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Flowers for Algernon

altFlowers for Algernon (S.F. Masterworks)

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys

Sci-Fi Masterworks Series

‘Charlie Gordon is a floor sweeper’, so the jacket blurb describes. This is not in the same ball park as those standard ‘space based’ Sci-Fis akin to Star Trek. This could well be considered a psychological insight into the ever-changing human state.

In this tale we follow the fortunes of Charlie who, at the outset, is ‘blessed’ with an IQ of 68, well below normal. There’s little to distinguish him from anyone else other than his inability to understand anything more than the ‘here and now’ – and with those around him either despairing at his ignorance or taking advantage of his simple nature there seems to be no real chance for progress.

That is, until he is confronted with the option to be ‘made’ intelligent through a surgical procedure. Without hesitation he takes the option with the assumption it will improve him, such is the engrained belief that everyone else knows best.

Over time he surpasses all around him, including those that performed the experimental procedure. He finds himself able to comprehend so much and yet, at the same time feels completely isolated from all – far more so than when he was a simple floor sweeper who was the butt of all jokes.

This book is not an easy read for the personification of the language itself – at the start this ‘diary’ monologue is that of a man with an IQ of 68. However, as the language improves so does Charlie’s understanding of his situation – and with hindsight he is conflicted by feelings of animosity to those around him for taking advantage of such an innocent; the former him.

Extra-ordinarily architected, this story shows the shifting of a human psyche from a constant to a growing, changing, learning individual who, once capable of objective and abstract thought, is from time to time offended by the routes used to get there. The conflict creates dead ends of thought to be avoided and quickly, as described in the text, the protagonist understands that to be productive, one must be happy.

In numerous ways this book illustrates humanity, from the ‘birth’ of the new consciousness to the ‘nursing homes’ visited towards the end, and all the confusion of love, sex and work between the two.

In short – fantastic. I thoroughly recommend this book – but don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself! 😉

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