February 9th, 2008


February Books 10) Naked to the Stars

10) Naked to the Stars, by Gordon R. Dickson

Bought this at Beneluxcon on Ken MacLeod's recommendation. A short book of the proto-military-sf sub-genre, but with rather a subversive message in that context, that the military solution is not enough and a political accommodation is necessary once the conflict is over (if, that is, you actually want the conflict to end). Published in 1961 so the almost-human aliens are either Japanese or Koreans (probably Japanese).

February Books 11) Algernon, Charlie, and I

11) Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey, by Daniel Keyes

This is a really good, short account by Keyes of the genesis and later history of his classic story, Flowers for Algernon. There are quite a lot of insights into the writing process - I was very interested in his depiction of writing as therapy, as a means of distancing yourself from difficulties you have had in the past by putting them in your fiction. It's very interesting to read of the various roots of the story - Charlie himself based on a student in one of Keyes' classes who asked to be made clever, much of the scientific background based on Keyes' own frustrated interactions with pyschologists and therapists.

Keyes was much more connected with the 1950s sf crowd than I had realised, and they gave him good advice - to cut the original story by over a third to get it published, for instance. Originally there was going to be a framing narrative, of Charlie's lover finding his diary at the start and resolving to look for him at the end, but that was cut at quite a late stage too. Keyes is graphic about the pressure he was put under, but (thank God!) successfully resisted, to provide a more upbeat ending, pressure which continued into the TV and movie versions of the story. Nonetheless, he himself feels the ending is ambiguous rather than necessarily tragic; I don't think I agree.

Keyes wrote several other books and stories, but none has had the critical success of Flowers for Algernon. I was slightly surprised that he betrays no resentment at all that his subsequent efforts have not been regarded with the same veneration as his earliest work. But I suppose if I'd written Flowers for Algernon myself, I would feel it was success enough for a lifetime.