George Orwell’s 1984 seems almost naive in retrospect, believing that a faceless government would strip all privacy, create a surveillance state, and render truth entirely subjective. All it took was Facebook.
By contrast, Aldoux Huxley’s oeuvre, Brave New World, has remained far more relevant, and, with technology approaching the book’s, far more urgent.
The 2020 television adaptation took the 1931 classic book and polished it for modern audiences. The bones are all intact, but some of the distracting elements of the original version have been cleaned up to avoid distracting from the core message.
In both versions, mainstream human society is a utopian-looking dystopia, happy because everyone is on drugs, crime free because everyone is controlled, productive thanks to a slave labor class, free of conflict because everyone belongs to everyone else. In both versions, the status quo is disrupted by the introduction of an outsider, John, into upper-class mainstream society.
In the books, John is from, essentially, a Native American reservation. This carries with it a whole lot of baggage, especially considering the author was English. The show replaced this origin with a community camped out in an abandoned amusement park, drastically rerouting our expectations of the societal clash to come. The original John, whether meant to be such or not, comes across to modern readers as a misogynist, undercutting the audience-insert role he’s meant to play.
There were also a couple named characters who were switched from men to women for the televised version. If nothing else, the penchant in older sci-fi to utterly ignore women whenever they weren’t a plot point, or a love interest, would have screamed on the screen.
The real reason these charges are important is because it lets the show speak better to modern viewers. And this is the sort of smart, insightful sci-fi we really need, in between all the fun spaceships and villainous aliens, to let us think about the direction technology might take us.
Because many of the technologies depicted aren’t as far off as they used to be. Pharmaceuticals can already do quite a bit to change and regulate moods. Ubiquitous surveillance practically already exists. And genetic engineering has been teetering on the edge of a quantum leap for a while now, and it won’t elude us forever.
Brave New World is about to become Scary Plausible Tomorrow.