Dystopia from the Past

As part of my 12 Month Classics Challenge, I  began the year by reading A Classic I have always wanted to read and therefore settled on 1984 by George Orwell. I absolutely loved his Animal Farm and was intrigued by what his take on 1984 would be based on his imagination and understanding of when he actually wrote the novel in 1949. Being born a sometime just before 1984, I did not think of the year as a great futuristic time, but rather as a thing of the past. Therefore I was even more intrigued to find out, how Orwell perceived the future 40 years ahead of his time!

1984 begins with the introduction of our primary protagonist Winston Smith, who is a resident of Airstrip One, the erstwhile England, which is now part of the Oceanic Empire and his secret diary keeping, which violates every norm of the Oceania and for which Smith can he arrested under the guise of Thought Crime. The world is divided into  Oceania, consisting of Americas and England and Australasia, Euroasia made up of Europe and parts of Asia and Eastasia, which is Eastern Asia. These three supra-states have been in a continuous state of warfare with each other with shifting and  ever changing alliances. Oceania is ruled by the Big Brother, a single man – single party dictatorship, that closely governs all its people with various spying techniques including telescreens in every room that capture all movements of its citizen and hidden microphones. The society is divided into Proles, the outcasts or the blue collar citizens, then the more exclusive but deary outer party people and finally the most exclusive and privileged inner party people. The government is divided into 4 organizations that run the nation – Ministry of Peace dealing with war and peace and more former than latter; Ministry of Plenty that manages the economy of country and is continuously imposing ration on its people; Ministry of Love that manages law and governance and is responsible for horrific torture and disappearance of its citizens and finally the Ministry of Truth that deals with media and is constantly re-publishing and changing the party stance as and when required. At the start of the novel, we are made aware that Winston is not convinced with the overall benevolence of Big Brother and his regime and wonders about life before the regime took over and its claims that life is better now. Winston wants to find out the conditions of life before the regime took over, but since the regime has destroyed all references to the life before it came to power, he has no way of knowing what was what. He is aware that the regime continuously changes its stance to adapt to the new events and all records are destroyed or re-published to show case the fact the the regime was aligned to the change from the very beginning. At the ministry, he meets Julia, whom he initially was suspicious off and who confesses her love for him. They soon begin a secret affair, since all kinds of relationship with sexual import is not sanctioned by the regime. They rent a small room in the Proles zone, through a kindly antique shop owner. They soon discover their mutual abhorrence for the regime and in an effort to find out if there is another way out, they seek out O’Brian a Inner Party member, about whom Winston was convinced that he is actually working for Goldstien, the rebel who was constantly threatening to overthrow the regime. As Julia and Winston reach out tor O’Brian, they become more and more involved in actions that violate the laws of Oceania, leading to final, inescapable end.

What can I say about the Dystopian novel, that spoke of the most possible Dystopia before the word became fashionable? Written in clean, clear and powerful prose, the plot grips you as a reader as you turn page after page of  the book without a pause; all the while feeling the creep and the discomfort of a Winston and Julia and of living in a society that is constantly watching your moves. The thing is one cannot dismiss this as a work of fictive imagination, because Stalin’s Soviet Union and the cultural revolution of China are infact live proofs of what can and does happen when the government becomes far too strong. The doublethink, which is a philosophy of Oceania, brings home clearly the ability of regimes to say things with several meanings and not be held accountable for any or can be interpreted as per the current requirement, with its ability to appear contradictory in the same instance.There is a passage where Winston and one his colleagues discuss the development of NewSpeak, the language which is expected to replace Old English and the about the deletion of the verbs and nouns , an act that in itself seeks to destroy individuality and expression of people. The censorship and the surveillance and the constant fear of persecution, brings home the fact that we are truly blessed to live in societies that do many flaws, but are democratic nevertheless. Orwell’s depth of imagination just blew me away and his ability to create a whole new society that lives in terror is as realistic and horrific. The characters are ordinary people who want to do ordinary things – come home, drink good coffee and read a book but for which they have to take extraordinary paths. Even Goldstien’s manifesto, reads for what is – a trading in of the deep blue sea for the devil with no realistic improvements and changes called out.

A brilliant read, that again testifies, just how good George Orwell was.



Surviving the Red Planet

I should have written this post some time ago, at the very least a week ago, but then life and confusion that it brings, took over and now I get the time to finally get down to it! If I have said it once, I have said it a million times, science and I are not good friends; in fact we do not have any friendly relation at all; it’s more of one eyeing the other suspiciously and moving along. Unlike History where I am automatically drawn in, science makes me run in the opposite direction. Therefore my adventures in Science Fiction have been very far and extremely few. I was happy in leading life this way until I read Stefanie’s review of Andy Weir’s The Martian and I must confess, against my instinct, against my avowed dislike, I was curious enough to pick up this science fiction.

The Martian begins when NASA astronaut, mechanical engineer and botanist all rolled into one Mark Watney is left stranded on Mars, after his crew mates presumed him for dead, when he was impaled by an antenna blown away in the dust storm, that forces Ares 3 crew to abandon their work and head back to earth.  Mark wakes up after a couple of hours and realizes what has transpired; including the fact that all radio communication has been destroyed and NASA has no way of knowing that he lives and to plan a rescue mission. Mark comes to the conclusion that if he wants to make it  back to earth, he needs to survive on Mars for four years , when Ares 4 reaches Mars. Thus begins his efforts and endeavors in surviving Mars- from creating water, to potato farming in the Hub, Mark is now to use all his mechanical and  botanical skills to survive years. In the meanwhile , via satellite NASA discovers Mars is alive and begin a race against time to plan and execute a rescue mission to get Mark back. When a tear in the canvas of the Hab is breached, collapsing the Hab and destroying Mark’s potato farm, NASA is even more pressurized to turn out a solution quickly or Mark would die of starvation. This is further complicated by the fact that the unmanned probe hastily prepared to send Mark supplies, fails and crashes within minutes of launch. The only option left is to send the Ares 3 crew back through a slingshot trajectory to Mars to get Mark back, potentially endangering the lives of 5 crewman of Ares 3.

While the synopsis sounds kind of gloom and doom and if you have seen the trailer of the film, your idea may be reinforced, (this is why I thinks books should never be made into films…Hollywood messes up good books!) the book is anything but gloom and doom. Written in form of logs that Mark keeps , it is vibrant, humorous and a scientific account of all his adventures on Mars. The books thus contains detail accounts of how to create water, how to maneuver the rover to get across Mars and how to convert water from hydrazine. You see Mark take Mars by the horns and get on the planet’s back to reach the finish line. There is plenty and I do mean plenty of science, but it is easy to understand and simple enough for science zero like me to follow. But its just not science, there is a lot of humor, and it is this humor which sustains the reader through the book, because between science and the incredible plot twists, things to get kind of fuzzy. But Weir handles the whole thing with mastery with nail biting moments and laugh out loud moments all balanced together for a wonderful and brilliant read!

If you have not read the book, read it! I have seen the trailer and trust me regardless of how the movie turns out to be, you have got to read the book. Not reading the book is to truly miss out on something awesome!

Thank you Stefanie, once again for convincing me to read something outside my comfort zone, and guess what…as always, you are so right!!!