Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A manuscript flies from a dangerously driven dump truck on its way to the incinerator. The script lands at the feet of two low-level Hollywood movie producers. They find it so remarkable they drive into the Mohave Desert to find the author. He had just died a short time before they arrived.
The rest of the book is the actual screenplay written in the form of a screenplay. It takes place over a hundred years after society has destroyed itself with nuclear and biological war. A group of scientists from New Zealand, which was spared owing to its remoteness, arrive off the coast of Southern California to investigate what might remain of the United States. A somewhat backward and introverted botanist, Alfred Poole, is captured by the few surviving locals who have regressed to a semi-barbaric state. Due to the frequency of birth defects caused by the gamma radiation, reproduction, that is, copulation is strictly prohibited except during an annual Bacchanalian festival during which the newborns with a certain level of deformity are culled.
Ape and Essence is the sequel to Brave New World. The two dystopian commentaries were separated by the Second World War, and more particularly, the atomic bomb. Huxley’s dark view of society has a surprisingly modern tone despite having been written in 1948. The screenplay format is different and gives the reader a very visual perspective of the story. I originally read Ape and Essence more than fifty years ago. At that time, I was a resident of Ohio who knew little of California, so a damning passage was lost on me. I didn’t miss it this time.
“He says those people up north are very friendly to runaways from Southern California. Won’t give them back even when the government officially asks for them.”
Even after the destruction of civilization and the passage of more than a century, California remained a sanctuary state.