Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World takes place in a dystopian future masquerading as a utopia. The whole world is united under a World State. Eternal peace is maintained, not by threats of punishment, but by the most intimate control of the human race – a control that begins even before a person is born.

In this future, natural reproduction has been done away with, and by means of technological advances, humans are now spawned in vast “hatcheries.” Through chemical interference, the development of a foetus is arrested, so that different social classes can be maintained, to fulfill various functions in society. Only members of the highest caste, the “Alphas,” are allowed to develop naturally. World population is permanently limited to two billion people.

Once born, all education is performed by rote, using technology called “hypnopedia” – learning while you sleep. This way, everyone is implanted with the same ideas, such as “Ending is better than mending” to promote continual consumerism. People are conditioned to view the idea of “family” as repulsive and even funny.

Life consists of work (that that lower castes are conditioned to love), frivolous entertainment, recreational sex, and drug-induced happiness. Man is made to feel content in his bondage. This is a society where there is no place for individuality, and little hope of it sprouting. People are simply cogs that service a vast, efficient social organism. The only places that have any freedom are reservations where “savages” live. Although citizens are free to take vacations to these reservations, this appearance of freedom is made grotesque by the crippled nature of the minds of the holiday-makers.

The novel is told from multiple perspectives, a technique which the author uses to allow the reader to view this strange society from a variety of angles: from those who control it (Mustapha Mond, a World Controller) to those who are alien to it (John the savage). Somewhere in between we have the interesting character of Bernard Marx, an Alpha who suffered a chemical mishap before he was born – something that left him uncommonly small of stature, a disadvantage that imbued him with a sense of individuality born out of adversity. But if you’re expecting Bernard Marx to be the hero of the story, think again. Likewise, if you are expecting John’s “savage” upbringing to bring a ray of sanity to the proceedings, nothing so uncomplicated or idealistic ensues. This is a highly unpredictable tale.

While the technology foretold in this novel hasn’t emerged in quite the same way, we see similar methods of mind-manipulation employed in television (subliminal advertising) and education (learning by rote). Brave New World is essentially a satire of our utopian pipedreams and a sober warning about the price that would have to be paid to ensure the continuance of such a “paradise.” There is not a single gun in sight, nor a single murder commited, and yet the cost of such a dream is appalling.

Brave New World is a complex novel of great insight. It taught me something about the human condition, and left me with a sense that there was more going on in the story than I could grasp with a single reading.

Mental Radio by Upton Sinclair

I discovered this little 1930s book by accident whilst browsing the Sacret Texts website (given the book’s age, it’s legally available there in its entirely to read online). The title intrigued me, because I’ve recently been doing my own personal experiments into psychokinesis (a.k.a. telekinesis, the moving of objects with the mind), and getting results, I might add! The topic of this book is telepathy (mind-reading), something which I’m eager to try.

First, who is Upton Sinclair? A writer of some standing in Socialist circles, it appears. That means little to me, but of more import was something I discovered when hunting for a cover image of the book to go with this review. You can’t see it on my scaled-down image, but it says “Foreword by Albert Einstein.” Sadly, the version of the book available on the website lacks this foreword, which I would have loved to read. Nevertheless, the presence of Einstein should at least lead readers not to dismiss a book of this nature out of hand.

The first two thirds of the book consists, for the most part, of a menagerie of drawings and notes made by Upton Sinclair and his wife Craig. The most frequent experiment involved Upton making a series of drawings in private, enclosing each one inside a sheet of paper, then giving the set to his wife. She would then enter a trance-like state and attempt to “see” what was drawn. After leaving the trance, she would then make her own reproduction on paper. The results were often far from perfect, but continually showed astounding similarities that could not have been random.

A book like this does, of course, stand or fall on the reader’s willingness to believe that the author is writing an account in good faith. People who are desperate to hold onto the view that physics is the cornerstone on which reality hangs will no doubt dismiss Sinclair as a crank. As for me, I got the distinct impession of a sincere and level-headed man. Since my personal discovery of psychokinesis, I have felt that this kind of knowledge is vitally important in helping us understand what consciousness actually is, in determining whether there is more to being human than just a physical brain and body. And after reading this book, I feel the importance of that study reaffirmed.

The last third of the book got me really excited. Here Sinclair makes some rational deductions about the mind, in light of his experiments, and I was ecstatic to hear him coming so close to the view that I hold – that the universe is essentially an expression of consciousness, that we are all aspects of a single gigantic mind expressing itself. He doesn’t quite make the leap, but he’s right at the gate.

Here are a few extracts. Sinclair’s attitude reminded me a lot of David Icke:

If what I publish here is mysticism, then I do not know there can be such a thing as science about the human mind … Those who throw out these results will not be scientists, but merely another set of dogmatists – of whom new crops are continually springing up, wearing new disguises and new labels. The plain truth is that in science, as in politics and religion, it is a lot easier to believe what you have been taught, than to set out for yourself and ascertain what happens.

The deduction that all our minds are connected at a deeper level:

I think a study of them [these experiments] shows that a true vision comes into the subconsiousness, not directly from the drawing, but from another mind which has some means of knowing, and sending to consciousness via the subconsciousness whatever I ask it for. Of course, I cannot attempt to prove it here. It was one of the questions to which I was seeking an answer, and the result seems to point to the existence of a deeper mind …

The suggestion that the universe is made of mind, not matter:

But I insist that until Craig and Dr. Watson, Professor Eddington and Mrs. Eddy have found out positively whether the universe is all mind or all matter, I must go on speaking in the old-fashioned way, as if there were two worlds, the physical and the mental, two sets of phenomena which interact one upon the other continuously, even though the manner of this happening is beyond comprehension.

Again, our deeper, connected minds:

What telepathy means to my wife is this: it seems to indicate a common substratum of mind, underlying our individual minds, and which
we can learn to tap.

The book concludes with these words:

We present here a mass of real evidence, and we shall not be troubled by any amount of ridicule from the ignorant. I tell you – and because it is so important, I put it in capital letters: TELEPATHY HAPPENS!

I think this book is an absolute gem. One of the most important things I’ve read thus far in the quest to understand the nature of what we are.

The Lurking Fear and Other Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft was very prolific in the short-story department. In this 180-page volume we have eleven of them, plus a novella. Some I found tiresome reading, others predictable, and a few quite enjoyable.

The stories usually revolve around rational men being confronted by hideous and terrifying sights that should exist only in nightmares. Lovecraft’s grasp of the grotesque is certainly very vivid, but I found his writing lacking on an inter-personal level. Also, the horror in Lovecraft’s fiction is somewhat narrow – usually restricted to the monster-in-the-closet variety. I can see how this might appeal to children or those of a superstitious bent, but it doesn’t do much for me personally.

My favourite story in the volume was, “The Temple” – a tale about a German U-boat captain losing control of his submarine and floating off into uncharted deep sea. Both the atmosphere and the state of mind of the captain were vividly described, and it was a fascinating journey into the unknown.

The inclusion of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is also notable. One of Lovecraft’s larger works, it occupies over a third of the book’s length, and tells the story of a man passing through a grimy, dilapidated town called Innsmouth, pausing a while to investigate some of the strange legends about the town. Although this novella takes an absolute age to get past first gear, it has a pretty hair-raising climax that is worth the wait.

Here’s the table of contents: “The Lurking Fear,” “Dagon,” “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” “The White Ship,” “Arthur Jermyn,” “From Beyond,” “The Temple,” “The Moon-Bog,” “The Hound,” “The Unnamable,” “The Outsider,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.

I spotted this one whilst leafing through a hefty volume entitled The Mammoth Book of Short Science Fiction Novels and I instantly wanted to read it. Why? Because this is the novel on which John Carpenter’s excellent 1980s movie The Thing is based. And that’s not the first movie to be spawned from this novel. Back in the fifties, there was the B-movie The Thing from Another World. Both of these films are quite different from each other, and I was curious to see which of them stuck closer to the original story. The answer is Carpenter. Whilst the 1950s version uses some kind of “unkillable vegetable man” (which I always thought was a bit daft), the 1980s version uses a monster that can imitate any creature it samples (including humans). The original novel has all the weird blood, guts and writhing tentacles intact.

The story revolves around an isolated Antarctic research team finding a spacecraft that has been frozen in the ice for millions of years. They locate the occupant, a bizarre-looking being with tentacles for hair, three red eyes and a very pissed-off expression. Presumably dead, they take the alien back to camp to thaw him for scientific examination. But of course, he’s not dead. You anticipated that much, right? And that’s when all hell breaks loose. This is a creature that can disguise itself as a human being and is able to multiply. So, you’re stuck in the Antarctic, the radio’s broken, no help is coming, and you don’t know which of your buddies is still human and which is alien.

This is an enjoyable tale of paranoia that has inspired many imitators. As well as the two mentioned above, I would dare to say that the movie Horror Express owes a debt of gratitude to John W. Campbell, Jr. (this movie absolutely terrified me when I was about seven). The setting is an express train racing through the snow-covered Siberian wilderness, but the theme of “who do you trust” is essentially the same. I also recall two X-Files episodes with the same theme, one of them on the Antarctic (how original, yawn), the other on an isolated oil-rig.

The novel is littered with scientic dialogue that gives the zany theme a slight edge of believability. However, I found this aspect a bit overpowering at times. Often, the characters made deductions about the alien that seemed a bit too smart, based on the evidence at hand. They just seemed to accept their predicament without question, whereas I was expecting more of a reaction like: “Hang on, you’re telling me one of us in an alien? Get real!” Another thing that bugged me was that a lot of the action took place off-stage, with characters coming back into the room to report to the rest of the crew what happened, instead of putting the reader in the thick of the action.

If you’re a fan of the John Carpenter movie, I encourage you to look this novel up. This is one of those rare occasions when a movie based on a book surpasses the book (at least in my opinion). However, the original is enjoyable. Carpenter expands very nicely on the novel, but I should tell you, the endings are not the same.