They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me
dr_phil_physics

A Candle Burned Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Short

Tyrell: The facts of life... to make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life system is fatal. A coding sequence cannot be revised once it's been established.

Batty: Why not?

Tyrell: Because by the second day of incubation, any cells that have undergone reversion mutation give rise to revertant colonies, like rats leaving a sinking ship; then the ship... sinks.

Batty: What about EMS-3 recombination?

Tyrell: We've already tried it - ethyl, methane, sulfinate as an alkylating agent and potent mutagen; it created a virus so lethal the subject was dead before it even left the table.

Batty: Then a repressor protein, that would block the operating cells.

Tyrell: Wouldn't obstruct replication; but it does give rise to an error in replication, so that the newly formed DNA strand carries with it a mutation - and you've got a virus again... but this, all of this is academic. You were made as well as we could make you.

Batty: But not to last.

Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you: you're the Prodigal Son; you're quite a prize!

Batty: I've done... questionable things.

Tyrell: Also extraordinary things; revel in your time.

Batty: Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn't let you into heaven for.

-- Blade Runner (via IMdB)
Flowers For Algernon / Daniel Keyes

Keyes died in mid-June, hence the interest in his most famous work. NPR had several pieces, and Mrs. Dr. Phil and I had some conversations. Then she came home with a copy from the library and it's been sitting there giving me the guilty eye, telling me to stop hogging a library book, so I picked it up at midnight and read half, then finished it at noon. As Charlie's light was fading, the sky darkened so I had to angle the book to keep reading, rather than get up and turn a light on, and the rains began to fall. Wonderfully depressing. (grin)

As someone who was born smarter than the average bear -- I stole a look at my file in junior high and read that my IQ was about 160, as if that actually realistically measures anything -- and as a kid who had been bullied a bit for being fat, slow moving and smart, to be immersed in the story of a Charlie, listed as a moron of IQ 68, jumping above 160 -- and then losing it... Yikes. Especially when the connection is made to elderly dementia. Something to contemplate.

Charlie is not handled particularly well. As a man-child he'd been left out in the world. As a research subject, he was left out in the world. And functional relationships, emotions and memories are practically left to run amuck. Today you know this study would have to be done at an institution.

And you know it can't end well. Or at least not normal. Think about the endings to Minority Report or the recent Lucy. It would be a fairy tale otherwise. He can't end up average, either. The story was born, after years of thinking, about the time I was born:
In 1958, Keyes was approached by Galaxy Science Fiction magazine to write a story, at which point the different elements of Flowers for Algernon fell into place. When the story was submitted to Galaxy, however, editor Horace Gold suggested changing the ending so that Charlie retained his intelligence, married Alice Kinnian, and lived happily ever after. Keyes refused to make the change and sold the story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction instead.

Keyes worked on the expanded novel between 1962 and 1965 and first tried to sell it to Doubleday, but they also wanted to change the ending. Again, Keyes refused and gave Doubleday back their advance. Five different publishers rejected the story over the course of a year until it was published by Harcourt in 1966.
I am pretty sure I read the 1959 short story somewhere around college. The novel came out in 1966 and while we were in White Plains NY, my sister Wendy read it probably in 8th or 9th grade junior high, since I think we saw the movie Charly in 1969. I reread it once in the U.P. about thirty years ago.

There are some books that stand up over the years. Some taught forever in the schools, but are pretty musty today. Flowers For Algernon has never been out of print, but despite being rooted in the 60s New York milieu, to say nothing of being one of ALA's top challenged books, it's still fresh.

This is in Charlie's voice, which changes over time. They always warn against eye dialect as a literary device. But here it's crucial. Charlie doesn't spel gud at the start. His reversion is heartbreaking. Keyes actually let's up a bit after the first few pages, before the surgery, probably to make it easier on the reader. As a writer, I notice this more. It also makes me wonder if Charlie had been given any drugs prior to the surgery. It's not like they were going to tell him everything.

Anyway, brilliant.

Now I have to dig up the short story and the movie. (grin)

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