll start to notice references to it in all sorts of other things (for example, the movie “Demolition Man” is heavily inspired by it, to the point of actually calling a character Lenina Huxley).

But, some of the novel’s satire falls flat when read today. Yes, the criticisms of conformity in the novel still carry some weight. But, the idea that hedonism is a symbol of conformity seems cruelly ironic these days. Seriously, if there’s one thing we need more of in this miserable age, it is good, honest hedonism!

All in all, this is a well-written and thought-provoking novel. It was wildly ahead of it’s time, but lags somewhat behind our time. It’s a satire of the 1960s that was written in the 1930s. It’s a novel that, even when you disagree with it, you’ll still be impressed by the skill of the arguments. It is a novel about the value of thinking for yourself. Yes, as old dystopian novels go, I still prefer Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (at least the dystopia actually looks like a dystopia…), but I can see why “Brave New World” is regarded as a classic.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.