Sunday, January 25, 2009

A brave new world in 1984

I think I've mentioned already that I quite admire Mr. George Orwell as an author. I may have also mentioned in the past that the oh-so-famous "1984" is my least favorite book of his (that I've read so far). So sue me. It was the first Orwell I read, and though I liked it reasonably enough, it didn't particularly amaze me. My conclusion was simple: "1984" had a surprising, intriguing premise, but if ever existed a 300 page book in need of editing - there you go.

I read "Brave New World" a couple of months later. I loved it. Huxley wrote a book both readable, enjoyable, and thought-provoking. What more could a person wish for? I instantly ran a background check on both books and found that these were the two common "dystopia" books. With that, I learned a new term and entered a new world. It seemed that it was pretty normal to compare a lot of books to "1984". "Brave New World" less so. A bit more casual research told me that the older generations held "1984" in higher esteem, while the younger generations related better to "Brave New World". Cool, I thought. I fit it.

Then a few months after reading both these books, I checked out a simple teen read from the library, Feed by M.T. Anderson. It was a pretty nice read. When I went to review it, I found that many other reviewers characterized it as a "1984 for the young generation". Why? Because of its dystopia roots. Can I argue with that? No; I even acknowledged it in my own review. But something to these comments felt off to me: the insinuation that every dystopia novel is somehow based off of "1984" and "Brave New World" and is an attempt to modernize it.

I've encountered this situation a number of times now. Other teen (or otherwise) dystopia fiction books I read received similar critique (not necessarily negative, though). It baffled me. Here are books labeled as similar to completely different books simply because a small theme (that of a depressing, horrible future) is shared. "Feed" and "1984" have little in common beyond their dystopia qualities. One describes consumerism and corporate control while the other describes a totalitarian government. Some might see these as the same thing, but to compare these books on a literary level is a bit much.

It comes back to the same old argument, where one popular, strong contender overshadows any book perceived to be slightly similar. Not even book, actually. This can be applied to music, movies... just about any form of entertainment. "1984" is perceived as insightful, influential and relevant. Any book that fits this bill and takes place in the gloomy future instantly becomes the "new "1984"". It's a limiting, frustrating label (like almost all...).

Maybe I don't want this new dystopia book to be the "new" anything. Maybe it has no cheery uppers named Soma or freaky big brothers looking over my shoulders. Maybe it's a fresh idea that just happens to take place in a dystopia sort of world. This idea that every futuristic book that deals with moral dilemmas must be compared with "1984" is ridiculous. Not every book with similar inspiration roots as monstrously famous novels is necessarily a "remake", "modernization" or "ripoff" of the original novel.

Just a few more vaguely bitter thoughts.

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