NBC's Peacock streaming service marked this week's "soft launch" with a short teaser trailer for one of its original programs: Brave New World, an adaptation of the ultimate dystopian science fiction novel by Aldous Huxley. It's short on details but visually striking, so while Peacock is relatively late to the streaming scene, the series looks like it could be a winner for the fledgling service.
Brave New World (the novel) was inspired by H.G. Wells' optimistic utopian novels. Huxley set out to write a parody of them, but eventually "got caught up in the excitement" of creating his own "negative utopia." He also cited D.H. Lawrence as an influence, although George Orwell noted strong similarities to a 1921 Russian science fiction novel, We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. (Huxley was openly accused of plagiarism by Polish author Mieczyslaw Smolarski, who believed the similarities to two of his novels were too strong to be "accidental analogy.") The fact that Huxley wrote Brave New World as the Great Depression spread from the US to the UK influenced its theme of achieving stability, even at the cost of individual freedoms.
Brave New World is set in the year 2540, in the World State city of London, where people are born in artificial wombs and indoctrinated through "sleep-learning" to fit into their assigned predetermined caste. Citizens regularly consume a drug called soma (part anti-depressant, part hallucinogen) to keep them docile and conform to the strict social laws. Promiscuity is encouraged, but pregnancy (for women) is a cause for shame. Needless to say, both art and science (albeit to a lesser extent) are viewed with suspicion. "Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive," Resident World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond tells the novel's antihero protagonist, John the Savage. "Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled."
John is the illegitimate son of a high-level government official, born and raised on the Savage Reservation, where people still give birth, age naturally, and generally represent the opposite of the World State's carefully controlled ideals. His only education has been the complete works of Shakespeare. (The novel's title references a line by Miranda in The Tempest.) When John and his mother, Linda, find their way back to the World State, he initially becomes a cause célèbre, but struggles to adapt to the new social mores.
Specifically, he falls in love with a young woman named Lenina Crowne, but can't deal with her promiscuity and sexual forwardness. He ultimately isolates himself from society in hopes of purging himself of "sin." Things don't end well for John, and they don't end particularly well for Lenina, either, although the novel never explicitly reveals her fate.