This year’s Laureate, our literary magazine, was launched in the library this afternoon, with award winning Australian author, Chris Womersley, as guest speaker. There is no doubt that Melbourne High School has an abundance of writing and artistic talent, and we celebrated this in style today. After his speech Chris presented our talented students with a copy of the Laureate. We were happy to see so many people at the event – parents (and possibly grandparents), teachers and students all enjoying a lovely afternoon tea and good company. Thank you, Chris, for coming and presenting your speech to encourage our students. Thanks to Mr Sam Bryant for organising the event. Thanks also to the talented students, including those who finished last year. Thanks to our principal, Mr Jeremy Ludowyke, and our assistant principals, Dr Janet Prideaux and David Smyth, for supporting the event. Thanks also to the teachers who came to support their students. Note: This was a photographer’s nightmare with everyone moving and shaking during the Laureate magazine presentations for contributing writers. Please excuse the blurry photos resulting from multiple filters attempting to block out reflection from all the ceiling lights and from windows. Isaac Reichman presents Chris with a token of our appreciation. (… a couple of tokens…) It was great to see our past students again. Many had contributed last year to this year’s Laureate. Interesting – I wonder what what they are pondering. The cover of the Laureate 2014 features art work by Hieu Nguyen, the student whose art was awarded the Melbourne High School Art and Cultural Trust & Melbourne High School Foundation Art Acquisition Prize 2013. A big thanks again to Mr Sam Bryant for organising this very important event. Library staff always enjoy hosting school events, especially if they promote the talents of our wonderful students. Thanks also to parents/grandparents who joined us.
We have all heard of and read 1984, but George Orwell’s acclaimed novel is merely the tip of the iceberg for renowned dystopias in literature. For centuries, writers have provided perspective on what they envision a dystopian future to look like; typically in terms of an oppressive government that restricts individual freedoms and suppresses human rights. However, every dystopia is unique and different from another, even if grounded in the same violation of basic principles that we take to be common rights in our modern society.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is easily one of the most famous dystopian novels after George Orwell’s 1984, precisely because the reader is able to recognise the immoral and distorted facets of the society while being able to empathise with the majority of characters who simply do not know any better. Huxley takes the utilitarian stance of attempting to obtain maximum happiness for as many people as possible to extremes, in terms of rampant drug use and promiscuity. The ‘brave new world’ that Huxley envisions is a world that defies our moral and ethical conventions yet is able to appeal to the primitive human psyche, where faithfulness and intellectual stimulation are secondary to happiness and pleasure.
Huxley’s Brave New World portrays a world that reinforces societal class boundaries with biological ones, deciding the future jobs of every human through genetic engineering. Furthermore, every individual is psychologically conditioned to respond positively and negatively to certain stimuli, leading the reader to question what defines each person as individuals when their feelings, thoughts and fears have been manipulated by someone else.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange is perhaps best known for its adaptation into one of the best horror films by arguably one of the best directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick. However, Burgess’ novel is, in itself, a masterpiece that probes into the boundaries a government is willing to stretch in order to maintain power. A Clockwork Orange is simultaneously simple and complex, using words mostly borrowed from Russian to simulate a language used by the youth of the future, while telling a story of the rehabilitation rebellious youth – Alex – who enjoys rape, pillage and slaughter.
Burgess draws upon the concept of conditioning, similar to Huxley, imbuing the futuristic super-state with a capacity for evil by extending this concept from electric shocks to visceral film footage of murder and carnage. To an extent, the experimental technique involving exceedingly violent images used on Alex is a kind of brainwashing, with the objective of forcing him to reevaluate his personal beliefs about his actions. The method achieves some success, causing Alex to feel nauseous even when considering the act of murder. However, the reader is forced to question the ethics and morality methods employed by the political regime that push social and scientific boundaries in pacifying dissidents and maintaining power.
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is simple and funny, yet clever, self-aware and powerful, a book about a future in which books are censored by a totalitarian regime. Where Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange are centred around the attempts of a government to control individual freedom and liberties, Fahrenheit deals more directly with the censorship of information and knowledge and the profound effects that this change has on human civilisation. Montag, the protagonist, is a fireman – he burns the books inside houses instead of putting out fires. However, when he a girl named Clarisse, he acquires a new perspective on his job and reconsiders the harm that he is causing to society. Bradbury argues that books are integral to an educated and fully-functioning society, and Fahrenheit is a scary image of what is to come if we prevent the circulation of information due to censorship.
Ray Bradbury’s greatest fear in Fahrenheit 451 is society’s eventual lack of interest in books, a fear that is becoming more relevant in our modern age as the mediums of TV and movies become increasingly popular. This is exemplified through the character Captain Beatty, who arguably is of greater symbolic significance than Guy Montag himself. Beatty grew up as a child enthralled with books, but is unable to find the answers that he truly desires within them as he grows older, and begins to develop a hatred for one of the things that he once loved. Beatty becomes a captain of the fire brigade, willingly burning books that contain countless amounts of information, stories, poetry because he despises the act of reading. Perhaps, Bradbury’s fear will soon be realised, as we continue to progress away from books towards digital media.
Feed – M.T. Anderson
Feed stands out on this shortlist as a modern young-adult novel compared with the three other older dystopian novels focused towards older audiences. However, Feed has a specific power, and that power is much like A Clockwork Orange – language. Anderson uses language typical of the youth of the current generation – superfluous ‘like’s and so on, but also introduces words like ‘mal’ (bad) which are unfamiliar to signify a linguistic transformation in parallel to a time-based and societal one. Unlike Clockwork Orange, the words are more easily inferred by context, and forces you to concentrate on what Titus is attempting to say without being swamped by incomprehensive and needing to use look up the words online. Anderson flawlessly implements a language that is very similar to our own, yet has its subtle differences, and it is these differences that prompt us to the realisation that the world he has created is different from our own.
Anderson’s use of language is what truly allows the reader to visualise a future in which people have become so integrated into the digital world that it literally exists as a physical part of their body. The ‘feed’ is a chip planted into your brain; a full-body implementation of what we currently have as laptops, smartphones and TVs. It allows you to listen to music, what ‘feedcasts’ (the equivalent of TV shows) and access information wherever you are. However, the feed is a business-motivated initiative, and allows advertisers to promote their products at all stages of your life, and waters down individual preference and taste to a single monoculture. By attempting to promote goods and services that promote to a wide audience, individuality is collectively reduced to form a society that is seemingly similar to our own, but without true individual expression or freedom. Feed is perhaps more terrifying than the other books I have listed because the future it portrays is easily imaginable and seemingly not that far away, a distant possibility that can occur when capitalism is permitted to literally invade our bodies and control our thoughts and decisions.
Posted by Zachary Sunter
We are fortunate to receive book donations from various people in the community. Thanks to Pieter Scheffers for recently donating the wonderful philosophy collection (photos coming soon), and also for the books which arrived today. There has been much interest from our reading community.
An interesting development since we moved to the library management system, Infiniti, is that the awareness of ‘top student borrowers’ has led to a rivalry of sorts. Currently Noah and Muhammad (Imad) are battling for first place in the apparently coveted spot for prolific readers.
A battle of readers is a most civilised battle. We approve.
Today we commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the day (6 June 1944) in the Second World War on which Allied forces invaded northern France by means of beach landings in Normandy, with a Pop-Up display of fiction about World War II.
Seven Australian veterans of the D-Day landings are in France for the 70th anniversary of one of history’s most important days.
Read more about it on the SBS website.
The boy in the striped pyjamas, John Boyne
The reader, Bernhard Schlink
Schindler’s list, Thomas Keneally
Once and Then, Morris Gleitzman
Auslander, Paul Dowswell
Pennies for Hitler, Jackie French
Vinnie’s war, David McRobbie
A game with sharpened knives, Neil Belton
The book thief, Markus Zusak
Captain Corelli’s mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
The eagle has landed, Jack Higgins
The English patient, Michael Ondaatje
Postcards from No Man’s Land, Aidan Chambers
You may be interested in looking at ‘D-Day Landing Sites Then and Now’ by Huffington Post.
Slowly, slowly things are beginning to take shape in the library. Our new front of library is resembling a library (according to some of our eloquent visitors). We have study rooms – labelled study room 1 and study room 2 for everyone’s convenience. These are even being used by small groups of students intent on collaborative study. Some have even ventured to use the whiteboard surfaces on the operable wall between the two rooms. It’s lovely to see the clean colours of the charcoal carpet, white walls, black shelving and red soft seating. Depleted funding has determined the colour scheme, and we have also been flexible with re-use of existing wooden shelving housing small collections such as picture books, graphic novels and foreign language books. Our new library management system is working very well, thank you. We look forward to the day that our self-checkout unit comes back to life – some things are more complex than others.
Denise and I take grammar very seriously as you can see. The display has attracted small crowds of boys but I can’t seem to capture the evidence on camera.
I’m excited to be able to tell you all about my new book, to be released by Random House Australia in April 2014. It’s called Machine Wars, and it’s unrelated to any of my other series. Machine Wars is a flat out, non-stop, relentless adventure, with crazed robots whichever way you look… The Terminator meets The Bourne Identity? Not a bad way of thinking about it.
In Machine Wars we have an evil Artificial Intelligence, we have murderous machines, we have two young teenagers who learn that chase scenes aren’t so much fun when your whole life becomes one. Oh, and we have a wise-cracking robo-duck, too.
The core idea of Machine Wars came about from considering how machines are everywhere in our twenty-first century lives – and how embedded they are. The questions isn’t ‘Are we dependent on machines’ it’s ‘How dependent are we on machines?’ With the advances in artificial intelligence and the trend to connectivity of everything (internet-enabled washing machines, anyone?) imagining a world where machines get tired of serving wasn’t very hard. When enough is enough, an uprising isn’t far away.
But how do you survive when any machine anywhere could turn against you? That’s what Bram Argent and Stella Burke have to find out.
Machine Wars. Trust no one, not even your blender.
Thank you, Michael, for making a personal appearance in our blog. We can’t wait for Machine Wars to come out! Make sure you get your copy before it disappears off the shelves. And check out Michael’s blog too.