I read A Brave New World last night for the first time. I like to space my dystopias out over the span of as many years as possible, as I'm prone to depression and can often just not bear the misery. But I do like to think, and dystopias are great for making you think alongside all of the "feels". Honestly, after reading it, all I really had to read was the quote at the beginning by Nicolas Berdiaeff about how we should do everything in our power to make sure Utopias are never arrived at.
Well, duh, I read the Bible too. And The Lord of the Rings.
Wasn't that the message of both of those stories or was that just me?
I perhaps do injustice to the story's impact by having received the message from other authors who incorporated its message into their own work. They conceived of the grain of gold and pulled it out from the terribly irrelevant "science" and passed it on.
Having received the message and already integrated it, I was left to only learn the stuff that makes no sense from a social-historical, neurological or even biological standpoint.
It made a terrible, terrifying sense when he wrote it, when the Industrial Revolution, Communism, Nazism, and "Better Living Through Chemistry" was new, it pulled at the fears of the day. But, unlike 1984 those fears aren't supportable anymore. The fears tugged at in George Orwell's book are still all too easily imagined and made more real as the technology develops.
I am also a teensy bit weirded out by the "bliss pill" concept. I'm bipolar and take meds for stabilization. Seriously, I actually am taking a pill to make me happy when my neurons are shouting at me "No, everything is wrong!". So how weird to read about a pill that makes the point that, well, everything actually is wrong and you are just using a pill to make you "happy" anyway. Any person using meds to mentally stabilize struggles with the strangeness of this on a daily basis - "Am I still me?"
Where William Gibson (@GreatDismal, Neuromancer and others), Neal Stephenson (Snowcrash) and Tad Williams (Otherland)** took many of the most compelling priciples of Brave New World is, I think, the natural progression given the development of the science and tech since then. In their stories, the opiate is "online". The content is generated and compels consumption that is used by power/corporations/elites to maintain order and stability. Their stories are all much more complex and layered, with a lot more in there than that single sentence, but the principle is still there.
What those stories don't address is the fundamental nature of Utopias being inherently, inescapably Dystopian. While I certainly haven't read even most of the literature even in my favorite genre, I haven't heard of any other story that makes this point so well, other than religious or political texts. Trying to create an orderliness out of disorder is a task given to the gods and politicians and kings. When men (historically, with a few exceptions) have acted to bring it, they are imbued with a mantle of "righteousness" or "great leader". The dystopia is not examined in the text, just in the wars, persecution, prejudice, judgmentalism, condemnation, the "othering" in daily life.
**True confession I haven't read a lot of these writers' more recent works, although I've the intention to soon. I'm combatting my extremely reduced attention span caused by my Twitter addiction, see "online content".