Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes is a science fiction novel published for the first time as a short story in April of 1959 in “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”. Keyes later expanded the story until it became a novel which would be published with the same title in 1966.
The original story received in 1960 the then called Hugo for Best Short Fiction, while the later novel was awarded with the Nebula Award in 1966. The novel was also adapted to the big screen in 1968 (Charly, for which the actor Cliff Robertson was awarded with the Oscar), and to TV in 2000.
Daniel Keyes was born in Brooklyn in 1928. After finishing his service in the Navy he continued studying and was graduated in Psychology by the Brooklyn College.
After some time as a fashion photographer, he obtained a degree in American Literature studying in night classes while during the day he taught at the public school in New York. At the same time, he dedicated weekends to writing.
In the early 1950s, he was the editor of the Pulp Marvel Science Fiction magazine. When the magazine stopped publishing, Keyes became associate editor of Atlas Comics. During that same decade he wrote for several magazines, both under his own name and with the pseudonyms Kris Daniel and Dominik Georg.
In 1966 he became professor of English and creative writing at the University of Ohio, where he was declared professor emeritus in 2000.
Charlie Gordon is a thirty-something year old man with a mental disability who has integrated relatively well into society. He is nice, has work, and friends. He feels loved. He attends reading classes for the disabled, taught by Ms. Alice, and shows great interest in learning.
One day, his life will take a radical turn when Alice proposes him to be part of an experimental scientific program that aims to increase the capabilities of his brain, so that he can be and live as a normal, intelligent person, in order to discover the consequences of this process, which at the moment has only been tested on a mouse, Algernon, in a human brain.
The intervention is a success, and Charlie tells his evolution (experiences, emotions, changes, etc.) in his ‘progress reports’ (diaries). After a while, Algernón begins to manifest behavioral changes that worry the scientists. Will it affect Charlie in the same way?
Not only is this a great science fiction novel, but also a great psychological novel. It shows us the difficult transformation of a disabled person with a simple and stagnant mind into something superhuman, describing the social, psychological and personal problems that this can entail. It is a novel that hooks you up from the beginning, in part because of the way it is written, initially using a very simple language with many mistakes (both in spelling and grammar) in Charlie’s diaries. Over time, these faults disappear subtly, and one becomes aware of it especially when Charlie corrects himself in his journals, demonstrating a constant evolution. The novel shows the consequences (emotional, psychological, etc.) of the great and rapid cognitive evolution in a human being. Charlie’s actions and decisions make the reader feel sorry for him, for what happened and for the decisions he makes.
It really is a great novel, and I can only recommend it!