In November of 2015, I released a PDF file of a story I wrote. It was called Puppets. A significant number of people who read it entered my DMs to ask if I’d read George Orwell’s 1984. At that time, I hadn’t. Now that I have, I understand why they kept coming to me with 1984.
I discovered that there is such a genre as social science fiction, and this is the category that I think both Puppets and 1984 would fall within. Social science fiction is almost anthropological in nature, dealing with the society, and human nature in general. Orwell and I both imagined worlds of mental and emotional control. There are 2 major differences (even though there are numerous minor ones): the first is that my society’s control methods were implicit and his were explicit; the second was that mine was a story of liberty and personal freedom, whereas his was the opposite – a story of annihilation.
To be perfectly honest, I think 1984 is just about the most terrifying book I’ve ever read. I suppose what makes it so different and more terrifying than a lot of dystopia for me is the realism of it. There’s a lack of metaphor, magic or brain science that would excuse the state of the future society from being taken as credible, or make it unrealistic. The fact that the world as described in the book was already so relatable/imaginable for me was beyond scary.
The book reminded me of 3 other literary things (other than Puppets):
- Incarceron – Catherine Fisher
- BZRK trilogy – Michael Grant
- Divergent trilogy– Veronica Roth
Incarceron is a creepy book that I don’t really want to read again. It ended somewhat on a cliffhanger, but I never bothered to look for its sequel. I must have read it at about age 11. In an isolated world, like a snow-globe sort of thing, inhabitants live mundane lives. It’s sort of like a kingdom but I don’t remember whether or not its inhabitants were aware that it was all just a huge prison and that they were basically pawns being watched by a mysterious watching eye that could be found nearly everywhere.
Now that I think about it, it’s possible that Fisher got this constant surveillance with an eye thing from George Orwell’s “Big Brother is watching you” scheme from 1984. It is also possible, though, that as it was with me, the idea just occurred to her spontaneously and individually.
BZRK is definitely a sci-fi series. Two rival organizations manipulate biotechnology with the help of neuroscience. One wants to induce “happiness”, “harmony”, and essentially involuntary submission of all humankind. The other is fighting for the retention of the individuality of humankind and the right to choose what to feel, believe and who to follow. This 2nd organization is the one called BZRK. If transposed, BZRK is equal to the mythical “Brotherhood” of 1984. Except, of course, that BZRK is fictionally existent.
There was only a minor portion of 1984 that reminded me of Divergent. Specifically, the fear simulation in the series – where a chemical detects the individual person’s worst fears and then synthesizes a unique “fear landscape” for the person to either conquer, be driven out of their minds, or both. This reference doesn’t really come into play until nearly the end of the book, though. Room 101. Scary stuff.
At some point, I was truly scared for the morbidity of George Orwell’s mind, especially because of how it ended. To come up with the story’s setting itself was evidence of a madly dystopian mind, but to end it the way it was ended…I couldn’t write that without giving myself nightmares. But then my fears were allayed: I found out that 1984 was an English version mirror of a Russian book called We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which Orwell had already written about. That made me feel much better. LOL. But Zamyatin’s book still ended on a much more hopeful note than 1984. An essential intellectual apocalypse.
One other difference between Puppets and 1984 was the nature of control. I don’t think my body of antagonists were really in search of personal power; there was some sort-of-general belief that what they did was for the good of the world. They were more obsessed with order than power. The partially enigmatic body of villains in 1984 were in search of power, surprisingly, admittedly, for its own sake; the power that could be found in a body, not an individual. Whatever that nonsense means. (AKA, I don’t agree. Humans aren’t that selfless. Then again, maybe they are. I’m going to write a separate blog post on this soon.)
There were a bunch of things in 1984 that didn’t and can’t make sense to me. Like the feeling of kinship between Winston and O’Brien. Like the authorship of Goldstein’s book. Like the lack of even one sane totalitarian leader. I can’t get it. It doesn’t add up to have a society based on deliberate deception, without even one person who is not deceived in order to be doing the deceiving. That made it feel for me that there was no true antagonist in the story. Also a possibility: the way I perceive villainy (in terms of intention) is flawed.
Another puzzling thing: Orwell’s own political views. He hated totalitarianism and classism. As far as I can feel, he was a socialist. Meanwhile, in his book, the extremes of English socialism (Ingsoc) was portrayed as a root/medium of evil. Orwell was either very confused, or very clearheaded, and I can’t tell which. He died before he could explain it to me, anyway.
Favorite quotes? None. The whole book is quotable. LOL. I also kind of felt this way with Puppets. The whole novella is quotable.
Do I like this book? I don’t know. Do I think you should read it? Do I like George Orwell? Love. =) Would I read this book again? I’m too scared of it right now to say yes.