Monday, December 31, 2007

The Horror!

Edgar Allen Poe? A rank amateur. HP Lovecraft? A purple-prose poseur. Mary Shelley? Bram Stoker? Cheesy hacks, the lot of them.

If you want a real horror story, try Daniel Keyes.

Flowers for Algernon is a story about a guy with IQ 70 - barely functional - who is experimented on to increase his intelligence. Soon he's at IQ 180, soaking up the world's knowledge like a very smart sponge. In particular, he learns everything there is to know about the experiment that was performed on him. And he learns that the experiment's premise was fatally flawed. In a very short time, his new-found genius is going to dissolve like a snowflake under a blowtorch. He's going to lose it all.

The book tracks his slow deterioration down through normal levels of intelligence, getting less and less coherent as his brain decays. By the time the story is finished, the person he had briefly become has evaporated. I swear, this story had me up half the frickin' night with nervous insomnia.

My mind is what makes me who I am. The thought of losing that freaks me out on a level so basic it's hard to describe*. If I ever contract Alzheimers and degenerate to the point where I cease to be me, someone please shoot me. I don't want to think of myself continuing like that, as a soul without a mind.

* Obligatory religion tie-in: I feel the same about the thought that I might have a road-to-Damascus experience and spontaneously convert. If that happened, if I accepted religion on any other grounds than solid evidence, I wouldn't be me any more.

When people say "just pray to God and he'll change your heart", they seem to have this strange idea that that would be a good thing. I consider this to be painfully wrong.

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