Flowers for Algernon
My hit rate for this series so far has been... somewhat
lower than I hoped. It’s not that I am going out of my way to find
SF stories that do not consistently appeal to younger people;
it is just that I turn out to have a remarkable talent for finding
SF stories that do not consistently appeal to younger people
the solution would be to look for stories with proven broader appeal.
What better choice than Daniel Keyes’ Hugo winning “Flowers for
Algernon”? Although it was first published in an unimpeachably
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
popularity was not limited to science fiction fans. To quote
has been adapted many times for different media including stage,
screen and radio. These adaptations include:
1961 television drama, The
Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon,
also starring Cliff Robertson, for which he won the
Award for Best Actor
1969 stage play, Flowers
by David Rogers
1978 stage musical,
by David Rogers and Charles
1991 radio play, Flowers
2000 television movie, Flowers
2002 Japanese drama, Algernon
ni Hanataba wo
2006 French television movie, Des
fleurs pour Algernon
2015 Japanese drama, Algernon
ni Hanataba wo
2015 podcast episode of
, narrated by Dave Thompson
and radio adaptations have also been produced in
(1987, 1990), and Czechoslovakia
1966 novel-length expansion is frequently banned, the mark of quality
popular fiction: people only ban things of which they are actually
I can think of obvious reasons why this would appeal to older
people—Charlie’s arc is essentially the same war between
development and entropy we all eventually lose, amplified and
accelerated—I know (because I first encountered it as a
thirteen-year-old) that it can appeal to teens as well. Surely this
will be the story that bridges the gap between generations?
short story may be found in
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: 60th Anniversary
audio adaptation may
be found here.
The novel-length expansion is available
liked this story. The short progress reports got a little tiresome,
but the longer and better spelled sections in the middle kept it from
wearing. The increasing eloquence through the first half, then the
descent back to misspelled scrawl were well executed. I recognize the
authorial skill it takes to smoothly transition through from barely
literate up to postgraduate and back.
was a very sad story throughout. First when Charles learns that
everyone is laughing at him, then when he discovers that he is going
to revert to possibly a worse state than where he started.
Personally, cognitive decline is one of my greatest fears and I can't
decide if knowing that it was happening would be better or worse.
like that the story doesn't have the anti-intellectual spin that most
of the homages I've seen have. In episodes and stories based on this,
the moral is often that being dumb and happy is better than being
smart and lonely. In this story Charles wants to stay intelligent.
It's something I agree with.
the story of Charles aside, I'm pretty sure the surgical procedure in
the story would be used regardless of the consequences. If someone
like Charles can write a groundbreaking scientific paper in the time
he has with increased intelligence, imagine what someone else could
do with it (assuming the procedure works as advertised and gives a
straight multiplier to intelligence.) People in academia use dodgier
means for less dramatic results now.
Kinnian is not very fleshed out as a character, but in this story
nobody but Charles is really given much characterization.
in all, I see why this is considered a foundational work of science
fiction, and it deserves the recognition.
hate this story already” I complained after scanning over the first
page for about 2 seconds. “Why? It doesn't make fun of people with
a developmental disability, it's really good,” my partner said. I
explained that I was annoyed with the progress report format of the
story, and the intentional spelling mistakes. My partner urged me to
give the story a chance. “I will,” I said. “I have to.” “For
verdict? We've read stories full of theft, death, apocalypse, planets
taken over by robots, and infanticide, but "Flowers for Algernon" was
by far the most depressing story we've read. For the same of my
mental well-being, I never want to think about "Flowers for Algernon"
read the novel in high school for fun in Grade 9 or 10. It was on one
of those recommended reading lists along with Stargirl and similar
coming-of-age stories. Because of that, I’ve always thought of
Flowers for Algernon as YA.
initial progress reminds me a lot of growing up. When you’re young
and don’t understand things, adults make fun of you. When you get
older, you realize that being an adult doesn’t mean being smart.
really stands out is that intellectual ability is no stand-in for
social ability. The factory workers are dim compared to most and they
like to feel superior by making fun of Charlie. The testers treat
Charlie clinically, like an experiment. The scientists have their own
personal motivations, and Charlie doubts they care for his
well-being. Everyone’s flaws are exposed, except for Miss Kinnian.
Charlie claims to be in love with her. I say claim Miss Kinnian is
more like a motherly figure and steadfast friend. To be fair, she’s
the only one trained in communicating with exceptional and extreme
this to say that the story highlights that everyone is imperfect
because everyone deviates from the norm.
an SF perspective, this story examines the study of human psychology.
The human brain/mind is an extremely complex thing. Frequently, we
hear that it may be too complex to fully understand. In other SF,
medical science can cure any ill except for fix a broken brain. The
meta self-examination of our brains examining our brains will likely
remain a topic of fascination for a while yet.
this story aged well? The vocabulary seems a bit dated here and
there. They call Charlie a ‘card’. Charlie lives at a
boarding-house. Overall, though, nothing egregious.
they’re two-dimensional—hey, that’s better than the
one-dimensional characters of other stories so far! The female
characters are fleshed out as much as most of the other characters.
They have their own flaws and motivations, and they have indications
of a wider life outside of Charlie’s perspective.
I still like this pretty well. In fact, I recently recommended this
to a friend looking for short story suggestions. Not what I would
expect to find under SF.
is the first time in this series of reviews where I read the story
before it was assigned. I read the novel version of the story when I
was in grade 12. It wasn’t assigned reading, but it had been
mentioned in English class, and I got it from the library out of
curiosity. So I was already familiar with the outline of the story,
even though I didn’t remember all the details.
definitely liked the story better this time than I did when I read
the novel. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m 10 years older or
if it’s because of the differences between the two version of the
story. Even though I enjoyed it more this time, I still don’t feel
like I know how to react to this story.
feel like the author has a definite point in writing this, that
there’s a message I’m supposed to be taking away from the story,
but I have no idea what it is. I can’t tell if it’s supposed to
be warning us away from attempting to modify humans, or if it’s
supposed to be encouraging.
do like the setup of having the story in the form of progress
reports. The writing style changes between entries are a good way to
indicate Charlie’s improvement and deterioration, and helps me
connect with his character more than I might have otherwise.
do have an issue with the idea of a single surgery creating such
dramatic, if temporary, results. However, since the story is much
more focused on the implications of this on Charlie and the people
around him than in trying to justify the science, I’m willing to go
glad I read this story again, since I enjoyed it much more this time.
It’s nice to get a story focusing on a character and how they
relate to the world around them, as opposed to one that’s focusing
on justifying the extremely outdated science.