Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Philosophers Apprentice-- James Morrow-- Review

The Philosoopher's Apprentice A Novel, by James Morrow, HarperCollins, c2008 is a near future science fiction story. It is a satire on philosophical and moral development. Many of the elements in the novel will make some people morally uncomfortable. Because the novel is focused on philosophical questions, it is hard to write about it without revealing large portions of the plot.

Numerous questions are posed throughout the novel as you read it. How do you teach morals to a vat grown human with a blank moral slate? What happens when that vat grown human turns into the moral equivalent of Frankenstein? What right do we have to choose which embryo will become a future vatling?

The book is at times phantasmagorical, mind bending, and funny at the same time. You can tell the novel is a partial homage to magical realism. Large portions of the novel occur on an imaginary island off the coast of Florida. The Isla De Sangre. This island is of course a lush jungle rainforest with many strange creatures and plants.

We get to see many groups skewered for their moral and philosophical stances, fundamentalist christians, corporate CEOs, corrupt senators, and even the sometimes heroic or anti-heroic feminist, environmentalist, planet saving do -gooders.

There are many tasty bits with very odd situations. I sometimes wonder where the author comes up with these things. One of my favorite incidentals is a talking iguana which says "Quetzie is a handsome devil." There is also John Snow, a vatling created from an aborted fetus which haunts his mother.

This book is not for the faint hearted. There is a lot of sex, the intake of a strange drug called mumquats, the burning of a city, and the hijacking of a ship.

I can recommend this book without hesitation. If you are looking for a strange combination of science fiction, magical realism, and odd moral philosophical quandries this book is an interesting book to read.

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