Author of Sci-Fi Classic Flowers for Algernon Dies
Daniel Keyes, author of the beloved sci-fi novel, "Flowers for Algernon," passed away on Sunday at age 86. The cause was complications from pneumonia, according to his daughter, Leslie Keyes.
"Flowers for Algernon," originally a Hugo award-winning short story, follows a man named Charlie with an IQ of 68 (on the threshold of mentally challenged) who is the first human subject of an experiment with a surgery that can artificially increase intelligence. The titular character is a mouse (named after the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne) who was the first successful subject of the surgery. The novel is written as a series of first-person progress reports by Charlie, in which he often compares himself to the mouse and reflects on his disability: "If the operashun werks good Ill show that mouse I can be as smart as he is even smarter. Then Ill be abel to reed better and spell the werds good and know lots of things and be like other pepul."
The novel explores the ethical complications of this type of surgery, and becomes a metaphor for our treatment of the mentally challenged in society. He came up for the central concept of "Flowers for Algernon" when he was at university, and his parents were encouraging him to abandon his writing aspirations and become a doctor. He wrote in his memoir, "I thought: My education is driving a wedge between me and the people I love. And then I wondered: What would happen if it were possible to increase a person's intelligence?" Another burst of inspiration came when he worked with children with special needs, and one of them asked him if it would be possible to transfer from "the dummy's class," if he worked hard and became "smart."
When he originally wrote the short story, both "Galaxy" and "Doubleday" were interested in publishing it, but both wanted him to change the ending so Charlie retained his newfound intelligence, married Alice, and lived happily ever after. But Keyes refused to make the changes and finally published it with Harcourt in 1966. It went on to sell more than 5 million copies and tie for the Nebula Award.
Keyes received a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in English literature from Brooklyn College. He was awarded the Author Emeritus honor by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2000. A widower, Keyes leaves behind another daughter, Hillary Keyes, and a sister, Gail Marcus.