Saturday, 29 October 2011

Seven Decades of Science Fiction Books: The Fourties

Funnily enough there weren't all that many great sci-fi books written in the 1940s.

Partly his was because H G Wells died in 1946, a year after the war he predicted had been brought to an end in a flash of heat rather similar to a Martian death ray.

The winner then is rather obvious. It is of course George Orwell's 1948 taster of what life might be like during the Cold War - Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A sombre book made even darker by the fact that Orwell died just after finishing it. It appears to be his last will testament, a pessimistic look back at his life's futile struggle against totalitarianisms from Barcelona to the Blitz.

But of course he didn't mean to die when he did. "Don't let it happen" was his motto, and he certainly didn't want anyone who read his book to give up and let Big Brother take over. Optimists have even seen hope in the essay on Newspeak at the back of the book. It's written in the past tense, so does that mean it was written after the time of Big Brother?

Neither was he sure that English Socialism would mutate into IngSoc. His near contemporary essay The Lion and the Unicorn sets out a curious vision of a post-war England after the Revolution in which the judges still wear wigs and the pubs still serve warm beer.

Compared to Huxley's globalised world of trivial hedonism and slick advertising, the world of Big Brother seems rather old fashioned. Doublespeak is mere crude propaganda compared to the delights of the Feelies. But Orwell still packs his punch.

Maybe the future of 1984 came crashing down with the Berlin Wall, but maybe not.

We are still Airstrip One, 'Compassionate Conservatism' and 'Blue Labour' show Doublespeak is alive and well but today called Triangultion. Rupert Murdoch does a good line in Prolefeed and despite the Credit Crunch the Ministry of Plenty is still trying to convince us we've never had it so good. Perhaps today we call the Ministry of Truth Fox News, Room 101 Guantanamo Bay, and as for English Socialism? Well, it has clearly been to see O'Brien and now thinks two plus two equals five.

Winner: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1948)

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