Flowers for Algernon (1966)
Shared winner of the 1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
In 1960, Daniel Keyes' novella "Flowers for Algernon" received the Hugo Award for best short fiction. It was the story of Charlie Gordon, a simpleton, working as a lowly janitor, who is given the chance to participate in an experiment in increasing an individual's intelligence. Initially the operation is an enormous success. Charlie's I.Q. soars to genius levels. But eventually tragedy strikes when it turns out that the result isn't permanent and Charlie feels his mind slipping away again, his fate being foreshadowed by that of the lab mouse Algernon.
Told as a series of Charlie's diary entries, the original novella was unusually intense and involving. Later Keyes took the simple story and expanded it into this (short) novel, which I'm afraid adds little. Certainly, we now accompany Charlie as he learns about his former life and family, he becomes much more of a person, but in just this way the extra material dilutes the focus from what happens to Charlie to his development as a character, and lessening the narrative's overall impact. And while the terse novella has a timeless quality about it, the expansion feels quite dated, very much set in the mid-20th century, with transparently non-sensical technobabble.
Sometimes, less is more.
As I was reading the book, it struck me that Charlie's ride up and down the intelligence elevator mirrors our own development from childhood on; how we learn to question authority and take our own path through life as we grow up; and how our mental capacities frequently diminish in old age, with dementia sufferers regressing into childlike states.
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