'Brave New World' is possibly the world's most famous science fiction novel. The title has become proverbial, a succinct expression of irony that progress has not led to perfection, and nor will it. It is also the book for which Aldous Huxley is best remembered. Its perfect balance of wit and humour enlivens a powerful debate on two enduring concerns: how far should we sacrifice our individuality in the face of gene technology, and how far should we push the quest for pleasure?
Set in the year of stability AF 632 (after Ford, that is), the World state has two billion standardised citizens steeped in the virtues of passive obedience, material consumption and mindless promiscuity. Hatcheries breed a mass of Epsilon-Minuses for menial labour, and fewer of the castes ranked above them. Free handouts of government-approved dope, "soma", and mass entertainment keep all levels happy.
Bernard Marx was bred an Alpha-Plus of the mandarin class, but something must have gone wrong in his incubator. He has an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may cure his distress.
First published in 1932, 'Brave New World' is extraordinarily prophetic and one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. Alive with invention and aphorism, it is a caustic satire on conspicuous consumption and the pleasure principle that is utterly absorbing and gripping.