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Flowers for Algernon (novelette), by Daniel Keyes

Discussion in 'Books' started by Omphalos, Jan 3, 2009.

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  1. Omphalos

    Omphalos Orthodox Herbertarian

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    [​IMG]


    When people say that SF is a gloomy body of literature, I think that they have stories like this week's in mind. Flowers for Algernon is not a tale of the failure of science to make people's lives better. The operation that was performed in this story was expected to fail, so what it really is about is how science and scientists treat other humans like lab rats, and the effect that experiments that are not wisely performed can wreck havoc on the lives of the participants. Five out of five stars...Please click here, or on the book cover above, to be taken to the complete review..
     
  2. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

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    Algernon is one of those classics that everybody should read at least once while they are young. It can be debated as to what the moral of the story is which makes it, at least in my opinion, and even more important work since the reader can take away their own meaning of it all.
     
  3. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard Writer

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    Arguably the best SF short story ever written (and not improved by being stretched to a book-length story). A perfectly crafted jewel in which the form and the substance work together.

    As I recall it, the operation wasn't "expected to fail" though...the experimental mouse only started to suffer a relapse after the operation had been performed on the human subject. An important part of the tragic appeal is that the now super-intelligent human could see in the mouse's deterioration what was going to happen to him.
     
  4. Omphalos

    Omphalos Orthodox Herbertarian

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    Hi Anthony. I think I have seen your reviews elsewhere. Chronicles, IIRC.

    The doctors knew that the operation was going to fail because Charley and Algernon were not the first recipients of it. They had done a bunch of animals in the past, and they all followed the same pattern. High intelligence followed by a downward spiral to where they came from, then death. There was some conflict in the story between the two doctors who came up with the procedure too. One of them, the older own, was pushing to do the operation on a human so that they could publish and be considered for the Nobel. And there are several inconspicuous passages where Charley's nurse hints that she knows that his intelligence will fail, but she never told him. Which is why she kind of loses her mind in the end. So they certainly had no basis to think that they would succeed, and every indication that they would fail, since they had not really modified the procedure since any of the other animals, all of whom were now dead, were given it. but that only adds to the tragic appeal here. Not only could Charley see what was going to happen to him, but the doctors could have told Charley what was going on when he was still super intelligent, and maybe he could have tried to use that intellect and knowledge to fix the problem.

    I also was not crazy about the book. This novelette is much better I think.
     
  5. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard Writer

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    Thanks, I had forgotten a lot of that. It's a very long time since I last read it!
     
  6. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

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    {Kevin makes a mental note to pick up a copy of the book...}

    It has been years since I've read it and, wow, it seems there are nuances that I've forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder on this classic.
     
  7. linrobinson

    linrobinson Your Ultimate Destiny Writer

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    That's about as "arguable" as things get, for sure. Whew.

    I'm surprised nobody has yet noted that this was made into a feature motion picture with Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. Very nice picture at that.
     
  8. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

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    Wow, that just instantly brought back memories of watching the film in school (one of those school shown movies where everybody sits on the floor with the lights out). A search of IMDB shows that a Canadian production was also done in 2000.

    BTW: Welcome to Cool Sci-Fi! :cool:
     
  9. linrobinson

    linrobinson Your Ultimate Destiny Writer

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    Thanks, Kevin.
    I guess I should have mentioned the Robertson film was called "Charly"
     
  10. redmeds727

    redmeds727 Scout

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    I remember being forced to read this book when i was a kid and ended up loving it. I think this and Animal Farm were the first two 'real' books i ever read.
     
  11. redmeds727

    redmeds727 Scout

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    i didn't know it was made into a movie. ill have to check it out.
     
  12. ryanseanoreilly

    ryanseanoreilly ryanseanoreilly Writer

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    Thought I'd add my review to this thread:

    A journey of self that is both compelling and crushing in its introspection.

    Charly Gordon is a middle-aged, mentally-challenged man who has been selected as a test subject for the first human to undergo a procedure that will significantly increase intelligence. Algernon is the mouse whom the scientists have previously had success with.

    The author tells this story in epistolary fashion through journal entries written by the protagonist. The actual words themselves become a literary device as the reader van visually see the protagonist change and grow through the spelling, grammar, word choice and sentence structure written on the pages. Keyes does a good job of using this technique for effect without coming across as overwrought.

    The journey of self-realization takes the protagonist from a place of vulnerability to one of power, where he rediscovers his own vulnerability in new and different ways. Charly starts out as a positive and endearing character who is eager to please and to learn. When he is tapped by the scientists to take his learning growth to unprecedented levels there are emotional consequences and costs for such rapid changes. Charly is forced to examine his past and everything he thought he knew about the world. He finds darkness behind the light and does not like what he sees.

    He also struggles with the subtleties of life when negotiating relationships with others. Charly’s intelligence ends up driving a wedge between him and others. He ends up feeling more alone the more he progresses. Despite his new found wisdom, he lacks the experiences of a lifetime of living at this new level within which to put context to all he is learning. He is a fish out of water.

    Charly has both loving and strained relationships with women that bring confusion and challenges. He also questions all his old friendships and loyalties. Keyes’ storytelling is superior in this respect because he negotiates the gray areas very well. With his new minds’ eye Charly looks to focus things into simple black and white issues, but this is not so easy. Certainly the characters in this story have various selfish or at times, down right mean, motives. However, the author strays away from painting the picture of some great evil overlord that must be slain. The nuances of the character’s motives are much more complex.

    The strength of the story is here. Looking through Charly’s eyes as his perspective shifts and he tries to understand the complexity of living in a society where he wants to belong, but also feels completely isolated within.

    Overall, this is a great read in exploring interpersonal relationships in a heightened reality that does not feel very different from our own. A poignant tale.

    Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: "No Deodorant In Outer Space". The podcast is available on iTunes, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).
     

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