Adam's Reviews > The Wanting Seed

The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess
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's review
Feb 11, 10

bookshelves: worldview, recent-enthusiasms
Read in February, 2010, read count: 2

Set perhaps in the mid 22nd century, Anthony Burgess’s The Wanting Seed pictures a supremely progressive society which has failed to come to grips with the population problem. London now covers one-third of England. Homosexuals are a privileged class, and heterosexuals are quietly discriminated against and limited to one birth (live or dead) per couple.

Tristram Foxe, as a history teacher, is one of the few who understands the great changes when they come, literally turning his world on its head. He understands that human civilization exists as a pendulum that swings periodically between progressive and conservative theories of society. Not long after Tristram’s son dies and he finds that his successful “homosexual” brother--a ladder climber in the Ministry of Infertility--is having an affair with Tristram’s wife, England suddenly shows signs of becoming a police state. Famine has broken out, bands of deputized hoodlums roam the city streets, and there are rumors of cannibalism and . . . religion.

Tristram recognizes this as signs of the Interphase, a transition state between a progressive and a conservative society. The tension between true human nature and the progressive governmental suggestions (as opposed to laws) has reached the breaking point. The system cannot reconcile--on such a massive scale--the demands of famine, Utopian views on civil rights, and the unpredictability of the individual ego. Were can things go from here? Imagine this: population control through wars against an imaginary enemy--a confusion of the ends and the means of warfare.

Burgess’s talent for rhythmic prose and the “novel of ideas” makes, here, for a farcical dystopian story with tremendous narrative momentum and dark humor, a book that will suggest associations with Brave New World and Dr. Strangelove. Also, on the one hand, this 1962 novel has a wonderfully “old sci-fi” feel with its dated view of technology, and on the other hand, it is truly ahead of its time on topics like the carbon footprint obsession and progressive profiling for social mobility.
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Quotes Adam Liked

Anthony Burgess
“I am instructed by the Home Secretary to read out the following. . . . It is a prayer devised by the Ministry of Propaganda. . . . ‘It is conceivable that the forces of death which at present are ravaging the esculent life of this planet have intelligence, in which case we beseech them to leave off. It we have done wrong--allowing in our blindness natural impulse to overcome reason--we are, of course, heartily sorry. But we submit that we have already suffered sufficiently for this wrong and we firmly resolve never to sin again. Amen.”
Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed

Anthony Burgess
“When the State withers, humanity flowers.”
Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed

Anthony Burgess
“We're a government that believes in everybody having the illusion of free will.”
Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed


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