Of the four books I finished last weekend, two of them were YA Fiction and two were sci-fi. I recently published my young adult cluster review, so now I’ll be publishing my cluster review of the two sci-fi books I read.
Of these two books, I finished Flowers for Algernon first and it was incredible. Even now, I tear up thinking about that ending. It was so interesting and it kept my attention the whole time. It’s without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.
However, my feelings about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the inspiration for the Blade Runner movies) are a little different. They’re different in the sense that I detested this book. While I can’t stop thinking about Flowers for Algernon, I wish I could erase Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? from my memory.
Once again, the summaries included in these reviews come straight from the publisher (in this case from the Goodreads website). I have also included the name of the narrator for any audiobooks.
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
- Year of Publication: 1959
- Genre: Science Fiction
“The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?”
- Format: Audiobook (Narrated by Jeff Woodman)
- Themes: There’s more to life than intelligence. Emotional intelligence is just as important as academic intelligence. We’re all human and deserve to be treated with kindness.
- Windows and Mirrors: Mental disability. Bullying.
- Overall Thoughts: This book is so interesting and unlike anything I’ve ever read. The concept was fascinating, and the story was heartbreaking at nearly every turn. In the beginning of the story, Charlie is mostly unaware of how terribly he’s treated, and he believes the people that laugh at him are his friends. This alone is heartbreaking, and then it breaks your heart all over again when his intelligence skyrockets and he realizes the people he thought were his friends never really were.
This is a book I wish I could read for a class so that I could understand it on an even deeper level. In general, Charlie wants nothing more than to be smart. Through all of his past experiences he’s been led to believe that being smart will solve all of his problems and make his life better. However, in his journey to becoming more intelligent, he ends up losing everything that made him happy in his previous life. He loses the people he thought were his friends, he doesn’t make new friends, he realizes his childhood and family weren’t as happy as he had believed, and he realizes that most of the people in his life don’t see him as a human being (before or after the operation).
SPOILER ALERT: The whole book was sad, but the ending truly had me in tears. After everything he went through and how hard he worked to grow and learn, it all starts to become undone just like it did for Algernon. While he’s at the peak of his intelligence, he sees his previous self as a completely separate identity, and he even refers to him in the third person. As he regresses, the less intelligent Charlie can’t remember what he went through, but he can still sense this other version of himself lurking. It’s heartbreaking to see him lose everything. He tries to return to his old life, but can’t even do that. His old co-workers who he once thought were his friends no longer laugh at him, and he can sense the pity in their kindness. He also can’t return to the class he was once a part of. Due to the experiment that was supposed to greatly improve his life, he ends up losing everything that once made him happy.
- Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book. It’s sad and uplifting at the same time and really makes you think. This would be a great one to read with other people in order to discuss all the subtle and intricate changes happening to Charlie, and the real-world themes and implications of the story. The scientists so arrogantly believe they saved or even created Charlie by giving him the operation that made him intelligent, but their failure forces them to realize how much he had to lose. It’s a really well-written and thought-provoking story, and I highly recommend it.
- Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
- Year of Publication: 1968
- Genre: Science Fiction
“It was January 2021, and Rick Deckard had a license to kill.
Somewhere among the hordes of humans out there, lurked several rogue androids. Deckard’s assignment–find them and then…”retire” them. Trouble was, the androids all looked exactly like humans, and they didn’t want to be found!”
- Format: Audiobook (Narrated by Scott Brick)
- Themes: Nature. Spirituality. Empathy.
- Windows and Mirrors: The possible future of technology.
- Overall Thoughts: This book… I understand that when reading older books there is bound to be some outdated language (among other things), but this was above and beyond a simply outdated perspective. The author’s disdain for women was nearly palpable in this story. I’m actually surprised I didn’t see this mentioned in more reviews that I read of this book, because I was deeply disturbed by it while I was reading.
First of all, there are very few women in this story. The only human woman is his wife, who is depressed and always nagging and the husband clearly does not care for her. The other women are all androids (and are, of course, all sexy and promiscuous). At one point, one of the androids is just walking around topless for no reason. There’s literally no in-between: women are either sex objects or depressing nags.
Along those lines, every description of a female character includes a description of her breasts. I couldn’t tell you what any of the male characters look like, but I can tell you the size and appearance of every female character’s breasts. At one point, a female character is frustrated about something, and he describes the moment by saying how her “breasts heaved up and down.” Because, you know, women don’t have thoughts, or feelings, or gestures or anything, they only have breasts to express themselves. My favorite, however, is the woman he describes as having “breasts that smile.” What does that mean??
Another moment that really bothered me is after the main character cheats on his wife with an android (more about that in the next paragraph). He had used her for sex so that he could… get it out of his system and better be able to kill androids for his bounty hunter job? However, he discovers that she had been using him as well in order to spy on him. His immediate reaction is to kill her (because women who disobey or betray men’s expectations of them automatically deserve to die?). He announces his intent to kill her, so she quickly looks in her bag to try and find a weapon to defend herself. But she can’t find anything in her bag because it’s too cluttered, and so she just resigns herself to die! Silly women and their messy bags apparently? This book is several decades in the future from when it was written, but apparently the author was unable to foresee a future in which women aren’t completely useless. Also, she’s an android! Why would a robot with supposedly superior intellect and reasoning abilities have a cluttered purse? Also, there’s a statement in the book about how he would have to teach this sexy female android how to cook and how she would end up liking it because most women do once they know how. It’s just infuriating that in this futuristic society, everything seems to have advanced except for women. *Side note: this book is supposed to take place in January of 2021, just a couple months from now.
The cherry on top of all of this is the affair he has with the female android. Her body is described in great detail (of course), but what’s disturbing is how he describes her appearance over and over again as being childlike. Her narrow frame, small breasts, lack of curves… But apparently her eyes are very “womanly,” so that makes it okay. It was just so disturbing to me that this woman looked like a child (and he even refers to her as a girl, and not a woman), and yet he is still sexually attracted to her and pursues sleeping with her. Gross.
- Recommendation: No, I do not recommend this book. This book may have had some interesting sci-fi elements (I’m sure it does considering how well known it is), but I was too distracted by the horrific mistreatment of women in this book. It’s beyond “sign of the times” sexism that shows up in many outdated stories; it’s evident how much the author disrespected and disliked women. The book is also generally dark and slow (I was listening to it at 1.5 speed and it didn’t even sound sped up). If you really love sci-fi and are able to look beyond the author’s hatred of women, you might get something out of this book. Otherwise, stay away.
- Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
Keep an eye out for my next cluster review of sci-fi books!