Saturday, April 9, 2011

#39: Jurassic Park, #7: Brave New World

Jurassic Park:

“The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.” 
“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.”  
“God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates man, man kills God, man brings back dinosaurs.” 
“But now science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world any more. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways---air, and water, and land---because of ungovernable science.”  
The first thing a reader has to know about Jurassic Park, the best-selling novel by recently-deceased thrill-master Michael Crichton, is that it is almost exactly like the worldwide hit movie. If you have seen the movie, and you enjoy fast-paced, thrilling easy reads, Jurassic Park is the novel for you. In no way is this novel a chore to read. But, although it certainly can be classified as an enjoyable roller-coaster ride, a page-turner, and an entertaining yarn --it contains a very novel idea that will surprise and interest serious science fiction readers.
The idea of bringing dinosaurs "back to life" is so mainstream by now, that many forget to appreciate its ingenuity. Jurassic Park is the tale of John Hammond, an eccentric billionaire who hopes to create a theme park featuring dinosaurs brought back to life via the miracles of DNA science, all on his own remote private island. Hammond invites two paleontologists, Ellie Satler and Alan Grant, who is the novel's main protagonist, to experience the wonders of Jurassic Park, along with his own two grandchildren.
I won't give too much about the plot away, as it is based so heavily on suspense, but if you have seen the movie or read anything by Crichton, you will know what is coming: things go wrong, and as a consequence there are many harrowing chase scenes involving Tyrannosaurs and Velociraptors.  I might add the dinosaurs are not really the true villains of this piece, those roles are filled by Donald Gennaro, the bumbling lawyer, and mathematician Ian Malcolm, two cartoon-like but enjoyably characterized villains who are out to get Jurassic Park closed. Of course, that is what happens in the end, but the reader is supposed to interpret this as a good thing after so many dinosaur attacks! Still, Gennaro and Malcolm serve as decent, amusing villains. As a well-versed science fiction reader, I think that the ideas of the novel will stick with me much longer than the action-heavy plot.
The main premise of dinosaur resurrection carries with it an underlying message of the futility of tampering with nature, just as the first SF novel, Frankenstein did. This main premise, which is somewhat shunted aside in the movie, is the most seriously engaging and thought-provoking part of the novel, which is, besides that (like the movie), a lot of action and thrills. I
f you want a quick, easy read with a very interesting concept, check it out. I can almost guarantee that if you liked the movie and you enjoy reading, you will like this book. Jurassic Park is far from the most philosophic or deep novel on this list, but here's what it is: a quick, exciting read from the master of sci-fi thrillers.

Brave New World:

“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” 
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”  
 One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them. Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons–that's philosophy. People believe in God because they've been conditioned to.” 
“I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind."
There was a long silence.
"I claim them all," said the Savage at last.” 

Brave New World is one of the main classics of speculative fiction, as well as dystopian fiction, AND literary science fiction. It is always up there with 1984, We, and A Clockwork Orange as one of the great novels that bridges the gap between SF and literature via a dystopian plot. In Brave New World, the Henry Ford-obsessed "government", which isn't really a government in the same sense as the ministries Big Brother are, in 1984, controls the masses via happiness, stability, sex, and drugs.  . Whereas Big Brother controls the masses of Airstrip One in 1984 with fear, nationalism, and militarism, the leaders of Brave New World control their people with pleasure masquerading as happiness. In Huxley's Brave New World, the people are happy because they get all the sex they want. Furthermore, they are entertained to their heart's content and they are brain-washed from birth to accept certain principles of the world. And, if all this gets too unbearable they can take a drug, soma, and rest in bliss for a while before returning to their so-called "perfect" world. AND, just in case the people are becoming too stagnant and emotionless, they are injected every month with Violent Passion Surrogate, a cocktail of hormones to fulfill their needs as humans for emotion and passion.
In this society, people worship Henry Ford, and create human embryos on assembly lines, and are carefully sub-divided into different castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon, and serve higher up according to their caste. Before birth, caste is decided, and the lower castes are made stupider and smaller to prevent rebellion against the stronger, authoritarian higher castes. What makes all of this incredible world-building even more of a stroke of genius, it that it was only written in the nineteen-thirties!
The plot of this incredibly interesting book concerns John the Savage's introduction into this dystopian society (by a man who is somewhat of an outcast in the society himself, Bernard Marx), a society which, as John points out to World Controller Mustapha Mond in the brilliant chapter seventeen is devoid of the real human emotion and compassion that John has experienced in the reading of Shakespeare. I might add that chapter seventeen deserves to be read several times on its own, simply for its excellent depth. However, Huxley  notes, the irony is that human society has never really been as intelligent, feeling, and "human" as the characters in Shakespeare, something I'm sure Shakespeare-admirers could agree with.
I won't give any more of the novel away, but it really is excellent and thought-provoking. Once again, like most SF, not exactly a happy tale either, but it demands to be read. Chapter seventeen is one of the great scenes in all of SF in my view; the whole philosophy of the characters in this book are contained within it.
 Read this book! It's a dystopian classic that every human should be aware of. If aliens were to come to Earth, I think that this book would be a crucial way that such aliens could come to understand human beings. The fundamental questions being asked are: Is happiness truly what humanity wants and/or needs? Do we truly actually know what happiness is? (A question also posed by Childhood's End, a book that is similar is certain ways to Brave New World) and finally, If reaching happiness means superficiality, and the death of real humanity, is it worth it? An extremely observant discourse of human nature, and completely ahead of its time, and any time for that matter.

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