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Book Review: The Last Unicorn

Book Name: The Last Unicorn
Author: Peter S. Beagle
First Published: 1968

Peter S. Beagle was born and raised in New York City. He was a heavy reader from an early age and was encouraged by his parents to pursue his interests in becoming a writer. He was a contributor to his high school literary magazine and his work there caught the interest of the fiction editor of Seventeen Magazine. Beagle entered a poem into this magazine’s Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and took first place. The prize was a college scholarship that sent him to the creative writing program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Beagle continued to create, prolifically turning out stories such as A Fine and Private Place and took first place at Seventeen Magazine’s short story contest with a tale called Telephone Call. He graduated with a degree in creative writing, a minor in Spanish language, and retained his passion for writing.

After a year abroad, he returned to the States and enrolled in a writing workshop at Stanford University where he met Enid, whom he would later marry. When the workshop ended, he bummed around the Eastern United States until he realized he would rather be with Enid who lived in California. He and a friend began a cross-country motorscooter journey that he would chronicle in his memoir I See By My Outfit. He and Enid moved in together and married. To support himself and his new family, Beagle wrote more short stories and novels, including his popular book The Last Unicorn.

The Last Unicorn took Beagle two years to write and he found it a difficult process. The idea came to him during an artistic retreat in Berkshire Hills after Viking Press had rejected one of his novels. The idea for The Last Unicorn intuitively appeared in his mind, it was inspired by all the fantasy tales he had loved during his childhood and by the book The Colt by Dorothy Lathrop. Beagle also stated that a painting by artist Marcial Rodriguez about unicorns fighting bulls added to the mix. The result was an 85 page manuscript that needed much revision and polish. The original story was set in modern times and the unicorn is accompanied by a two-headed demon named Webster and Azazel. This version is published as a limited edition by Suberranean Press and entitled: The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version. In 2005, Beagle published a sequel called Two Hearts which can be found in the anthology The Line Between. Two Hearts won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novelette.

During the 1970s, Beagle shifted from novels to screenplays and developing an alternate career as a folk singer. He plays guitar and sings in English, Yiddish, French and German. A performance of when he played at The Palms in Davis, CA is available. Between 1973 and 1985 you could find Beagle performing his music at the club L’Oustalou in Santa Cruz, CA almost every weekend. In 1980, his marriage to Enid ended and in 1985, he moved to Seattle, WA for a few years.

Today, Beagle is still writing stories and screenplays. He has remarried to Indian author and artist Padma Hejmadi. They reside in Davis, CA. Beagle is a regular on the university circuit where he gives readings, lectures, and concerts. He conducts writing workshops at the University of Washington and at Clarion West.

“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”
― Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

What is the nature of love and mortality? In The Last Unicorn, we explore this idea by following the story of a unicorn who believes she is the last of her species. She decides to go on a quest to discover what happened to the others. Leaving her magical forest, she is dismayed to learn that humans no longer see her as she is, but instead mistake her for a white horse. She is captured by a wandering gypsy and added to the woman’s traveling menagerie of “mythical” beasts. Only the magician Schmendrick, who is employed by the gypsy woman, sees the unicorn for what she truly is. He frees her and joins her quest.

Hints of where the unicorns may be lead to the castle of King Haggard where a monster known as “the red bull” lives. On the way to the castle, the pair are beset by bandits. They come to attention of the bandit’s wife, Molly who laments that she only finds her unicorn when she is middle-aged and no longer innocent. Still, she joins the pair on their quest to Hagsgate.

The trio is then attacked once again, this time by the red bull itself. During the battle, the unicorn is unable to escape, so Schmendrick transforms her into a human to confuse the bull. Thus, the unicorn becomes “Lady Amalthea” and the three ingrate themselves into King Haggar’s court.

As they stay in the castle and try to learn what was the fate of the unicorns, Amalthea undergoes a mental transformation. She forgets that she was once a unicorn and instead allows herself to be romanced by King Haggard’s son, Prince Lir.

What was the fate of the unicorns? Will Amalthea regain her memory in time to save them? Will Prince Lir become the hero he longs to be and capture the fair lady’s heart? You will have to read this classic fantasy tale to find the answers.

Book Cover The Last UnicornMy introduction to The Last Unicorn was the animated feature produced by Rankin/Bass in the 1980’s. Peter Beagle wrote the screenplay himself and the animation was done by Topcraft, a forerunner of Studio Ghibli. It is a wonderful film and stands the test of time. Viewing the movie caused me to seek out the book, which is much richer and subtle than the cartoon and it served as my introduction to the work of this author.

What stays with me is it is not a standard fairytale, but a story that stands traditional tropes on its head. First, the hero is female. Either as a unicorn or a woman, this is Amalthea’s story and transformation. She does not set off on her journey because of a love interest as many female heroines do, but in the noble pursuit of discovering what happened to her people. Her two sidekicks, Magician Schmendrick and Molly McGure, are both well-rounded characters who are far from the typical companions of a hero. Prince Lir, a name taken from a Celtic sea-god and having Shakespearean overtones, is comical as he attempts to play the hero and full fill his destiny, a fate that is far from what he suspects. In this, he is also atypical, a male that plays a secondary role in the story. Although there is a feminist bent to the tale, it is not overt and I believe that anyone who enjoys stories about fantasy or unicorns would enjoy the story. This is a classic tale that should not be missed, not matter if you are young or young at heart.

Book Review: The Martian Chronicles

Book Name: The Martian Chronicles
Author: Ray Bradbury
First Published: 1950

Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy, science fiction, and mystery fiction writer. He was known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together in The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. Many of Bradbury’s works have been adapted into television and films and he has left his stamp on the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Bradbury was born in the mid-west, but his family moved back and forth between Waukegan, Illinios and Tucson, Arizona for most of his formative years. When Bradbury was fourteen, his family settled in Los Angeles, California and he remained in the Southern California area for much of his life. Bradbury was a reader and writer throughout his youth. He claimed that he was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series and wrote a fanfiction based on those tales at the age of twelve. He credits this series as the inspiration for The Martian Chronicles and notes that he likely would never have written about Mars at all if it was not for his love of the Burroughs’ series.

Bradbury cited H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as his biggest science fiction influences, followed by Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt. As Bradbury matured, he drew more from the style and works of Alexander Pope and poet John Donne. When later asked about the lyrical nature of his prose, Bradbury replied that it came, “From reading so much poetry every day of my life. My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well.” He also has said, “If you’re reluctant to weep, you won’t live a full and complete life.”

Bradbury did not attend college. Instead, he sold newspapers once he graduated from high school and spent much of his time reading. “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA’s Powell Library where he rented a typewriter in one of their study rooms. The rental rate for completing the entire novel was around ten dollars since the rental of the manual typewriter was ten cents per half hour. He preferred to write on a typewriter instead of computers because that was what he was used to.

Ray Bradbury lived at home until the age of twenty-seven when he married his sweetheart, Marguerite McClure. They had four children together. He was an active member of Los Angeles Science Fiction Society where he made his first connections in the writing community of Los Angeles. From these connections, he began to meet publishers and gained a following for his work that now spans the globe. Bradbury is credited with writing 27 novels and over 600 short stories. More than eight million copies of his works, published in over 36 languages, have been sold around the world.

In his later years, Ray Bradbury became a well sought out speaker at literary events in the Southern California area. He never obtained a driver’s license and did not enjoy travel. It was well known on the speaker circuit, if you wanted Ray Bradbury to speak at your event, you should arrange to have a driver come and get him. I regret that I did not take the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradbury in person before he passed away in December of 2011. He was a favorite on the literary speaker’s circuit in Southern California and I personally know many writers that consider him to be an inspiration.

“Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” – Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories based on the colonization of the planet Mars by people fleeing from an atomic devastated Earth. There is conflict between the aboriginal Martians and the colonists as they adjust to life on the new world. The stories are tied together by short vignettes, creating a loose novel in three parts.

The first third of the book tells of the first attempts by humans to land and explore on Mars. The native Martians endeavor to prevent them from returning. In the fourth story _And the Moon be Still as Bright, it is discovered that the Martians have been decimated by a plague brought by the humans, much the way that the American natives were brought down by European disease by the conquistadors. This sets the stage for the second part of the book when the humans colonize the deserted planet and set about making it into a second Earth. The final part of the book occurs after a global nuclear war on Earth cuts off contact between the two worlds. The few surviving humans that remain on Mars become the new Martians and the circle of life continues.

the-martian-chronicles-book-coverMy first exposure to The Martian Chronicles was during the 1980s when the mini-series starring Rock Hudson came out in 1980. Hudson played one of the colonists from the fourth Martian expedition who later returned with his family to colonize Mars. I have never forgotten the scene when Hudson playing Col. John Wilder takes his children to a Martian canal and points at their reflection in the water. “There are the Martians.” He tells them. One day there will be humans to do this and not all that far in the future.

I have always loved the ERB series, John Carter of Mars, and between the two, a love for stories about the red planet has grown in me. After The Martian Chronicles mini-series, I made a point to seek out the original book. While I enjoyed the written stories, I think that in this case, I prefer the mini-series, although Ray Bradbury himself thought it boring! You can still see all three episodes today on YouTube. ONE TWO THREE

The science behind the stories is sorely outdated. Back when Bradbury wrote the stories, it was believed that Mars had more atmosphere and it would be more hospitable to human life. Today, we know that living on Mars will be much more difficult than simply getting there and setting up homes. We will need to combat a rampant CO2 atmosphere, low gravity and live without the protection of a magnetic planetary field. Still, this is a classic science fiction tale and several of the stories in the collection are well worth reading. My personal favorites are: “Rocket Summer”, “Ylla”, “-And The Moon Be Still As Bright”, “The Off Season”, and “The Million-Year Picnic.”

Book Review: Elantris

Book Name: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
First Published: 2005

Brandon Sanderson was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1975. His general schooling began at Brigham Young University as an English major after completing a two-year LDS mission to Seoul, South Korea in 1997. While working on his graduate degree, he became an editor for the semi-pro speculative fiction magazine Leading Edge. Sanderson gained his Masters in creative writing in 2005.

In 2006, Sanderson married Emily Bushman, also an English major and teacher, who also serves as his business manager. They have three children and currently reside in American Fork, Utah. Sanderson continues to teach creative writing at Brigham Young University in addition to his work as a full-time science fiction author.

You can catch Brandon Sanderson with his writing buddies Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and web cartoonist Howard Tayler on their weekly podcast Writing Excuses. It is filled with writing tips and good humor jokes for aspiring authors.

Sanderson’s first novel is Elantris, published by Tor Books in 2005. It met with positive reviews and showcased the author’s ability to create unique magic systems for his stories. He followed it with his famous Mistborn fantasy trilogy.

In 2007, Robert Jordan, the author of the Wheel of Time, died and his famous series was left unfinished. Jordan’s editor and widow, Harriet McDougal, selected Sanderson to finish her husband’s final book and to give closure to millions of Wheel of Time fans worldwide. Under Sanderson’s care, the final book became three and each met with great success on the New York Times bestseller lists. It also propelled Sanderson into the limelight. Since then, most of Sanderson’s novels land on the NYT bestseller lists, proving him to be a highly successful author of his generation. Many books, novellas, and short stories are pouring from this prolific author’s pen even today.

“To live is to have worries and uncertainties. Keep them inside, and they will destroy you for certain–leaving behind a person so callused that emotion can find no root in his heart.”
― Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

Elantris was the capital of the nation of Arelon. A shiny and radiant city filled with benevolent demigods who use their magic to the benefit of humankind, the parent race from which they spring. A decade ago, their magic failed without warning. The powerful Elantrians became leper-like cripples that cling to the shadows of their dark, crumbling city. Elantris is shunned and feared by all, no one understanding the disaster that befell its people.

With the fall of Elantris, a new capital is built nearby. Peopled by ordinary humans, Kae is a city with the poor, religious fanatics, and the upper class with imperial ambitions. Princess Sarene of Teod is sent by her people to marry with Crown Prince Raoden of Arelon. She has never met him, but via letters, she has grown fond of him and hopes for love in her arranged marriage to him. However, when she arrives at Kae, she discovers that the prince is dead.

As Raoden’s widow, Sarene remains at Kae and uses her influence to help the poor and counter the threat posed by the fanatic Hrathen of Fjordell. This high priest wishes to convert all of Arelon to his religion and then claim the kingdom for his emperor and god.

There is a secret that neither Sarene or Hrathen know. Prince Raoden is not dead. He has been sent to Elantris by his own father when he was struck by the Elantris transformation, known as the “Shaod”, that once would have turned him into a demigod. Now, he is a powerless wretch exiled to the dirty streets of the fallen city. There, much as Serene works with the poor of Kae, Raoden works to help the fallen former demigods of Elantris. As he continues his work to provide comfort and aid, a series of events leads him to learn more about the disaster that befell the former capital of Arelon and might reveal the secret to the magic of Elantris itself.

Elantris Book CoverElantris is the first novel that I have read by author Brandon Sanderson. When he was selected to continue the Wheel of Time series, I was a little nervous. I am a huge fan of the Wheel of Time and was disheartened by the loss of author Robert Jordan. Could anyone truly fill this man’s shoes and complete his magnum opus? To placate my fears, I purchased Elantris and gave Sanderson a trial read. My fears about the Wheel of Time dissolved and now I have a new favorite author to enjoy.

The book showcases what have become signatures in Sanderson’s writing. Incredible world building, complex and unique magic systems, combined with likable characters. There are a few weaknesses in his first novel, the ending is anti-climactic and there are a few plot-holes that are left unresolved. Even so, I can whole-heartedly recommend Elantris as a book to add to your reading list. If you love epic fantasy with strong female characters, great pacing, and beautiful world building, I urge you to give Brandon Sanderson a try. There is a good reason why he is constantly topping the New York Times bestseller lists.

Book Review: A Spell for Chameleon

Book Name: A Spell for Chameleon
Author: Piers Anthony
First Published: 1977
August Derleth Award Winner 1978

Piers Anthony was a British immigrant who came to America with his parents at the tender age of six years. He was not a happy child, being bullied at school with parents that divorced. Anthony met his wife, Carol while both were attending Goddard College in Vermont. After several odd jobs, Anthony joined the army in order to support his pregnant wife. In the military, he became an editor and cartoonist for the battalion newspaper. During his time in the army, he became a naturalized US citizen. After a two-year tour of duty, he became a teacher at the Admiral Farragut Academy in Florida before he switched careers and became a full-time author.

During his start as a writer, Anthony and his wife made a bargain. If he could sell a piece of writing in one year, she would continue in her efforts to support the family. If he could not, he would give up writing forever. At the end of his first year, he did manage to get a short story published and the rest, as they say, is history.

Piers Anthony has gone on to write several series of books and has gained much success as a fantasy and science fiction author. His Xanth series, which spans 30 books, continues to be written with a new book added to the series almost every year.

“Now it was done. He was free of Xanth forever. Free to make his own life, without being ridiculed or mothered or tempted. Free to be himself. Bink put his face in his hands and cried.” ― Piers Anthony, A Spell for Chameleon

A Spell for Chameleon begins with the introduction of a young man named Bink. He has a problem. In a land where every human has a magical talent, he is one of the unfortunate few who does not. If a human of Xanth does not display a talent by their eighteenth birthday, they are thrown into exile into the non-magical realms, our world. Bink undertakes one last quest to discover if he has magic. To visit the Good Magician Humfrey, whose magical talent is that of information. If Humfrey can discover his talent, Bink can remain in Xanth and marry his sweetheart, Sabrina.

The quest takes Bink into the heart of the magical realm. He faces many dangers, but always at the last minute a coincidence saves his life. He meets several people along the way. A pair of Centaurs, Crombie the Soldier, and three young women. The first woman is Wynne, a stupid but beautiful girl and the second is Dee, an average girl without an apparent magical talent just like Bink. The final woman is Iris the sorceress who power is that of illusion. Iris is powerful enough to rule Xanth in her own right, but because she is female she was denied the throne and instead the Storm King rules.

Iris saves Bink from an illusion trap and makes him an offer. She will provide Bink with the illusion of powerful magic, allowing him to overthrow the Storm King and remain in Xanth. Then they would marry and Iris would rule as Queen. Bink turns her down and continues on his journey. He wants to marry Sabrina and does not trust the sorceress, fearing he would become her slave.

At last, Bink arrives at Magician Humfrey’s castle. He is tested by three challenges to gain entry. Humfrey determines that Bink not only has magic, but it is of magician-caliber. However, some power prevents the magician from determining what that magic is. He sends Bink home with a note stating that Bink has magic and should not be placed in exile.

Bink returns to North Village to show the note to the Storm King, but due to the King’s rivalry with Humfrey, the king ignores the note and orders Bink into exile. He crosses the magical shield that separates Xanth from Mundania (our world), leaving his parents and Sabrina behind forever. On the other side of the magical barrier, Bink is captured by the Evil Magician Trent, who had been exiled from Xanth twenty years previous for his attempt to overthrow the Storm King and rule in his place. Trent wishes to know where the source of magic is in Xanth so he can toss a magic nullifying potion on it and allow his troops through the magical barrier. Bink refuses to help Trent and is thrown into the pit with Fanchon, an ugly woman, but one with a superior intelligence.

What Bink does not realize is that he has met Fanchon before. She is known as Chameleon, a woman who changes appearance and intelligence with the phases of the moon. Wynne and Dee were the other two phases of the three that Chameleon morphs into. Chameleon is in love with Bink and had followed him to Humfrey’s castle. The good magician advised her to go to Mundania where the lack of magic would allow her to settle into her middle phase of Dee. On learning that Bink was to be exiled, she thought that perhaps they could create a life together. For no man has ever wanted her due to her extreme shifts, but as average woman Dee in Mundania, she feels that she might have a last chance for happiness.

Bink and Fanchon escape to sea, due to Fanchon’s incredible intelligence, but are pursued by Trent’s men. Eventually, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon are all swept back into Xanth via a whirlpool but Trent’s forces are left behind. The three get to know one another and Bink discovers that he likes Trent and finds that his time in Mundania has matured the young hothead that tried to take over the kingdom.

They meet up with Sorceress Iris once more and this time, Iris offers herself to Trent, hoping that they would become the next King and Queen of Xanth. Bink tries to stop them by challenging Trent to a duel of magic. During the duel, Bink’s particular form of magic is revealed. In a final thrust of using physical force against Bink, Chameleon puts herself in front of the man she loves and saves his life. This stops the duel and the group bands together once more in order to save Chameleon’s life.

Will Chameleon live and win Bink’s heart over that of his old flame Sabrina? Will Trent and Iris overthrow the Storm King and rule Xanth together? Will Trent find the source of magic and be able to destroy it to allow his troops into the magical realm? You will need to read the book to find out.

A Spell For Chameleon Book Cover

I first read A Spell For Chameleon when I was very young and the book was first in print. I was delighted by the world building, a magical land where groan-worthy puns were alive in a fantastical natural environment.

I loved the three main characters: Chameleon, Bink, and Trent. Each was quirky, intelligent and straightforward. I was fascinated by Chameleon and the concept of a woman who changed with the phase of the moon and by Bink, a young and handsome man with refreshing flaws that made him likable. Trent, while portrayed as “evil” also was relatable and in the end, I found myself rooting for both him and Iris.

The novel is a first of a very long series of Xanth novels, of which Mr. Anthony seems to produce a new one once a year for the most part. I have not read the entire series because I feel the quality of the books begins to deteriorate after the fourth or fifth book. The first three are fun and worth the read if you enjoy fantasy novels. This one and its sequel, The Source of Magic, are my two favorites. I feel that both books are worth looking into, but I would not necessarily give them to children due to the sexual overtones of the stories and the sexism that is portrayed as “normal behavior”. The sexism does make the novel somewhat dated, but I would not necessarily skip the book for that issue. Xanth is a world that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Early Xanth Series:
A Spell for Chameleon
The Source of Magic
Castle Roogna
Centaur Aisle
Ogre, Ogre

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon

Book Name: Flowers For Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
First Published: 1966
Hugo Award for best short story (1960)
Joint Nebula Award (1966)
Nominated for Hugo Award as novel (1967) Lost to Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Daniel Keyes first job as a teenager was to join the U.S. Maritime Service as a ship purser. When he left the sea, he continued his schooling and gained a B.A. in psychology and then a Master’s in English and American Literature from Brooklyn College in New York. Keyes became a teacher for the New York City public school system and taught English and creative writing. Later he would go on to teach creative writing at Wayne State University in Ohio and become a professor emeritus there in 2000. His original university, Brooklyn College, also awarded him its “Distinguished Alumnus Medal of Honor.” Keyes was elected the SFWA Author Emeritus in 2000 for making a significant contribution to science fiction and fantasy, primarily as a result of Flowers for Algernon.

Keyes died in his home in 2014 at the age of 86. It was due to complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his two daughters, Leslie and Hillary, his wife Aurea Georgina Vazquez having died the year before.

His writing career began a few weeks after his graduation from Brooklyn College. Keyes was hired by Magazine Management, a publishing company owned by Martin Goodman. Since he had some experience with science fiction, he eventually became the editor of the pulp magazine Marvel Science Stories, a precursor of the now famous Marvel Comics. When Goodman discontinued the pulps in favor of paperback novels and men’s adventure magazines, Keyes was moved to Atlas to become an associate editor under Stan Lee. In 1952, Keyes was one of several staff writers (officially known as editors) who wrote for the comics. He had two science fiction stories published in Journey into Unknown Worlds along with art from Basil Wolverton.

Flowers for Algernon began as a story proposal for the comics, entitled Brainstorm, but Keyes felt that this story had more depth and was more literary based than comic based. Instead, he wrote it as a full short story and it was published in 1959 by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He won the Hugo Award for this short story. In a few years, he would expand the short into his first full-length novel to publish in 1966. The novel has since been adapted into several movies, including the famous version “Charly” that gave Cliff Robertson the academy award for best actor. The novel was nominated for a Hugo and it won a Nebula Award.

Keyes published additional books: The Fifth Sally, The Minds of Billy Milligan, The Touch, Unveiling Claudia, and the memoir Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey.

Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye.
— Plato, The Republic

Charlie Gordon, a thirty-something man, suffers from phenylketonuria and has a modest IQ of 68. He works as a janitor at a bakery which allows him enough money to afford an apartment and stay out of the state institution. Charlie has ambition. He takes courses to learn to read and write at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. His teacher is young and attractive Alice Kinnian.

Two medical researchers look for a human subject to test a new surgical technique to raise biological intelligence. The first experiments performed on a mouse were successful enough that they felt it was time to take the next step in their studies with a human. Based on a recommendation from Miss Kinnian, Charlie is chosen to be that test subject based on his motivation to improve his condition.

Charlie’s operation is a success, much like that of the mouse Algernon. His IQ soars to 185 and his dream of understanding the world around him as a normal human becomes a reality. As the months pass, life changes dramatically for Charlie. His relationships take on new meaning as he realizes the guys at the bakery “liked” him because he was a butt for their jokes. Now they fear him and demand that he be fired from his job. The scientists who performed the surgery think of him as another test subject, more a mouse than a human. Charlie confronts them with anger at a cocktail party. He also begins a romance with Alice Kinnian, but due to lack of intimacy with her, he rebels and starts a purely physical relationship with another woman, Fay.

When not dousing his soul with alcohol, Charlie continues his mentor’s research. This includes observations of the mouse Algernon, who he keeps at his apartment much like a pet. He discovers a flaw in the scientist’s research. When Algernon begins to behave in an erratic manner, losing his intelligence and then dies, Charlie realizes that he may suffer the same fate as the mouse.

Charlie attempts to mend his broken relationships with his parents and sister. He discovers that his mother suffers from dementia and his sister Norma is caring for her. Norma had hated Charlie as they were growing up, but now has new compassion for him. She asks Charlie to remain with her and their mother, but Charlie declines. Instead, he offers money to help with their mother’s care.

The process inverts and Charlie begins the decline back to a man of special needs. Fay becomes afraid of Charlie’s new condition and leaves him even as Alice returns. But will Charlie be able to accept Alice Kinnian into his life now that he is no longer a lauded genius?

Flowers for Algernon Book Cover.jpgLike many school children, Flowers for Algernon was required reading in my high school English class. It is a powerful book that left a lasting impression on me. I was made aware that science fiction did not need to be “pulp” to be part of the genre. There is room for sci-fi to be literary and comment on the human condition.

The novel has gone on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide. It has inspired many television and movie adaptations, the most famous of which is Charly starring Cliff Robertson who won an Oscar for the title role. It has become a story that is now a part of the pop-culture and has been included in many high school curriculum plans.

Yet, there is still controversy surrounding the novel. Some critics of the book find it to be sexually explicit and irreligious. Consequently, the book is occasionally removed from the shelves of schools and put onto “banned book” lists.

I view the book as a statement of how the physically and mentally challenged are viewed in the world. I am proud how far their treatment and place in society has come. There was a time not all that long ago when such children and adults were locked away in institutions or treated with derision when kept with their families. Today, I feel that much of this stigma has been removed and that people are treated with more dignity and understanding.

And what of the idea of augmenting human intelligence that plays a pivotal role in the novel? When Daniel Keyes was asked when he thought such a process might come to pass, his reply was “Perhaps in 30 years.” Science fiction may very well become science fact in our lifetime.