Brave New World

Brave New World and 1984 are 2 books which I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. One is in an utopian world and the other in dystopia. I finally got around to reading Brave New World written by Aldous Huxley. This sci-fi work is set in an utopian future of Earth in the 26th century.

Family as an entity no longer exists. All babies are decanted artificially by fusing ovules and sperms and growing them. Eugenics is used to create 5 castes of humans known as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, ranging respectively from intelligent beings to morons. Each class is imbibed with the characteristics required for their future work by conditioning them (thinking for the Alphas, manual labour for the Epsilons and so on). Hypnopædia (sleep-learning) is extensively used while rearing children to ensure that they think in a predestined way all their life. Since they’re all artificially grown, the concept of parents or siblings doesn’t exist. Every person is a cell in the social body. Everyone takes artificial agents to ensure youthful beauty until their dying breath. Everyone belongs to everyone else, i.e. sex is promiscuous. Living with a single person for life is unheard of. There are no politics, war, family, literature or religions. Soma (a drug) is used by everyone to stay blissful all day. Everyone is happy.

In this world is Bernard Marx, an Alpha who is dating a beautiful Beta named Lenina. He is tired of the artificial life and takes her on a trip to a savage reservation in New Mexico. These are inhospitable parts of the planet where uncivilized people have been allowed to stay as they had centuries ago. Here, Marx runs into a savage child named John, who is actually a child of a civilized mom. He takes him back to London. Meanwhile, Lenina is feeling love towards this savage. In the New World, John observes how his life in the forests differs so much from the controlled life in London. He has feelings towards Lenina too, but is turned off by her behaviour. Everything comes to a head when he causes a ruckus at a hospital. He is taken to meet Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller (think Architect from Matrix Reloaded) along with Marx and his fellow thinker Helmholtz. In his office, John and Mond confront each other and it leads to an enthralling discussion about the gains and losses by living like they are in this controlled artificial society. In the end, Marx and Helmholtz are transferred to distant islands and John moves back to a solitary life in the wild.

Written in 1932, Brave New World is a surprisingly good read even today. (The book is available online here.) The pace is quick, the flavour is light. Huxley is brilliant in recreating his utopian world. The book can be roughly divided into 3 parts. The 1st introduces the new world in rich detail. The 2nd introduces the protagonists and the last part deals with the debate between Mond and John. The last part is what makes delightful reading. The reader finally learns how this world came to be, how humanity slowly gave up its freedom in exchange for happiness. This is a thrilling and brilliant work filled with ideas. Recommended.

Some excerpts:

Mond to John:
“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage.”

– – –

Mond explaining why even science is controlled in this world:
“I’m interested in truth, I like science. But truth’s a menace, science is a public danger. As dangerous as it’s been beneficent. It has given us the stablest equilibrium in history. China’s was hopelessly insecure by comparison; even the primitive matriarchies weren’t steadier than we are. Thanks, l repeat, to science. But we can’t allow science to undo its own good work. That’s why we so carefully limit the scope of its researches […]. We don’t allow it to deal with any but the most immediate problems of the moment. All other enquiries are most sedulously discouraged. It’s curious,” he went on after a little pause, “to read what people in the time of Our Ford used to write about scientific progress. They seemed to have imagined that it could be allowed to go on indefinitely, regardless of everything else. Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value; all the rest was secondary and subordinate. True, ideas were beginning to change even then. Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered. Still, in spite of everything, unrestricted scientific research was still permitted. People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years’ War. That made them change their tune all right. What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled–after the Nine Years’ War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling ever since. It hasn’t been very good for truth, of course. But it’s been very good for happiness. One can’t have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for.”

– – –

From the bathroom came an unpleasant and characteristic sound.

“Is there anything the matter?” Helmholtz called.

There was no answer. The unpleasant sound was repeated, twice; there was silence. Then, with a click the bathroom door opened and, very pale, the Savage emerged.

“I say,” Helmholtz exclaimed solicitously, “you do look ill, John!”

“Did you eat something that didn’t agree with you?” asked Bernard.

The Savage nodded. “I ate civilization.”

The Xbox 360 Uncloaked

The Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s second attempt to break into the game console market. It was released in Christmas last year and has been doing better than expected. I picked up The Xbox 360 Uncloaked interested in reading how a game console is created. This book is written by Dean Takahashi, the gaming writer for the San Jose Mercury News. The book follows the 360 through its creation, development upto the launch.

After the lukewarm response to the first Xbox, in early 2003 M$ decided to launch a follower by 2005 end, a year ahead of the PS3 to gain traction among gamers. That is, just 3 years from conception to creation. The new console was codenamed Xenon. They dumped the Intel/nVidia pair from Xbox and instead chose IBM/ATI for Xenon. They concentrated a bit more on industrial design since the first Xbox looked butt ugly and was the size of a suitcase. They planned a simultaneous worldwide launch (this would be a first for any game console). Several gaming companies were roped in to make launch titles in time for the launch. M$ wasn’t going to try anything radical (like PS3’s Cell microprocessor). Later, the Xbox 360 and PS3 would be called Xbox 1.5 and PS 3.5 due to this. In this iteration, M$ just aimed at a launch earlier than the PS3, decent hardware, decent games and an online experience through Xbox Live. The plan went mostly according to plan. The only hitch was that they had massive shortages when they did the global launch. This resulted in loads of bad press and Sony could’ve easily steamrolled them had they launched at the same time.

M$ might want to seriously look at splitting itself into many lean companies. Chapter after chapter of the book reveal an undercurrent of discoordination, lack of communication, bickering and power struggles between the divisions of M$. More than half of the people involved resigned, were reassigned or removed during the making of the console due to conflicts. To even me, this came as quite a surprise. The few people who wished to take the 360 in creative new directions were stomped over or asked to shut up. Even J Allard who seems to have a nice persona tends to be more Ballmerisque on a Gates-Ballmer scale. The only things that M$ did well with 360 were timing, outsourcing and cost reduction.

Now about the book. I was interested in learning about the personal and technical experiments, failures and successes that form the journey of any new product. Instead, this book goes on and on only about the 360’s business decisions. It is endless pages of totally un-exciting, un-interesting, lifeless, numb, tame reporting of facts, figures and events. Takahashi manages to bury a nice story six feet under. In contrast, books with similar themes like Revolution In The Valley manage to be such delightful reads. Also, in a rush to release ASAP after the 360 launch this book has numerous grammatical and editing errors. This is a disturbing trend I’m seeing increasingly in recent books. Where the heck are the editors?! The only reason I stuck on with this book for a month was to see how it all ended. Dean has written about the first Xbox too in his other book Opening The Xbox. I was planning to read that too, but after the bad taste of this one I won’t even think about it. This book is boring and disappointing. Don’t bother.

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