Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes (Book Review)

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Read based on a recommendation. I haven’t really delved into a lot of science fiction, especially not seriously:

Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

The story is written as a series of Progress Reports by Charlie for the lead experimenters in the study. Beginning pre-operation, Charlie struggles to write coherently and spell correctly. He explains about his job and his friends there, and how he longs to become smart and join in the serious conversations people are always having around him.

The experiment is a success, and it’s not long before Charlie begins realising that his ‘friends’ were always mocking him, and that the conversations about politics and religion he often heard were misinformed, and even that the lecturers at the university knew little in their own area.

As he begins to struggle with his new life, he begins to lift the veil of his past, especially in regards to his family, and in particular, his mother.

The storyline becomes very moving as Charlie begins to understand more about himself and his past, and begins to explore new relationships. The novel challenges many views on people with learning difficulties, and pushes to humanise those we don’t understand due to their disabilities. Echoing throughout the novel is the fact that Charlie existed long before he become intelligent: the researchers didn’t create him.

It’s written in a very unique way, and is certainly memorable; it is unlike any novel I have read previously. The book is also not very long, but felt like the storyline was full and complete, and I struggle to think of any unanswered questions. I certainly felt melancholy once it ended though, but it ended well.

A must read for sci-fi fans!

Nod – Adrian Barnes (Book Review)

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I’ve never read much sci-fi, or horror, though I often think I should. I think often the problem is that with so many series to choose from, and seemingly many by self-published authors, its quite hard to know where to begin. There is probably some gold out there in the hills of lengthy novels, but finding it is a difficult commitment to make.

That being said, when this book was suggested as an option at the book club I attend, I found the premise interesting enough to give it a go.

The premise is fairly simple:

Paul, a writer, awakes one morning to his partner, Tanya, complaining of getting no sleep the night before. Paul himself also mentions his bizarre ‘golden’ dream, but nothing is made of it and they continue with their days. Until Tanya returns from work with the news that, apart from maybe 1 in 10,000, nobody slept the previous night. And nobody can sleep still.

So with a population of growingly sleep-deprived people, the apocalypse facing humanity seems to begin, with the Sleepers being the targets of envious rage, and the target of hunting in order to, somehow, discover a way to sleep.

As Paul watches his wife slowly sink into a hallucinatory reality, he travels across Vancouver in search of safety from the Awakened.

As far as post-apocalyptic settings go, this is a fairly unique one: the problem facing humanity is something as simple as no longer being able to sleep. The effects of sleep-deprivation in reality are quite serious, with hallucinations setting in after a few days, bursts of psychosis further on, and eventually, death. All of which feature in the book as the days pass by, many aware of the inevitable end if they can’t get some sleep.

The writing style in this book has in it a hint of dark comedy which I appreciate: comedic writing that somehow paradoxically is somewhat funny, without making light of the subject. A great example of this is a throw away comment in the book about a horrible husband who communicates with his wife through ‘morse code’: a series of slaps and silences (paraphrasing). It’s clever comments like this which ran throughout which made me appreciate the writing style. The ending too, being fairly unique, yet seemed to fit well with Paul’s tone throughout.

That being said, I did think that the ‘outbreak’ of insomnia was in many ways more believable and tense than the time a week or so later.

I disturbingly found Paul a very likable character, despite his fairly obvious hatred for humanity, and perhaps this was reliant on his humour and narrative style.

Overall, I gave the book a arbitrary 4/5 on Goodreads, but in reality it’s hard to judge. I liked it, but would have liked the concept of a sleep-deprived apocalypse to take on a broader setting than seemingly a few blocks which was focused on in the story.

I like sleep, and sleep-deprivation, though seemingly common to me, is a pain. I would hate to not be able to sleep but still feel the effects of tiredness. I work nights and so tiredness is already fairly hard to keep on top of, nevermind it accumulating.

Perhaps though, watching those you love fall into a hallucinatory reality whilst you remain the the typical one would be difficult too, and their lack of care of no sleep (much unlike my whining about it), and lack of care for the anarchy around them, perhaps a sort of ignorant bliss to be envious of in such a setting…