Note: This is #60 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for 2008.
As far as future utopia-slash-dystopia novels, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is probably one of the better known, as well as the template upon which subsequent entries into that genre were built. The idea is that there is one world government that literally custom builds all its citizens through a combination of genetic engineering, cloning, and psychological conditioning. You've got your Alpha class at the top of the chain, comprised of people who were allowed to develop fully and normally during their artificial gestation. Then you've got Betas, Gammas, and Epsilons, all of whom represent increasing degrees of retardation in that developmental process, such that those at the bottom are essentially simpletons. But everybody, even the Epsilons, is happy to be who they are, thanks to liberal applications of modern psychology. Society is built around a combination of recreation and extreme consumerism, such that when you're not working you're supposed to be (indeed compelled to be) out socializing, shopping, or popping a few pills of a drug called "soma" which will take you on a guilt-free holiday. Solitary activities are abhorrent, and in a curious inversion of values sexual promiscuity is the norm and monogamy is considered lurid and vile.
For a book published in 1932, Brave New World contains a lot of impressive foresight, especially around themes like specialization in the workplace, sacrificing individuality for the common good, and consumerism as a way of life. Supposedly the book was written in response to what Huxley saw in a visit to America during that time frame, and it's not hard to see why. He paints a pretty interesting world here, and later on in the story when he brings another outsider into it things get all the more bizarre. I liked seeing where things went when some of these themes were taken to their logical extremes, and it was a fun ride.
The only thing that really kind of annoyed me were a few absurdities that were just a bit too much to swallow. The biggest example of this would probably be how Henry Ford, who popularized assembly line mass production, is turned into a deity in this society, basically taking the place of Christ as the savior of mankind. Everyone uses "Ford!" as a exclamation, uses honorifics like "His Fordship" and even takes things so far as to conflate Ford with Freud when discussing matters of the psyche. It's a bit much, and was the part of the entire concept that really stuck out and didn't work for me.
Otherwise, Brave New World is a quick and thought-provoking read. If you weren't forced to read it back in high school, give it a try.
Others doing the 52-in-52 thing this week: