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Brave New World vs Oryx and Crake: Disturbing Dystopias

Jonny Sweet itcherBrave New World vs Oryx and Crake – Fans of dystopian fiction which will be thoroughly familiar with Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World, it being one of the defining texts of the genre. Self-confessed fan and disciple of Huxley, Margaret Atwood, has herself written several novels concerning similar themes – none more so than Oryx and Crake. But does the apprentice outshine the master? Oryx and Crake vs Brave New World – which is better? ~ Jonny Sweet
Brave New World is a wry look at an ostensibly Utopian society where all ills have apparently been eliminated; distracting, abstract and ultimately destructive elements such as love, family and fulfilment have been done away with in favour of maximising production and pursuing pure pleasure. Everyone has their place in society; everyone has a purpose; everyone is happy.

Not What It Seems

So what makes this is a dystopia rather than a utopia? Well, the fly in the ointment comes in the form of the central characters. Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are both living proof that not everyone is happy; over-ambition, a disrupted incubation process or a quest for individuality highlight the inhumanity of Huxley’s created society. Meanwhile, “savages” John and Linda are uncomfortable reminders of the society outwith the confines of the World State.

Oryx and Crake, on the other hand, is more of a bridge novel between the world as we know it and the one realised in Huxley’s novel. The Crakers, genetically-manufactured humans with specially-designed anatomies and innocent sensibilities, are reminiscent of the caste system in Brave New World, but the transition from the vaguely familiar world at the outset of the novel and the post-apocalyptic scenario which follows is not a smooth one.

Clearly, Oryx and Crake is heavily influenced by Brave New World, and, as well as borrowing many ideas and reimagining several tropes, is also an interesting alternative view of the future of mankind. But how do they match up? In a battle of Brave New World vs Oryx and Crake, what are the similarities, differences, and which, ultimately, is better? Read on to find out.


Similarities Between Brave New World and Oryx and Crake

 Aldous Huxley book
Image source: goodreads

Aside from the obvious similarity of a dystopian society set at some vague distance in the future, there are also many specific themes, images and ideas which are repeated in the two texts.

Firstly, the procreation of society is a subject which is close to the heart of both novels. In Brave New World, this has been entirely radicalised. Rather than being born into a loving family, humans are harvested in a laboratory and genetically engineered to fit their particular niche in society. They are indoctrinated with societally-beneficial values and beliefs from the outset.

Meanwhile, in Oryx and Crake, things have not quite yet reached this critical stage of human manufacturing on a mass scale – though the Crakers are a sign of things to come, and Crake’s invention of the BlyssPlus Pill shows his intent to manipulate the species. Outside of the human race, genetic science has ran away with itself in the splicing together of different species to create such oddities as pigoons and rakunks.

…proliferation of disgusting and debauched reality shows available…

Furthermore, the separation of the population into Compounds and Pleeblands in Oryx and Crake is very reminiscent of the World State and the Reservation in Brave New World. Those in the former societies are invariably more privileged, deemed to be smarter and view those in the latter with condescension and mild disgust, only venturing into the other society when necessity or curiosity dictates.

Also, both societies seem to have moved away from traditionally human struggles, such as the struggle for morality and meaning, and instead prize the pursuit of pleasure above all else. In Brave New World this manifests itself in the Feelies, Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy and the encouragement of promiscuous sex. In Oryx and Crake, the decadence of society is much darker and more relatable due to the proliferation of disgusting and debauched reality shows available online: Hott Totts for child pornography, Brain Frizz for live executions. Recreational hallucinogenics are consumed at a young age and in alarming quantities, while the promotion of the BlyssPlus Pill purports to maximise libido while prolonging youth and general well-being.

The pill itself is also heavily reminiscent of soma in Huxley’s world; both are marketed as a cure-all for humanity’s ills. In Huxley’s words, soma is “Christianity without tears”. BlyssPlus seems to be far less concerned with aligning itself with a religion and more about achieving maximum consumer sales and satisfaction, but the premise of both are essentially the same.


The Differences Between Brave New World and Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood book
Image source: amazon

Though there are many similarities between the two novels, they are also vastly different in their approach and message.

Whereas Brave New World explores a fully-developed and self-sustaining world, with all of its mechanisms and indoctrinations already in place and working (for the most part) in complete harmony, Oryx and Crake is a vision of post-apocalyptic Earth. In Huxley’s text, everything is coordinated and controller by resident ruling authorities such as Mustapha Mond. In Atwood’s, chaos reigns supreme. In this way, Oryx and Crake can be viewed as Atwood’s imagining of a Brave New World gone wrong.

…how the world descended into the quagmire it has become…

The books also differ in their style of narration. While in Oryx and Crake our window into the world is provided solely by Snowman and his memories and experiences, in Brave New World the narration is more free-flowing and multifocal; though Bernard may commence the novel as its ostensible protagonist, by the end John has assumed this role. This roving viewpoint allows for a more rounded and reliable perspective on Huxley’s world, but is confined to the here and now. Contrastingly, Snowman’s tendency to dip into his memories allows us to understand how he arrived at where he now stands and how the world descended into the quagmire it has become.

In this sense, Huxley’s novel becomes a far more subtle condemnation of a society which tampers with procreation to the detriment of art, meaning and humanity. Atwood’s careful progression from a recognisable world becoming more and more consumed by science and technology in place of human values makes for a more thorough and explicit condemnation of that society – and by extension, our own. Huxley’s is more suggestive in its criticism – though the criticism is no less damning, as reflected in the fate of John.


Which is Better: Brave New World or Oryx and Crake?

Of course, comparing two works so far apart in years is always going to be somewhat unkind, especially in light of the fact that the former novel is widely regarded as a classic. Attempting to match up to that is a tall order for Atwood… does she manage it?

Well, I would argue that it’s a brave attempt. The satire is wonderfully executed, especially in its harsh portrayal of an increasingly hedonistic society that watches people being mutilated and murdered for fun. The cartoonish names given to new technologies and companies (RejoovenEsense, Happicuppa Coffee, Chickie Nobbs) add a layer of wry humour to the excellent observations and commentaries on our own society, and the image of a live boneless chicken is a particular stand-out for me.

However, in some areas, the novel falls short. After spending a great amount of time elaborating on minor details such as those listed above (admittedly, to great effect), the overall arc of the story seems somewhat haphazard and poorly thought out.

…rapid and apparently unexplained descent into madness and vice…

Jimmy’s back story with his mother feels a little laboured, while his unorthodox relationship with Oryx is typically atypical – the virtuous prostitute with a troubled past is a trope that has done the blocks several times before Oryx stepped into those shoes.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointingly, is Crake’s rapid and apparently unexplained descent into madness and vice. The BlyssPlus Pill, which seems to be well-thought out and intelligent (with just the right amount of insidiousness), should not require a collapse into outright evil from such a genius as Crake.

Furthermore, the majority of the story deals with how Snowman arrived in his current situation and hardly any of it deals with where he goes from here. Of course, it could be argued that the sequels will take care of such a topic, but as a stand-alone book, Oryx and Crake can feel a little inflated and lacking in substance.

Therefore, I would argue that Brave New World is a superior work in that it achieves its aims neatly and succinctly, condemning the World State without suggesting that anything is likely to change any time soon. Oryx and Crake seemingly lacks a final message – which to me, confirms it as an excellent, but lesser, work.


Mending is Better than Ending

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I′m Jonny, an English Literature graduate who decided careers and mortgages were too mundane, and travelling, film, music and books were much more enticing. I have recently made a very comfortable nest for myself in Santiago de Chile, and on itcher Mag where I regularly contribute eloquent waffle on all manner of media.
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