After hearing an interview on NPR with author, James Morrow, I went to a bookstore (Remember those?) to search for a copy of his then new novel, The Philosopher’s Apprentice. I couldn’t remember the title, but when I described the plot – teacher, remote island, mysterious happenings — the clerk thought I was talking about The Magus, a book which bears almost no resemblance to this one. The Island of Dr. Moreau would be getting warmer.
The island here is off the coast of Florida, the teacher a brilliant philosophy graduate student who has just blown his thesis on principle. . He is offered a job by a billionaire scientist who tells him her teenage daughter was in a diving accident and suffered damage resulting in the loss of her moral conscience. His mission is to guide her in developing a sense of ethics. It’s an offer too tempting to refuse, especially given the $100,000 salary. Of course, once he arrives, things aren’t what they seem and yadda, yadda, yadda.
While the book clearly falls into the sci-fi genre, the author is after bigger fish, taking on bioethics and religion with satiric aim. Whether or not he succeeds may be subjective. The better-half felt Morrow went too far and sometimes missed the mark. (Several reviewers agree.) But I found the story entertaining and thought provoking throughout though at times Morrow’s reach may have exceeded his grasp.
While a knowledge of western philosopher (among other things) is not a necessary prerequisite to the enjoyment of the book, it couldn’t hurt. It’s certainly worth checking out especially for well-read fans of satire.
(Apology: I have been slow on getting these reviews out and didn’t post last week. I guess I’m kind of depressed because my own books haven’t been selling lately. Check them out, why don’t you?)