Brave New World is a dystopian novel that participates in a tradition of speculative fiction called soft or social science fiction. Typically set far in the future, science fiction draws on current science and technology, but goes further than what is actually possible. Works of science fiction also often take ideas from sociology, psychology, and anthropology and imagine their future implications or escalate them to new extremes. Brave New World renders a future society in which current ideas about evolutionary biology, genetics, population control, psychological conditioning, and human purpose are taken to logical but not necessarily practical extremes to the point that they abandon ethics, morality, and emotion. Though Brave New World is different from many other science fiction novels in that it doesn’t include monsters, aliens, or the supernatural, it participates in many of the themes, styles, and tropes of earlier science fiction novels and influenced the works that followed it.
A major theme of Brave New World and other science fiction novels is the clash between technology and nature. These works examine the ethical limitations of the quest for knowledge. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, published in 1818 and often considered to be the first science fiction novel, a scientist builds a living creature from pieces of animal and human corpses. Shelley was responding to new ideas and anxieties of her time about the relationship between science and religion. If human beings can use science to create new beings, what is God's role? The monster becomes violent and the doctor loses control over him, implying that human beings do not have complete control over technology or nature. Similar concerns about the role of humans in creation and the power of technology to outrun human control haunt Brave New World. Both texts depict visions of possible outcomes from technology gone awry or run away with itself, offering a warning to readers about unchecked use of new developments and ideas.
After the publication of Brave New World, dystopian science fiction novels increased in popularity for both readers and writers. George Orwell's 1984 demonstrates the dangerous potential of totalitarian governments, drawing on forms of state-controlled conditioning and mind control that are similar to those used first in Brave New World. In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, censorship is taken even further. Instead of locking books away, books in Fahrenheit 451 are burnt publicly by squads of fireman. These novels stand apart from Brave New World because neither story attempts to create a utopian society. Both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 depict societies dependent on labor enforced by violence, whereas the characters in Brave New World are coerced into cooperation by genetic engineering, drugging, and brainwashing. Like the science fiction works that came before it and those that followed, Brave New World throws current beliefs about human existence into question while considering the implications of new developments in science and technology.