Monday, 23 June 2014

These are a few of my favourite things….. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

I thought it best to make more of an effort with my blog so please tune in more often. The thing is I only use it to post short stories and don’t get much time to plot them all. So here goes with a more “book review,” set of posts where I write about some of my favourite reads. They will include the mainstream and the self-published, novels, short stories, fiction and nonfiction, comics, graphic novels, books my kids enjoy and well, anything really; no borders here; whatever I feel like (my blog my prerogative alright?!)

Although I’m quite eclectic in my tastes of art and literature I admit to having a keen fondness for science fiction. I was six years old when my Dad took me to see Star Wars at the cinema so I guess I was the right age for it to have a massive influence. I often try to explain the significance of Star Wars to people younger than myself. How it transformed the cinema experience and the way we see science fiction. Although with the influx of modern CGI for space adventures, the huge overkill that has developed around Star Wars itself with its many pastiches and various licencing deals it hard to get over the originality and impact it had at the time.
I often read science fiction in hope it will open me up to a fantasy world as creative as Star Wars, sure its originality can come into question, the basic Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yan, the fundamental plot being similar to fairy tales, a princess trapped in a castle by a dark knight is rescued by a good knight, but you cannot deny it its creative flair and besides that is another Pandora’s box entirely.
I found an even more in-depth fantasy world with Frank Herbert’s Dune series of which although the film confused me at a tender age I had kind of forgotten it by the time I read the book. It too though lends itself of tales of knights and castles, courts and chivalry. It was then I began reading the likes of Philip K Dick’s imaginative and experimental short stories of which so many Hollywood sci-fi epics are taken. Further on I begin to pick up on Arthur C Clarke’s 2001 and thereafter series, a more subtle world of real science theory expanded by futurism. Then I read this quite interesting but all the same fairly cliqued book by the prolific writer Marion Zimmer Bradley and it came a time I felt to try and discover someone a bit different.
So I used the net to find a list of the top science fiction books and some geek site suggested that the number one was a book strangely called “Flowers for Algernon,” by Daniel Keyes. It didn’t sound like spaceships blowing each other apart and I was surprised to note that a book I had never heard of before topped over the obvious Frank Herbert, Arthur C Clarke and K Dick. So I gave it a go, reading no synopsis or spoiler which I figure is the best way. Today I cite this book as one my favourites of all time, regardless of genre and although it’s categorised quite rightly as science fiction it is so much more than this. It is sad, intriguing and exceptionally thought provoking. The work of a genius without doubt but when you start it you will wonder how I came to this conclusion. The reason being that its written in an epistolary style, being that of personal notes that are written most simply with atrocious spelling and grammatical errors (even worse than my own!) as if it was scribbled down by a child or perhaps a simpleton. The latter you soon discover is the fact as the character, Charlie tells of his excitement of certain tests the doctors are carrying out on him. They are using some surgical technique to improve his intelligence. It works for the lab mouse Algernon and he is very motivated in his own simplistic way to the success of the experiment.
As the test takes effect the writing improves as Charlie becomes more intelligent but his life is turned into turmoil as he attempts to continue his existence as he once did. He realises how badly he is treated by work colleagues and ends up being pushed out of his job. He tries to build a sexual relationship with one of the doctors he has a crush on but learns this would not be possible due to her intellectual level and so he scores with an artist neighbour of his and deals with the ups and downs of a sexual relationship. He confronts all the aspects of his past that were once confusing to him, his relationship with his parents and sister who fail to understand just what he turned into.
However as time progresses he not only catches up with an average IQ but surpasses it and then surpasses his doctors and scientists. Then he begins his own research into the project, adding his own angle and in study of Algernon the mouse he comes to realise that his intelligence boost is only temporary and his mind deteriorates back to its former retarded state. It is heart-breaking to see the language of the writing return to the standard it began at and come to terms with the fact that he is losing the ability to figure out basic things.
I guarantee the book is something quite unlike anything you have ever read before, it’s emotional and so thought-provoking, it’s magical and inventive and I find myself wondering just how one goes about drafting something so technical. I believe they made a film based upon it called “Charley,” never seen it, don’t think I want to but it did remind me of another film in the early 1990s called “The Lawnmower-Man,” although that movie lends more to special effects than the philosophy of the idea.
During reading it I tried to explain its excellence to the wife but it just came out in mumbles and flustered riddles, I was so trapped in the bubble of the character and could not define just how intense and amazing it was!
In researching this today I discovered that Daniel Keyes died aged 86 on the 18th of this month (June 2014.) An almost unheard of genius, please give this book a read whether you like sci-fi or not, you will not regret it………….
 If you liked this idea of me babbling on about my favourite reads please let me know by commenting and liking as it will spur me onto to write more.

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