British author and philosopher Aldous Huxley blew my mind with what seemed like his incredible prescience in Brave New World (1932). In my post last December, thinking about our recent politics and social tone, I commented: “For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.”
The novel impressed me so much I bought the series of essays Huxley published almost 30 years later, Brave New World Revisited (1959). So far, I’ve only read the first five (so many distractions these days), but the apparent prescience continues to astound and astonish me.
I qualify that with “apparent” because it’s actually as old as humanity.
I’ve known about Aldus Huxley’s soma as long as I’ve been a serious reader of science fiction, but it wasn’t until I finally read his 1932 novel, Brave New World, that I had a full picture of it. There is a direct avatar in the modern drug Xanax (and perhaps more so in marijuana), but it’s the metaphorical versions of soma that caught my eye these past decades.
The point of soma is that it is an external coping mechanism — a tool for promoting one’s own happiness with and in life. It can be the sledgehammer of a drug (or the gunshot of a lobotomy, to be extreme), but I see many metaphorical versions of it in our culture now.
When I look around, I see a seriously soma-soaked society.
In every literary genre (in every type of art, really), there are classics that stand out and often participate in forming the language, or at least some of the territory, of the genre. That is part of what makes these works classics. (Lord of the Rings is an ultimate classic — all Medieval fantasy since is in reference to it.)
I suspect all serious readers have a classic or two they’ve never gotten around to. Last week I finally got around to reading the classic science fiction novel, Brave New World (1932), by Aldous Huxley.
For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.