You Should Read This: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Cover of Flowers for Algernon, a science fiction novel by Daniel Keyes.

Charlie is one of the great characters of SF and the story resonates with his voice. If you're interested in finding out more about how to write great dialogue, check out my Speaking in Another's Voice: Dialogue online class tonight, 7-8 PM PST. Cost is $29.99 ($19.99 for former and current students) For more details, click on "Take an Online Class with Cat" at the top of this page.

Flowers for Algernon was originally a short story by Daniel Keyes that appeared in 1959 in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and won the Hugo Award the following year. Seven years after the story’s publication, it appeared in novel form under the same name, and shared that year’s Nebula Award with Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17.

What: The story is told by Charlie Gordon and involves intelligence experiments being done on both Gordon and the title character Algernon, who is a white mouse.

Who: Anyone who wants to be decently well read in science fiction should read this book. It’s a classic, and one referenced and discussed elsewhere. One of my favorite stories by Susan Palwick, the title story in The Fate of Mice, is told from Algernon’s POV.

Why: Read it because you will want to know Charlie, to hear him tell his story, and to see a master use the device of an unreliable narrator in a way that takes your heart and breaks it over the book’s knee. Read it to discover a story that has survived the test of time and will, I strongly believe, continue to do so.

When: Read this when you’re thinking about things like how a character gets the reader on their side, as well as how what a character doesn’t say is sometimes as telling as what they do. Read this when you are ready to sit down and read it in one full sitting, preferably, which is doable for faster readers since it’s a slender book.

Where and how: Read it where you won’t mind weeping; public spaces (like airplanes) are unsuitable because you will have to have a heart as hard as winter to not tear up some. This is, in fact, one of the best examples of a fabulous tearjerker of a story that I know.


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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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