Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

Coming Up on 1984

Frederik Pohl

The year 1984 suffered greatly from some really bad advance publicity. The source of the publicity, of course, is George Orwell's novel of the same name.

What Orwell did in the way of making that year a household- term, the book did for Orwell. To be sure, he was already well known. It was the novel just before Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, that transformed Orwell from a fairly well known local writer to a world figure. But Nineteen Eighty-Four greatly magnified his renown, and surely has had a more lasting effect both on Orwell's fame and on the world itself. It was also the last book he wrote. And, I think, it was very close to being his worst.

I know that this view is not widely shared. Nineteen Eighty-Four is legendary. It is possible that it is the most famous novel published in the twentieth century. There are sensible people who believe that the reasons we have been spared the emergence of a real-life "1984"--i. e., a soul-deadening and unchallengeable dictatorship --is that we had the example of the novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, to warn us off. There may be some truth to that, at least to the extent that terms like Newspeak and Big Brother have kept such dangers alive in the public consciousness by becoming standard epithets of political invective. If this is so, then Nineteen Eighty-Four can only be judged by its effectiveness, and literary merit matters no more than it did for, say, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Yet . . . what a very bad book it is! You can measure it by any literary standards--grace in the use of language, originality, fulfillment of the author's intentions, internal consistency, or, if you view it as science fiction, by accuracy of prophecy, reflection of technology on the human condition, understanding of the impact of science on society. It fails every test.

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