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Introducing We, the godfather of the dystopian novel. Written by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921, it has endured a troublesome publication history to say the least. At the time of writing Russia had recently undergone revolution, the rise of the Bolsheviks and the governing of the Soviet Union.

We is thought to show Zamyatin’s disapproval of heavy labour and industry witnessed in England, along with the strict censorship becoming apparent under the Bolshevik regime. Zamyatin’s work was initially, and perhaps unsurprisingly, denied publication in Russia; its first publication came in 1924, an English translation by Gregory Zilboorg. Zamyatin was banned from writing and exiled numerous times. His work was not published in his native country until 1988, three years before the fall of the Soviet Union and an incredible 51 years after Zamyatin’s death, in Paris, in poverty, in 1937.

A man is like a novel: until the very last page you don’t know how it will end. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading.

We is set in the twenty-sixth century A.D., in the walled up nation of the OneState where a totalitarian system presided by ‘The Benefactor’ rules a society where logic and reason preside over emotions and freedom. Taking place a thousand years after the Two Hundred Year War, where it is suggested weapons of mass destruction wiped out the majority of the population, the OneState is a city made almost entirely of glass; thus allowing the Guardians to keep a constant eye on the subservient public. People are given numbers rather than names, and the narrative focuses around the journal entries of D-503, a mathematician and lead engineer of the spaceship INTEGRAL, upon which is a mission to locate and bring happiness to (see: invade and conquer) life on other planets.

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Life in those early diary entries doesn’t seem so bad, at least not to D-503. He is assigned a lover, O-90, who must obtain pink slips in order to draw the blinds in his glass apartment and make love. The numbers work and outside of work they visit the auditorium or take part in controlled, synchronised marches across the city. There are public executions. The sky is always blue…

But then, the sky! Blue, untainted by a single cloud (the Ancientes had such barbarous tastes given that their poets could have been inspired by such stupid, sloppy, silly-lingering clumps of vapour). I love – and i’m certain that i’m not mistaken if i say we love – skies like this, sterile and flawless! On days like these, the whole world is blown from the same shatterproof, everlasting glass as the glass of the Green Wall and of all our structures. On days like these, you can see to the very blue depths of things, to their unknown surfaces, those marvelous expressions of mathematical equality – which exist in even the most usual and everyday objects.

When on one of these walks, D-503 encounters the strange woman, I-330. Through her eccentric and rebellious behavior (in which, among other habits, she takes to smoking and drinking alcohol) she makes him feel sick and angry yet has a strange pull on his mind. One day she takes him to the Ancient House, a property (the only one in the OneState not built of glass) on the outskirts by the city walls, filled with antique goods and pieces of history. Steadily his mind is opened to the possibility of the soul, to the happiness and individuality he had not previously experienced under the disguise of the many, the army of ‘we’.

D-503 is torn and both loves and detests I-330, vowing to report her to the authorities but never able to bring himself to do it.

In the widely open cup of the armchair was I-330. I, on the floor, embracing her limbs, my head on her lap. We were silent. Everything was silent. Only the pulse was audible. Like a crystal I was dissolving in her, in I-330. I felt most distinctly how the polished facets which limited me in space were slowly thawing, melting away. I was dissolving in her lap, in her, and I became at once smaller and larger, and larger, unembraceable. For she was not she but the whole universe. For a second I and that armchair near the bed, transfixed with joy, we were one.

Everything used to revolve around the sun; now I knew it all revolved around me-slowly, blissfully, squinting its eyes.

Written as a series of journal entries, the reader witnesses the confusion and conflict as D-503 experiences them. So desperate is he for this account to be used and read by future generations, historians, even other species…he is determined to keep all the crippling doubts, the insane dreams, the sickness he feels as his mind is opened to a freedom the OneState has denied him for his entire life.

And a question stirred within me: What if he, this yellow-eyed creature, in his disorderly, filthy mound of leaves, in his uncomputed life, is happier than we are?

[Directed at D-503] You’re in a bad way! Apparently, you have developed a soul.

And everyone must lose his mind, everyone must! The sooner the better! It is essential — I know it.

After a series of riots and rebellions, D-503 discovers that I-330 is a member of MEPHI, an organisation intent on destroying the iron fist that rules the citizens of the OneState. In response The Benefactor reveals the ‘Great Operation’ – basically, a lobotomy for all citizens, so that they can experience true happiness. As D-503 observes, ‘like tractors in human form’.

D-503 is finally forced, like the rest of the citizens of OneState, to be tied down and submitted to x-rays which removes emotions and imagination from the brain, in order to prevent future riots and discontent. We ends bleakly. D-503 is indifferent. He willingly informs The Benefactor of MEPHI, giving up information willingly on all known members, including the woman whom he loved so dear, I-330. He casually informs of the torture and execution of the MEPHI members, but registers some surprise that despite extensive torture, I-330 gave up nothing.

There is some hope. Through the actions of MEPHI social rebellion is on the rise, and the Green Wall cannot keep out the wilderness beyond forever as birds flock in through the cracks.

We is not an easy read. The narrator admits himself – he is not a poet, not a writer. He is an engineer, a mathematician. He works in equations, calculations, fractions. There is a logical and mathematical answer for everything, and so when his eyes are forced open by I-330 and MEPHI he can barely understand what is happening, let alone explain this coherently. But the more journalistic style Zamyatin has chosen to report his narrative gives a personal feel. The first person perspective allow us to tap into the doubts D-503 experiences, the feelings that are within his very nature, hardwired into the human spirit but that have been repressed, by years of manipulation and engineering. It is sad but fascinating to watch D-503 struggle between what he has always known and what he starts to feel.

Parallels with Orwell’s 1984 are unavoidable, and Orwell is widely known to have been inspired by Zamyatin’s tale. Winston Smith is D-503. Julia is I-330. Big Brother, the anonymous, almost mythical figure of power, is the Benefactor. An intimidating dictator but more human – he is shown to the numbers and to the reader, and D-503 even has a conversation with him. The telescreens replace the glass rooms and buildings. 1984 follows We’s plot and characters with unnerving accuracy.

A portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1923 by Boris Kustodiev

A portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1923 by Boris Kustodiev

‘Now I no longer live in our clear, rational world; I live in the ancient nightmare world, the world of square roots of minus one.’ D-503. Not at all dissimilar to Winston’s dilemma in 1984 of 2 + 2 =5.

Orwell is quoted as saying ‘This is a book to look out for when an English version appears.’ Perhaps he got tired of waiting and wrote his own version. This is by no means a slight on Orwell. It is written better than We, which I at times struggled to read for the reasons I have criticised previously.

Zamyatin’s future is more mathematical, more precise, more sterile. Technology has fuelled it. Whereas Orwell’s feels more like a response to the threat of war. Both are disturbing in the futures they portray but Orwell’s is darker, bleaker, filled with pessimism. Suitably Orwellian. Zamyatin allows for D-503 to provide an informality, a lighter tone – dare I say a slight more humour, in the way that only the first person narrative of a diary can achieve.

With We, Zamyatin seemingly accepts that together, the collective can grow strong and accomplish incredible technical feats, such as the INTEGRAL. But a stark warning remains within, that the cost of such technology and precision could have on the individual, the happiness and the soul of each.

Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 … may all be more compelling, arguably better constructed stories, more complete in their attempts to illustrate a future that nobody wants. But We got their first. We blazed the trail for dystopian futures, as a platform to air concerns on events that were happening at the time and predict and warn what we stand to lose if these ideals are carried out.

I didn’t think I would end up finishing this book.

“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. . .Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else. . .you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and that was what we were peeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.”

A Clockwork Orange was written by Anthony Burgess in 1961, published in ‘62 and was famously adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, with Malcolm McDowell brilliantly portraying the sadistic Alex.

Iconic poster for the 1971 theatrical adaptation

Iconic poster for the 1971 theatrical adaptation

It’s important to know that the author, Anthony Burgess, specially created a language used by the youth in A Clockwork Orange, a dystopian crime and punishment novel. This future speak, nadsat, is like a type of cockney rhyming slang, but heavily influenced by Russian.

Burgess was allegedly a huge fan of language. My first impressions of nadsat and the use of a fictional language so established at the start of the novel was that it was a very brave, and bold move. I wonder how an initial meeting may have gone with Burgess and the prospective publishers. Because, quite frankly, I’m sure many would have laughed him out of the room. It is a difficult and at times incomprehensible start, with the first act a whirlwind of confusion and disgust.

It is jarring; every new word of this strange language drags you out of the narrative as you ask yourself, what does this mean? What are they talking about? You try to keep reading, to teach yourself to ignore the words and you can still get a grasp of where the narrative is heading and what is going on.

And then of course, there’s the violence to consider. The sadism and deprivation of Alex, his droogs, and seemingly most of the youth culture in this dystopian future is shocking. The casualness and nonchalance in Alex’s narration of street fights, theft, violence and rape is nauseating at times.

“We fillied round what was called the backtown for a bit, scaring old vecks and cheenas that were crossing the roads and zigzagging after cats and that. Then we took the road west. There wasn’t much traffic about, so I kept pushing the old noga through the floorboards near, and the Durango 95 ate up the road like spaghetti. Soon it was winter trees and dark, my brothers, with a country dark, and at one place I ran over something big with a snarling toothy rot in the head-lamps, then it screamed and squelched under and old Dim at the back near laughed his gulliver off–“Ho ho ho”–at that. Then we saw one young malchick with his sharp, lubbilubbing under a tree, so we stopped and cheered at them, then we bashed into them both with a couple of half-hearted tolchocks, making them cry, and on we went. What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for smecks and lashings of the ultra-violent.”

Despite not using explicit words like blood, murder and rape, it is still hard-hitting, and coupled with the bizarre made up wordy words, I think the way these youths have replaced words like blood and rape and now seem to use them so casually give them a disturbing undertone, as if they do not truly understand, or care, of the full ramifications, and so use this more innocent sounding dialect.

Alas, I learned to let it go and I began to pick up certain words. While difficult to comprehend initially Alex’s colloquialisms begin to form an elegance that you can’t help but admire. It’s extremely clever and well-written, and the flow of the book is aided by the readers increasing knowledge and understanding of nadsat.

A crash course for the intrigued; droogs means friends, typically a group; cal is feces, aka shit; horrorshow means good or well, chelloveck or veck means man or person, krovvy is blood; smech is to laugh; tolchock is to hit, or a beating.

The book is split into three acts.

Act I

Act I is sheer violence – an introduction to Alex and to his crimes. He and his droogs (George, Peter and Dim) stalk the streets, presenting us to a frightening future where young adults roam to do what they please seemingly unpunished. Gang fights, rape, ultra-violence. Their gang frequent Korova milk bar where they drink drug-laced milk and discuss their condemnable plans of mischief for the evening ahead. They rob a store. They mug an elderly scholar. We discover Alex has a keen interest in classical musical – listening one night on his bed he imagines a violent orgy. He is irrationally aggressive; he deems himself the leader of the group and any challenge or dissent towards him he punishes. Young girls who mock him in a record store – he takes back to his house and sexually assaults them. Dim, whom he has a particular disliking to, gets a punch in the face when he interrupts a singer’s performance which had enchanted Alex. This is where the cracks start to appear in the gang, and in this world where the youth are so distant from the rest of society in their violence and lack of empathy, Alex takes ultra-violence to another level entirely. After stealing a car and driving through the countryside, the gang break into a writer’s house, trash the house and rape his wife. Alex notices the writer, F. Alexander, is in the process of writing a book called A Clockwork Orange. Following a botched home invasion which leaves a woman dead, Alex is betrayed by his fellow droogs who leave him to be arrested by the police and carted off to prison.

Act II

The narrative jumps forward two years, and the narrative focuses on Alex’s punishment and rehabilitation. Alex has been an inmate (no 6655321) at Staja 84F for two years now. He has kept his head down, reading passages of the bible for the prison chaplain, whom sometimes allows classical music to be played during these readings. The prisons are overcrowded, and Alex shares a cell with five other inmates. When another is crammed in amongst these reprobates, tensions run high and the group beat the new inmate to death, with Alex getting the blame. The government approve a radical behavioural treatment, an aversion therapy called the Ludovico Technique to be used for the first time in order to reintroduce a reformed Alex into society. They promise within two weeks, he will be free, and no longer capable of carrying out ultra-violence and rape. Initially he can’t believe his luck, but soon it dawns on him that the Ludovico Technique is a sinister form of association. Alex is drugged and strapped down to a chair, unable to move or even look away, while ultra-violence is played on a large screen. This makes Alex feel awful, sick, weak, and soon he associates all violent thoughts with this sickness. He can no longer cause harm, use violence or even fight back to protect himself. This goes on for two weeks, Alex screaming for the imagery of beatings, murder and rape to stop. Coincidentally, towards the end of his treatment a Beethoven symphony is played over the gruesome scenes, and through association and the crippling nausea that Alex experiences he is now unable to enjoy classical music as before.

“This must be a real horrorshow film if you're so keen on my viddying it.”

“This must be a real horrorshow film if you’re so keen on my viddying it.”

As promised, after his fortnight of this aversion therapy Alex is to be introduced back into society, but not before a demonstration in front of many important members of the community. They view Alex beaten and humiliated in staged examples and applaud at the apparent curing of this formerly troublesome delinquent. However the prison chaplain warns of the morality of stripping this young man, no matter how troubled, of his free will.

Act III

Alex struggles to reapply himself to the outside world. His parents have been forced to take a lodger Joe, who berates him for the way he has lived his life and treated his poor mum and dad. With nowhere to go, and unable to take part in any of his former pastimes without insufferable pain, he seeks a way to end his life painlessly at the library. Here he encounters an elderly scholar who remembers Alex from a violent mugging years ago. He berates and beats Alex, who is rescued by the police, among them his old friend Dim. The police have begun recruiting the violent youths that Alex once shared the same bloody streets with. They take him out to the countryside, violently beat him and leave him there. Injured and dazed he is taken in by a man in a country cottage. He realises this is F. Alexander, the man whose wife Alex raped in Act I, and it turns out the wife died as a result from her injuries. F. Alexander does not recognise Alex however, as the gang wore masks during their brutal attack. Alexander aims to use Alex has a political weapon against the government, as he strongly opposes their inhumane methods on which they have imposed on Alex. But Alex mistakenly reveals his past crimes to Alexander, who has arranged to take him to his flat in town. Alex is locked in, and loud classical musical is pumped into the flat. Excruciating, Alex sees the only way to end the pain to jump out the window and kill himself.

Alex awakes in hospital, his suicide attempt failed. Government officials are keen to get him on side, and offer him a well paid job. It appears that through sleep conditioning taken place while he was in a coma from the fall, the Ludovico Technique has been reversed. He agrees to support their campaign, and while paparazzi snap his picture as the officials leave, they kindly play his favourite Mozart track and Alex daydreams about sex and violence once more, before reflecting “I was cured, all right.”

A strong statement within A Clockwork Orange is that Alex isn’t truly reformed – he has no choice in behaving. He is literally unable to be violent because of the Ludovico Technique and the horror and pain he experiences when violence is used or seen.

And the final chapter – the idea that perhaps this rebellious streak (hugely overstated in the novel but obviously not quite as extreme in reality) is in us all, and it is something we will grow out of. Alex, towards the end, is growing bored. He has a new set of droogs to go out and cause trouble with but he doesn’t have the same passion or vigour for it. He even begins to contemplate later life; a stunning devotchka to settle down with, and starting to raise a family.

“Where do I come into all of this? Am I just some animal or dog?’ And that started them off govoreeting real loud and throwing slovos at me. So I creeched louder still, creeching: ‘Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?”

The title is peculiar but begins to make a lot more sense after reading the novel. Alex is like a clockwork orange. He is a living, organic organism, like an orange, but through the Ludovico Technique he loses the ability to make choices, and his decisions and actions become automated. Living on the outside, clockwork within.

“The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.”

So this would point to the central theme of the novel (or one of them) is that free will, or the choice to be good or bad/evil is vital in any community, and fundamental to mankind. This can lead to a more troubled state, with crime and suffering, but is this of more value than a safer, peaceful state engineered by the government and with the choices and free will of the people removed? We see how easy the Government in the novel is willing to manipulate Alex for their own gain; at first carrying out the brutal Ludovico Technique to turn him into a choice-less robot, then quick to reverse the process at the end of the novel in order to use his support and keep him onside.

I found the most interesting aspect of the novel is Alex’s demand to be given a choice, to be human, even when he knows full well that his choices lead him to lead a life that causes suffering and pain to others. Alex is being almost hypocritical, demanding a choice, and to be human, when he knows his choice will lead to him carry out inhuman, despicably evil acts that will rob others of their humanity.

Burgess seems to suggest that the evil Alex is more human than a clockwork orange, a ‘clockwork Christian’, a robot, one who does good but has no choice in it. But in a society, what is really more desirable? One who can make a choice, but opts to do bad; or one who can do only good? Rather than good vs evil, the novel discuss forced good versus involuntary evil. It’s a fascinating question, and while I can’t agree with Burgess – I also can’t see a straight answer.

I was going through a tonne of my old architecture work, deciding what to keep and what can be deleted (most of it…) and I came across some interesting work I did for a project based in and around Guy’s Hospital in the London Bridge area.

Brutalist revamp of Guy's Tower. The tallest hospital building in Europe.

Brutalist revamp of Guy’s Tower. The tallest hospital building in Europe.

The project itself wasn’t brilliant but in the build up I created some conceptual collages. I can’t remember why or for what reason – the actual project was to open up the rigid, internalised layout of the hospital tower to create new spaces and alternative programs. Lifting the stuffy mood of injury, pain and death to take advantage of the superb views of London while giving both patients and visitors reasons to forget about their health concerns. Something like that.

Anyway, the collages I created have very little to do with that description, but they interest me now far more than the rest of the project. It struck me as a sort of dystopian scenario, and having read novels such as Brave New World, 1984, even The Road recently, they sparked some imagination into my mind.

Thinking about it now, I believe I was speculating on the risks of making hospitals into more public spaces, and the idea of altering their use into something that could benefit the whole community. While I wanted to open up the hospital to family and friends of the hospital patients, here I show what could be identified as a worse case scenario. Perhaps the NHS becomes greedy and starts the immoral practice of allowing the paying public entry to the hospital to observe operations or surgeries, unknown to the anaesthetised patients.

The public watch an open surgery session. The patient will wake up with no idea there was an audience present.

The public watch an open surgery session. The patient will wake up with no idea there was an audience present.

Queues span along the streets for the latest London attraction, but this being a hospital, entry becomes similar to military checkpoints where the public are stripped down, decontaminated and any media devices such as phones or laptops confiscated upon entry.

Bored of chain restaurants and gastropubs the citizens of London crowd to see new, morbid attractions.

Bored of chain restaurants and gastropubs the citizens of London crowd to see new, morbid attractions.

Or maybe these ideas were the result of a lack of sleep. Another night / early morning spent staring blankly at my computer screen with caffeine coursing through my veins.

Written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, Brave New World presents us with a distant future. Utopian or dystopian? Huxley had a strong education in science and his passion for satirical work combined with his societal commentary led to this masterpiece. Brave New World will forever be compared with Orwell’s 1984 and for good reason; the parallels are obvious, with both dystopias predicting a reduction in individuality for the good of society. I couldn’t pick a favourite between the two (favourite might be the wrong word in this instance – it’s like choosing between the chair or the noose) but in terms of bleak, thought-provoking, eerily believable prophecies for the future these two novels are rightly at the top of the pile.

Huxley introduces the reader to the new world values by including us on a guided tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre with a group of school boys being shown around by the Director of the centre. In the year A.F.632 (After Ford, named after Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford is treated like a god, and shows that religion has almost been replaced by technology. A lifestyle mechanized by the efficient production that Ford pioneered) (A.D. 2540), The World State controls civilisation. Individuality and free will have been sacrificed, in order to promote happiness and consumerism for the good of society and civilisation. A totalitarian government which makes the rules, all the decisions purely for the benefit of society with the help of science and technology.

Life is created on a conveyor belt, eggs and sperm fused to create children which are ‘decanted’ and raised in the hatchery; basically assisted reproduction, with babies being ‘made’ in high-tech test tubes. Each fetus is predeterminately allocated into one of five ‘castes’; alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon. Alpha and beta are developed naturally along with stimulants, and generally become the more intelligent and attractive members of society. Gamma, delta and epsilon development cycles are deliberately interfered with to cause slightly lower intelligence and physical growth. They are effectively created to become working class – standard office work to repetitive factory or cleaning work (‘epsilon work’). And so every foetus, baby, child, is perfectly made to their role in society. Teaching is done through conditioning and hypnopaedic processes such as messages spoken aloud to them in their sleep that seeps into their subconscious. Citizens are never unhappy or unfulfilled with their role in society, as they have been ‘conditioned’ to be satisfied with their position.

So artificial reproduction has fully replaced natural reproduction as we know it now, in fact the natural method is verging on taboo – an almost unbelievable joke, an antiquated disgusting practice and contraception is mandatory. This is seen as a good thing, as sex and sexual promiscuity is actively encouraged, and from a young age. Partners are not taken, one is free to procreate with whoever they want, whenever they want and everyone belongs to everyone else.

Everyone is created for a role, and everyone is happy with this role – they don’t know any differently. Everyone is happy.

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Well, nearly everyone. Bernard Marx is an alpha who is discontented with the World State. He has physical imperfections (for example, he is slightly shorter than the average alpha) that mean he is not as desirable as others. So in this world of promiscuity and recreational sex, he does not feel fulfilled. To make matters worse he feels love and attachment, to a beautiful woman named Lenina Crowne. He hears two of his colleagues talking about how they have ‘had’ Lenina, angering him that she is being treated like a piece of meat when in fact Bernard is the strange one – in the World State everyone belongs to everyone else. State organised ‘orgy-porgy’ is a biweekly event and people spend their free time on expensive dates, having casual sex with many different people while high on soma.

What’s more, Bernard is outspoken of his dissatisfaction of life in the World State. He openly criticizes soma, the government created and approved legal drug that allows the population to safely cope with anything unpleasant or upsetting. There are no side-effects, no health related problems; a hallucinogenic with no sign of a hangover. They have created a drug with no ill-effects, and so the population can use it whenever they are feeling down. Bernard however, would prefer real unhappiness than a fake happiness.

Bernard’s only true friend is another misfit, a man named Helmholtz. Like Bernard, he is unhappy with the control The World State has on its citizens. The difference is Helmholtz is physically perfect and handsome. He has to turn down offers of foursomes and various invites to prestigious dinners as they bore him. In a way, Bernard is disillusioned because, as an alpha he is too weak; Helmholtz because he is overpowered. He feels sympathy for Bernard – whereas Helmholtz can somewhat get away with his grumbles, Bernard’s inferiority makes him a target for rumours and ridicule (many within Bernard’s office speculate that alcohol was spilled during his incubation process as a foetus).

Lenina finds Bernard strange but intriguing, and agrees to visit a Savage Reservation with him. The Reservations are areas which for various geographical and economical reasons were not viable locations to ‘civilise’, like the rest of the world. So they remain as a reminder of what primitive life used to be like. Upon witnessing several old-world traditions (religious ceremonies, boys being beaten, old age, sickness and disease), Lenina is disgusted and severely disturbed whereas Bernard a twisted voyeur observes, fascinated. They are introduced to John, a white male with fair hair, in contrast to the dark skinned indigenous population, and his mother Linda, an overweight ‘disgusting’ alcoholic. We find out that the Director visited the Reservation some years ago with Linda and due to a storm Linda was stranded and abandoned to live the rest of her life in the Reservation. This hit her hard; having grown up in the World State, she was punished and outcast due to her conditioning, for instance having sex with the married men in the tribe.

John has suffered in the Reservation for being so different and therefore feels isolated and lonely. And when offered by Bernard a chance to see this ‘brave new world’ he jumps at the chance. Bernard may have an agenda however; knowing that the Director has planned to ship him away upon his return, realises a chance for blackmail against the Director by bringing back both John and Linda – the Director’s son along with John’s birth mother. The embarrassment this would cause; natural birth of course being utterly laughable, a hilarious awkward joke from the strange old world ways.

While Lenina, forcibly moved by the horrors she has witnessed, takes enough soma to knock her out for eighteen hours, Bernard gets permission from Mustapha Mond himself to bring John and Linda back, as a ‘social experiment’.

And so the narrative changes somewhat to accommodate John in this new environment, and he becomes the main protagonist. Rejected by both the ‘savage’ culture and alienated by the unfamiliar and strange ‘civilized’ World State, he is a true outsider. We as readers are interested and highly sympathetic towards him, eager to observe how he adapts. But Linda decides she has suffered enough and wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her days in a soma-induced coma, despite knowing this will shorten her life significantly. So it is with John, along with Bernard and Lenina, to experience modern civilisation. As you might expect it does not go well. For John, the words from Shakespeare’s Tempest O Brave New World…”, at first uttered in excitement and wonder at the thought of escaping the Malpais and travelling to the World State, soon return to haunt him as he repeatedly mutters them bitterly and ironically as he experiences the new world and civilisation for what it truly is.

For once in his life Bernard is wanted and relevant, achieving celebrity status for bringing back the ‘savage’. But in reality the citizens who desire his company are still revolted by him and soon desert him when John refuses to be used as a circus act in order to keep Bernard popular, and Bernard is brought back down to earth and reality instantly.

As the novel progresses he comes across as increasingly cowardly and pathetic. Yet the reader is still interested in him as a protagonist and can have some sympathy as he is so different to the rest, and wants for things he cannot have.

At the despair of a jealous Bernard, Helmholtz and John are very similar and instantly have a connection far deeper than Bernard and John manage; both love poetry, are intelligent and critical of civilisation and the World State. As you might expect however there are still extreme cultural differences. John was given The Works of William Shakespeare as a child and, as one of the only books available to him, became like a bible to him. He learnt to read and is well spoken as a result. Even when Helmholtz sees the genius in Shakespeare’s poetry, he cannot help but laugh at the mention of mothers, fathers, and marriage—concepts that are vulgar and ridiculous in the World State. The conversations between Helmholtz and John illustrate that even the most reflective and intelligent World State member is defined by the culture in which he has been raised.

In my opinion, the pièce de résistance of Brave New World comes during a tremendous discussion of freedom, science, happiness and the World State’s control over civilisation between Mond and John the Savage. This after John goes mad and starts a riot in a factory by throwing soma rations out of a window, crying “Free! Free! You’re men at last! You’re free!” Along with Bernard and Helmholtz, they are taken into custody and a meeting with Mustapha Mond.

The bottom line of Mond’s point and the reasoning for The World State’s stance is there is a complete and utter incompatibility between truth and happiness. Trying to pick quotes is tough as the whole chapter is riveting. Each side (Mond vs Helmholtz, John and a quiet and tame Bernard) have their merits.

Mond discusses soma with John. He tries to convince him that, in soma, the World State have created a method in which humanity can deal with unpleasant emotions.

“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.”

John rejects this notion of soma as too easy, too simple. There needs to be suffering.

John the 'Savage' nails it perfectly. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/369647081888235473/

John the ‘Savage’ nails it perfectly. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/369647081888235473/

“All right then,” said the savage defiantly, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

(Mond) “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.”

Bernard and Helmholtz meet with John after he is dismissed by Mond, and he confesses.

“I ate civilization. It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.”

John realises ashamedly that he was wrong to initially show wonder and joy at some of the more superficial aspects of civilisation (and perhaps also, his encounter with Lenina, in which he very nearly gave into a lustrous urge and had sex with her – frowned upon in his culture but perfectly normal in the World State). Due to his learning and education leaning heavily on The Works of William Shakespeare during his youth, he struggles to cope with the lack of humanity and traditional values in The World State.

Eventually Mond decides to exile Bernard and Helmholtz from the World State to separate islands where some of the old world values remain, and which he somewhat envies as they will spend the rest of their lives free with like minded people. Mond had revealed that he was at one time a scientist and a free thinker, and was given the choice of exile or to step up into the World State and serve ‘happiness’.

John however is denied the punishment of exile. Mond, almost sadistically informs John that he cannot leave so that this ‘experiment’ can continue. John, determined to exist outside of the hell of this new world, escapes the city and takes up residence in an abandoned lighthouse in the country. A delegation of journalists, tourists and intrigued onlookers continue to pester him, shocked and awed by his ritualistic self beatings, savage and . Their bloodlust causes a riot, where Lenina arrives to try and comfort the Savage. In a confused and hateful rage he begins to whip himself, then Lenina, and in a frenzy the crowd of excited civilians beat each other and themselves. Before long the scene is rife with writhing people, induced with soma and arousal and violence.

In the brutal final scene, John awakens, remembering the orgy that he unwillingly participated in the night before. Disgusted at his part played in the debauchery and unable to cope with this brave new world, John hangs himself in the lighthouse and his swaying body is found by a crowd anticipating another night of drugs and sex.

The fundamental conflict within John of his values, his learnings, all he has taught and experienced against the vastly different reality that is modern civilisation is too much for him to bear. An insanity which he could not adapt to.

The disturbing aspect is how logical this brave new world is. Forget freedom, everyone is happy. Everyone has a purpose. There is no unrest because people are conditioned to be happy with what they are ‘designed’ to do. As a society it’s efficient and a well oiled machine. It’s unnatural and automated…but ashamedly I can nearly see the sense behind it.

The process begins. Shit!

The process begins. Shit!

Yeah that’s right. The name of my novel is currently “TBC”. I can’t even think of a decent working title yet.

Some of my recent posts (The Shark, The Boy: Extract 1-3) have contained short passages of writing which I aim to build upon and write a short story/novel. I haven’t got very far. At a guess I’ve written about 5000 words. Recently though I had a bit of a breakthrough in regards to the world I was trying to create and describe. It was heading towards a very generic apocalyptic setting, when in reality the changes to the ‘world-as-we-know-it’ are subtle, but can still affect my characters in tremendous ways.

I’m having ideas all the time whether it be scenes or characters or dialogue. Something might come to me as I’m falling asleep, in the shower, driving to work, taking a piss. But generally, progress has been slow. I try to dedicate a few hours a week to purely write, but it can be difficult to stick to that.

I’m finding the use of my Pinterest pretty helpful. I surf through hundreds of photos, and if one stands out, I’ll save it to pin boards that are based on certain aspects of the story. For example, the boy himself, or the warehouse, or the suburbs, or abandoned buildings. I’m building up a library of images to help bring the story to life in front of me, and in turn I hope this can aid and inspire my writing.

What I’ve discovered is that every new book I read, I learn something more about my own writing. I know what I like reading, which methods are advantageous in certain situations. So while I have perhaps the first 10% of the book written (as I’ve said, in a very rough first draft form) I’m almost holding back, wanting to read as many books as I can in the coming months. This isn’t because I’m lacking ideas or looking for inspiration for certain characters; I want my writing to be the best it can be and learning from other great writers is one step to achieving that.

This month I finished Ready Player One, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep and Lord Of The Flies. Next on my list for the end of March and April are Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and McCarthy’s The Road. I can’t wait.

I’m not under the impression (or delusional enough) that this first novel I write will be a huge hit. I’ve seen and heard comments and opinions stating that the first major piece of writing you do will be a piece of shit. I may look back in ten years and be completely embarrassed by this. But I want to give this my all. I think the basis of the story I want to tell has the makings of a good book. If I can write it in a way that does justice to myself and my ideas, I’ll be happy.

So while it’s daunting to think that at the end of the year I could have a finished story, I know it’s a long way off. I’m eager and enthusiastic to achieve this, a goal I wasn’t aware I wanted a few months ago has become a huge ambition that I’m determined to finish – regardless of the final outcome.

I’m very new to this. I haven’t written stories since I was in school, and at university the only extended writing I’ve done recently was a handful of essays and a dissertation. But while they have a more rigid structure, I can be afforded a lot more freedom here. And that’s both liberating and terrifying, to be able to go in literally any direction I want.

In 2011 Ernest Cline released his first novel, Ready Player One. A self-confessed geek, the book is a tribute to 1980s culture of games, films, television, music.

It’s 2045, and everyone spends a hell of a lot of time logged into the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), a 3D super-realistic virtual reality simulation and a gamers paradise. The appeal of the OASIS is that it also acts as an escape from daily life for the population, with the world beginning to crumble due to overpopulation, pollution and power shortages.

The plot follows Wade Watts, a eighteen year old boy. He, like everybody else, is hooked to the massively multiplayer online game that is the OASIS; its creator, James Halliday, revealed a contest to the world once he died. The Hunt encourages users to locate several keys and gates hidden across the sprawling OASIS, a trail of breadcrumbs for the ‘gunters’ who idolise Halliday and spend their time researching and reliving the 80s neon pop culture than Halliday loved so much. The winner will need to pass various tests of skill, intelligence and discovery to obtain the Egg, giving the winner the billions of dollars in Halliday’s estate as well as control and management of the OASIS itself.

Along the way we are introduced to several allies and enemies. Aech, Wade’s best friend. Artemis, the love interest. And Nolan Sorrento, the head of the ‘Oology Division’ at Innovative Online Industries (IOI). IOI is a huge corporation hell bent on winning the Hunt and taking control of the OASIS. They have hired thousands of employees to give them an advantage in scouring the OASIS for the Egg, and are deregoratically called ‘Sixers’. These corporate gunters will do anything to gain a foothold in the Hunt, and are they along with Sorrento are the business-like, efficient antagonists of the novel.

Trying to summarise Ready Player One’s plot doesn’t do it justice. Cline excels in the opening chapters, writing rich descriptions of the OASIS, its eccentric creator James Halliday, the real world in its current state and the culture of Gunters and their Hunt for the Egg. There is a lot that needs to be set up and explained, but once it does we join Wade as he stumbles upon the first clue and the book becomes a real page-turner, with the plot flowing rapidly from one world to the next.

I’m more of a 90s kid so some of the references went over my head. I used to be (still am really) a huge video game fan, so I did appreciate the huge amount of effort and skill from Cline to make plugging into the OASIS a really believable gaming experience. Much like DLC (downloadable content) in modern games money, or credits, are king. Credits are key to transporting your avatar through the thousands and thousands of worlds within the OASIS, to buying spacecraft to travel around solar systems, to casual clothing and protective armour, to powerful weapons and more.

I’ve never been a huge fan of first person perspective/narrative. I’m not sure know why – it can lead to contrived writing and I’ve always felt it can be a little ‘cringey’ at times. That definitely got in the way of my enjoyment initially but I had fully embraced it by the end, and the reader forms a real attachment with Parzival of the OASIS and Wade Watts of the real world. As the story progresses the Sixers become more and more ruthless, prepared to do anything to get to the Egg first, putting Wade in danger outside of the OASIS too.

I was surprised to be moved several times in the books closing chapters. Special mention to Wade meeting his bro Aech in the real world for the first time – that was deep – as was the ending and the implications Cline hints at. The passage below really struck a chord with me.

   Once I had the suit on, I ordered the haptic chair to extend. Then I paused and spent a moment staring at my immersion rig. I’d been so proud of all this high-tech hardware when I’d first purchased it. But over the past few months I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my sense, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.
Standing there, under the bleak fluorescents of my tiny one-room apartment, there was no escaping the truth. In real life. I was nothing but an antisocial hermit. A recluse. A pale-skinned pop culture-obsessed geek. An agoraphobic shut-in, with no real friends, family, or genuine human contact. I was just another sad, lost, lonely soul, wasting his life on a glorified videogame.
But not in the OASIS. In there, I was the great Parzival. World-famous gunter and international celebrity. People asked for my autograph. I had a fan club. Several, actually. I was recognised everywhere I went (but only when I wanted to be). I was paid to endorse products. People admired and looked up to me. I got invited to the most exclusive parties. I went to all the hippest clubs and never had to wait in line. I was a pop-culture icon, a VR rock star. And, in gunter circles, I was a legend. Nay, a god.

It did take me a while to get into the plot. 80s reference are chucked at you relentlessly every few sentences, and we learn that Wade is an uber nerd – there is virtually nothing he doesn’t know about Halliday’s life. I felt at times this felt a little too convenient – there would be a problem or riddle to solve…Wade would spend hours to days to weeks agonizing on the solution, only for the pin to drop and Wade pulls the answer from within his vast, encyclopedic knowledge to lead him to the next step in the Hunt. But I guess this happens to everyone – you often solve a problem because something is triggered in your brain, that you already knew. It happens, but that actually process doesn’t always come across as naturally on paper.

The actual riddles and trials were very well done, and the best parts of the book come from the thrill of the chase, and Wade putting his considerable gaming skill to the test. When a riddle is finally cracked, Wade must travel as fast as he can in his spaceship, the Vonnegut, throughout stargates and across galaxies. There is a sense of scale and adventure that is hugely impressive when you consider the OASIS is only a ‘videogame’.

Ready Player One is unashamedly one of the geekiest books ever written. In fact it displays this proudly, and every 80s reference to film, tv, videogames and music is lovingly descriptive. You can tell Cline had a tonne of fun recalling and remembering his childhood obsessions. I somewhat think the appeal was lost on me; being a child who grew up in the 90s rather than the 80s, but there was still enough about it to make me thoroughly enjoy the ride.

Embrace your inner geek and check it out.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, written by sci-fi maestro Philip K. Dick, was the inspiration behind the film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1982.

Blade Runner is a favourite of mine – a futuristic noir classic, but I want to discuss the novel it was based on. The film is relatively faithful to the book in terms of overall plot but I found the tone to be vastly different.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep introduces us to Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter operating in North California on an Earth that has been ravaged by nuclear war, nearly extinct of all live animals and left behind by the majority of humanity, who have begun to colonise on Mars and beyond. Rick Deckard hunts androids who illegally pose as humans and must ‘retire’ them (as you cannot kill what is not alive).

Animals are the ultimate status symbol – well live animals anyway. To keep and own a live animal is an important societal need. World War Terminus has caused extinction in a huge percentage of animals, and now the humans who remain on earth spend their credits on live animals…or if they can’t afford them, the cheaper electric variety. In the past Deckard owned a live sheep but chose to replace it with an synthetic sheep when it died of tetanus. When he reveals this to his neighbour there is a sense of pity and awkwardness. His neighbour promises not to reveal the truth to anyone, such is the shame of owning a synthetic animal.

The androids Rick must hunt over the course of the novel are the most advanced robots ever created and their intelligence and likeness to humans is eerily close. The Nexus-6 brain module is a technical accomplishment that the creators The Rosen Association are immensely proud of. So much so that they boast their androids are near indistinguishable for humans. Deckard must hunt down and destroy six of these Nexus-6 models who have escaped their colony on Mars and are classed as fugitives.

His only method of identifying these androids is by asking the suspect a series of questions aimed to measure a person’s empathy, the Voigt-Kampff test. Various scenarios are put to the suspect to test their reactions, more specifically their empathic responses as the androids have no sense of empathy.

Meanwhile, a second strand of narration is viewed through the eyes of John Isidore, who is deemed special, derogatively called a ‘chickenhead’, and ultimately viewed as below human life as the vast amount of radioactive dust on the Earth has caused his intelligence to diminish (along with thousands of other ‘specials’). He lives alone in an empty apartment building covered in ‘kipple’ and has little outside contact outside of his job as a driver. As a special with sub-par IQ he is treated with disdain by all other humans who have not yet been genetically damaged.

When one of the fugitive androids Pris Stratton moves into an apartment below his he attempts to befriend her. She is eventually joined by Roy and Irmgard Baty, husband and wife within the group of fugitive androids. Isidore aids them due to the involvement and importance he feels when they include him in their plan to stop Deckard, despite treating him with as little respect as other humans do.
Electric Sheep
Philip K. Dick’s novel contains several interesting themes, one of which seems to be humanity’s struggle for relevance; those people who have been left behind and have to exist on this dying Earth. I want to talk briefly about Mercerism, a new religion based on the life and struggles of Wilbur Mercer. All over Earth and in the space colonies, empathy boxes are used for followers of Mercerism to connect with each other, to share their emotions together. Empathy, compassion and community spirit are the core beliefs of Mercerism, and so both joy and pain are shared collectively in a kind of hallucination that all believers can share together.

Opposing Mercerism is Buster Friendly, a talkshow android who dominates the television with his chatshows, guests and interviews. An upbeat, colourful, chatty distraction from the real world, Isidore notices that the world seems much more lonely when the television is off. This is because Buster Friendly gives an illusion of friendship but no more; after all, it is just a television show. Towards the end of the novel, Buster Friendly announces

“We may never know [who has spawned this hoax]. Nor can we fathom the peculiar purpose behind this swindle. Yes, folks, swindle. Mercerism is a swindle!”

Mercerism is based on a lie; Mercer is portrayed by a down and out actor, and the ‘hallucinations’ the users share were recorded years ago. Buster Friendly and the androids seem to relish this expose, that humans have been deceived into following a phoney. But what Buster Friendly doesn’t realise is that even if Mercerism is a ‘swindle’, the effect it has on people is real. It causes empathy, while the androids who are devoted to Friendly’s type of religion are pulling legs off spiders.

So it is true that Mercerism is fake, but does it matter who Mercer is or whether he even exists? For the likes of Rick, his wife Iran and Isidore, the ideals of Mercerism still stand because they are believed in.

The whole novel boils down to the emotion of empathy. Deckard initially feels no guilt in performing his job as a bounty hunter as he believes that androids are incapable of true human emotion and therefore do not deserve a status on par with humans. But if the androids cannot feel empathy why does Roy Baty scream in anguish when Deckard shoots his wife Irmgard through the door of their apartment?

And so the lines are blurred. Androids are capable of empathetic feeling with each other…and humans are capable of a loss of empathy. Fellow bounty hunter Phil Resch has no empathy at all. He enjoys killing androids for the sake of it, and thus can perform his job easily.

“If I test out android,” Phil Resch prattled, “you will undergo renewed faith in the human race. But since it’s not going to work out that way, I suggest you begin framing an ideology which will account for-”

If this is the case (and Deckard seems to realise that it is) then it makes his job that much harder, leading to his existential crisis towards the end of the novel. Humans are meant to feel empathy, something that androids cannot do. But they are not meant to feel empathy for androids, despite the fact that they are not mere machines but have emotions and are made from living tissue.

“These electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are.”

After Rick’s epiphany and fusion with Mercer, he has renewed empathy with all forms of life; he is able to see value in the androids version of a life, and even the ‘paltry’ life of a mechanical toad he found, that he had believed was real. Rick states that while he is disappointed that the toad is not real, he prefers to know it is fake rather than believing it to be a live creature. Just one day hunting these ‘androids’ has completely changed his idea of empathy and compassion and is now similar to Isidore in this respect. Does this make them both chickenheads?

Outside of the various messages which could be discussed in much greater depth, I found the Dick’s writing style through the book to be fantastically simple. We switch from tense, slow and steady scenes to fast paced dialogue and laser tube showdowns. The perspective occasionally shifts between Deckard and Isidore, two protagonists with differing views and levels of intelligence but both were fascinating to me as a reader. We are introduced to so many themes and ways of life that are now the norm in this future, but Dick manages to make them real and understandable.

To end the novel (and this post), Deckard collapses into bed exhausted at his physical and mental battle throughout the day. He dials the 670 setting into the Penfield mood enhancer; the setting for long deserved peace. Yet he doesn’t naturally feel, or feel he deserves, this mood. If our moods and emotions can be affected and manipulated by electrical currents, how different are we to the androids?