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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess Neologisms in science fiction are double-edged swords, they can make the book more fantastical and be an important per of the world building, on the other hand if not handled right they can make the narrative impenetrable and downright irritating. I think a lot of people who do not finish A Clockwork Orange are put off by the bombardment of neologisms which begins from the first page of the book and never really let up. I almost gave up myself during the first chapter but decides to persevere because I have had this book in my TBR for years and if I had given up on it now and would probably feel obliged to re-attempt it later because it is one of those often mentioned books that just insist on being read.

The “Nadsat” fictional teenspeak vernacular did become easier to read as I went on. I found that the meaning of many of the words can be inferred from the context and the gist of the narrative can usually be understood. Of course there is a glossary at the end of the book if you don’t mind jump back on forth while reading the novel, also plenty of online glosseries you can refer to or print out for quick lookups. In any case most of the invented words are used repeatedly throughout the book so there is no need to refer to the glossary all the time.

Initially I thought the author’s usage of Nadsat is merely for world building purposes or perhaps some kind of gimmick. Upon reading some online articles about the book I came to understand that the weird vernacular is also used to provide a sort of additional layer between the reader and the graphic atrocities depicted in the book. For example “to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey-haired ptitsa” is less flinch inducing than “to rape an old woman”. Still, I have to admit that it is something of a relief when the dialogue occasionally switches to normal people who speak normal English.

The protagonist Alex is not exactly sympathetic given the extreme crimes he commits throughout the book. He is certainly not a hero (and probably not even an anti-hero). However, you almost have to pity him when the Government puts him through aversion therapy to cure him of juvenile delinquency. The moral issue of forcibly installing somebody’s idea of goodness on to person’s brain against his will appears to be the central theme of the book. Once the state start depriving people of their freewill we are in a lot of trouble.

A Clockwork Orange is often listed among “the greatest sci-fi books of all time” lists but to me it is not really sci-fi in the sense that [b:Brave New World|5129|Brave New World|Aldous Huxley|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327865608s/5129.jpg|3204877] and [b:1984|5470|1984|George Orwell|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348990566s/5470.jpg|153313] are not really sci-fi. Like these two books the author is only borrowing the genre’s tropes to convey his social satire. I think this is quite good for the sci-fi genre, to have visitors from outside coming in now and then to keep the genre fresh.

This is a moderately difficult book to get through because of the unconventional prose style but if you can get over that hurdle it is a very worthwhile read. If you have not seen the classic 1971 Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation yet watch it afterward!