In this weekly series, we bring you the genre novels you really should have read by now…
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON by Daniel Keyes
First Published: Short story, 1958; Novel, 1966
Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Tech-Fi Philosophy
If the operashun werks good Ill show that mouse I can be as smart as he is even smarter. — Charlie
Synopsis: This story of Charlie Gordon, aspiring genius, is at once heartwarming and soul-crushing, as we see through his eyes (the book is written epistolary style, via Charlie’s mandated journal entries) the extraordinary change that comes over him when an experimental procedure increases his limited IQ to one on a par with some of the most brilliant individuals who have ever lived.
Why It’s Must-Read: It is a sterling exemplar of speculative fiction that proves sci-fi is so much more than just spaceships and cyber stuff. If you are the sort to cry in books, then I warn you to have your Kleenex at the ready for this one–but it’s good crying. It’s “wow, this book is messing with my head AND I LOVE IT” crying.
Related Works: The original short story was published in the April, 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
On Stage: There are multiple stage adaptations, in several languages, the most notable being the 1978 musical version Charlie and Algernon.
On Screen: First came a television drama, in 1961, followed by perhaps the best-known example, the 1968 film Charly, which won star Cliff Robertson an Academy Award. More recently, two Japanese versions and a French version are joined by a 2000 US TV movie starring Matthew Modine as Charlie.
In Other Media: Several radio plays.
In Popular Culture: TV shows as varied as NewsRadio (“Flowers for Matthew”), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“Flowers for Charlie”) and The League (“Flowers for Taco”) have taken the book as inspiration, and a 2002 Spider-Man comic gave us “Flowers for Rhino.” Japanese singer-songwriter Kyosuke Himuro’s debut solo album was titled Flowers for Algernon.
Awards and Nominations: A Hugo Award for the short story and a Nebula for the novel. Both amply deserved.
Did You Know? Galaxy Magazine first commissioned a short story from Daniel Keyes, but when he submitted Flowers for Algernon they wanted to change the ending, so he sold it elsewhere. The novel was rejected by five publishers, who also wanted to change the ending, before finally being accepted.