Monday, February 12, 2007

Flowers For Algernon - a fresh look

Familiar title? It is to me - I've read the story several times.

But not the novel - until now. And it turned out to be an eye-opener.

Daniel Keyes wrote the short story, which won a Hugo Award in 1960. The story is told strictly as the journal of a retarded man who underwent an operation that improved his abilities substantially. In an insightful way, it tracks the man's progress through a rapid awakening, to the point where he - and only he - can take the experiment to its conclusion.

What was engaging as a short story was made even more worthwhile when Keyes expanded it into a novel in 1966 - whereupon it won a Nebula Award.

The novel attempted to encompass a substantial cross-section of the human experience, as it is rapidly acquired by the protagonist. The scope of the book has turned out to be far more wide-ranging than the original story, and is certainly more complex a work of fiction. Although it sometimes descends almost into cliche, that can be excused, given the task attempted. The achievement is all that more impressive, considering Keyes never produced anything as substantial again.

Interestingly, although I know the story well in the context of my science fiction reading, I have never encountered it outside SF circles. Yet it did escape its (artificial) bounds into general awareness in its heyday. It was filmed as Charly and subsequently put on school curricula in several countries.

Well worth a read.

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