For the longest time, I though 1984 was the best dystopian novel ever written. Even my previous Goodreads review of Brave New World was basically a comparison to Orwell's "superior" work. But now, when I look back at the two, I think Brave New World might actually be the better book.
Brave New World doesn't boast Thought Police or Big Brother or the big anthemic conflict of 1984, but I've realized that it doesn't need
those things. Think about the Thought Police for a second, if you will -- doesn't it seem like Orwell's bashing the reader over the head with an idea? In fact, large portions of 1984 can be boiled down to idealogical propaganda (cf. "Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia", "War is peace", ...). There's nothing wrong with an ideology, but 1984 turns it into a giant sledgehammer and proceeds to beat the Communism out of you. It's a bit like Ayn Rand in that the political message supercedes the plot.
Now everybody likes 1984 (and I'll probably write a positive review of it at some point in my Goodreads career), but I don't see why it's the be-all-and-end-all of modern dystopia.
Enter Brave New World. It's very subtle and it's full of drug use, two things that immediately separate it from 1984. In fact, the two books have very different political motivations. But what's interesting about Brave New World is that it allows you the freedom to think. 1984, for all its "down with Big Brother" messages, ends with all dissent crushed by The Man. If you read the last chapter of 1984, you realize that everything always ends the same way. Similarly, the reader is left to draw only one possible conclusion; that is, whatever Orwell wanted us to conclude. Brave New World avoids this blatant "moralizing" (it's not really moralizing, but the feeling behind the word is exactly what I think of 1984) and instead presents a more permissive society. Interestingly enough, the reader is left with more unanswered questions, which mirrors the plot quite nicely.
Over time, I've really come to dislike anvil fiction and morality tales. If you (as the author) have a moral to tell, your best bet is to
1) write some platitudes in your very own book of wisdom, or
2) do it subtly so that readers can enjoy the story on two levels (the surface level being the plot, the deeper level being the thematic moral elements).
This is what I hate about Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies and even 1984. Brave New World manages to evade this.
In terms of plot and setting, Brave New World's story might not be as exciting as 1984's, but I think it's geared for a different audience (perhaps a more countercultural one; I wonder if hipsters like Brave New World?). It's hard to say that one novel has a "better" plot than the other, but that's really not the point of this review.
Ultimately, I guess I like Brave New World because it's different
than 1984, and because it chooses to reveal its themes a bit more subtly than your average dystopian fiction.