I was having conversation with a good friend on their blog, that isn’t all that unique, but is one I find myself drawn into everytime it comes up (unless there’s someone I just can’t stand in the conversation) its nearly a death and taxes level certainty. I’ve probably been involved in some variation of the conversation a dozen or two times in my life, and it wasn’t until late last night or early this morning I figured out what was irretrievably wrong with the conversation. 

The question is how many times can you get your mind blown away by personality altering views of the human condition? Often with the subtext "Why isn’t this happening to me now?"
Usually books like Animal Farm (adore) A Brave New World (which I loathed), or 1984 (neutral), Fahrenheit 451 (adore) as the catalyst for said mind-blowing shift in perspective.

Some truths:

  • Because these books are all brief and unmistakable in meaning they are frequently read at an early age.
  • You never get the same first experience twice.
  • The less you’ve experienced, the more you are likely to stumble upon something that alters your world view radically.
  • The more open minded you are the more you will seek things new to you.

To me, anyone being blown away by new-to-them observations on humanity past oh twenty eight or thirty is either incredibly shallow, has lived an entirely to sheltered life or is just not very observant. Let’s face it, the average person who is nominally a member of homo-sape is distinguishable from their twenty five thousand years ago ancestor only by the tools available to them, and occasionally by better hygiene, humans just aren’t that deep. We do things for the exact same two reasons we did them two hundred, two thousand and twenty thousand years ago: to get something or to get away from something.

The average year old American has probably had at least one, and possibly all four of the titles I mentioned assigned to them in school. They are fairly well ingrained in the education system, and the touchstones that other dystopian novels are compared too (and while some have referred to one or more of those novels as utopias, I’m not that insane.) and most writers don’t even try to rewrite or supersede the touchstones of a genre. Which is great, I like Dave Freer doing Dave Freer at 100% and not Orson Wells at 92%.

More importantly, most readers aren’t looking for the new mind blower, nor are most publisher because well, having already had their initial dance with the dragon, that first hit of opium in one of the aforementioned titles or their ilk, most people aren’t going to find anything less or even equal in quality engaging. The average fiction reader today reads not for "enlightenment" but entertainment. The self help category of books probably didn’t exist in 1920 (I wasn’t there, wouldn’t know) and I suspect it wasn’t as prominent forty years ago as it has been with the aid of talk show gurus on tv and radio for the last two decades.

In truth, I find the writer today who can slip an observation on the worlds foremost twenty three paired chromosome critter that makes me stop and think (or more likely pace around the house talking at high speed, occasionally even to the people there, trying to nail the issue down) about it equal to any of the works I’ve used as the launch point for this blog. Those were all polemics that had stories lacquered onto various talking points. As noted above, and by your own observations of the books and others like them, including more recent entries into the dystopian mode like Hunger Games or Uglies success is a happy illusion at best and far from universal. Today, in almost all case the reverse is true, a story must stand on its own, and the commentary on the human animal must be secondary or even tertiary.

  • I ran into this issue with Snow Crash. A lot of people evidently had their mind blown by the book, and tbh, if I'd read it in my early 20's. I probably would have been right there with them. Unfortunately, I read it in my late 30's, and all I could do is shake my head. Even with allowing for the publication date, I just couldn't take the book seriously enough to get that deep meaning. *shrug* It happens.

  • I had to do a comparative on Brave New World and Animal Farm at college. We also took in 1984 and I subsequently read Farenheight 451. I didn't like 1984 and Brave New World. In retrospect, my dislike didn't come from the worlds with disfunctional distopias, it came from the lack of a charasmatic MC. Mostly, they were whiney. Stuff happened through them and around them but not because of them. The other two I really enjoyed.
    Of course, part of this might have been that I was privately devouring Michael Moorcock's books, J.R.R Tolkein and Frank Herbert.

  • I read BNW and 1984 because they were set in the future and thus were "science fiction," and I didn't have access to much science fiction back in 1959. I also read Alice in Wonderland about the same time and was more influenced, if that be the right word, by that.

  • >To me, anyone being blown away by new-to-them observations on humanity past oh twenty eight or thirty is either incredibly shallow, has lived an entirely to sheltered life or is just not very observant.
    I do think that occasionally one finds something really new at an older age, not do to shallowness but just due to having somehow missed something earlier.
    But in general I completely agree.

  • I am definitely well beyond the age to really be blown away by books. If one is young and inexperienced enough, it astonishes me what actually manages to blast open those mind… It doesn't take something very novel or very well-written most of the time. It's more a question of timing.
    But now and then some few special books still manage to capture my old jaded heart and mind. It can be an exquisitely written book with evocative language that transcends word and page… or characters and adventure that manages to thoroughly transport me to another world. So… yes, definitely entertainment is key, but it has to be superbly done. Otherwise I will Read And Enjoy–and Easily Forget.