Written by: James Morrow
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 411 (Trade Paperback)
The premise: ganked from BN.com: A brilliant philosopher with a talent for self-destruction, Mason Ambrose has torpedoed a promising academic career and now faces a dead-end future. Before joining the ranks of the unemployed, however, he's approached by a representative of billionaire geneticist Dr. Edwina Sabacthani, who makes him an offer no starving ethicist could refuse. Born and bred on Isla de Sangre, a private island off the Florida coast, Edwina's beautiful and intelligent adolescent daughter, Londa, has recently survived a freak accident that destroyed both her memory and her sense of right and wrong. Londa's soul, in short, is an empty vessel—and it will be Mason's job to fill it.
Exploring his new surroundings, our hero encounters a lush Eden abounding in bizarre animals and strange vegetation engineered by Edwina and her misanthropic collaborator, Dr. Vincent Charnock. And Londa, though totally lacking a conscience, proves a vivacious young woman who quickly captivates her new teacher as he attempts to recalibrate her moral compass with the help of Western civilization's greatest ethical thinkers, living and dead.
But there's trouble in this tropical paradise. Mason soon learns that he isn't the only private tutor on Isla de Sangre, nor is Londa the only child in residence whose conscience is a blank slate. How many daughters does Edwina Sabacthani really have, and how did she bring them into being?
Undaunted by these mysteries, Mason continues to instruct Londa, hoping that she can lead a normal life when she eventually ventures forth into human society. His apprentice, however, has a different agenda. Her head crammed with lofty ideals, her heart brimming with fearsome benevolence, and her bank account filled to bursting, Londa undertakes to remake our fallen world in her own image by any and all means necessary.
Must Have: James Morrow is simply one of those authors I genuinely want to read everything of. He's the kind of author that not only writes interesting and entertaining stories, but he makes me feel smart for reading them, even if I'm not an expert on genetics or philosophy or religion or whatever the focus of the book may be. The Philosopher's Apprentice is an incredibly engaging read, a must for readers who are fans of the "literary SF" movement (you like Margaret Atwood? Mary Doria Russell? Ursula K. Le Guin? Octavia E. Butler? Jeanette Winterson? You should read this!) as well as those readers who feel a little intimidated by science fiction and aren’t sure where to dip their toes in. That said, it’s not an easy read in terms of transparency, this book is rife with philosophy, but don’t let that be a hurdle. Morrow doesn’t make his reader feel like an idiot. There's so much to absorb, to enjoy, to appreciate, to ponder over. This isn't a book simply about clones, it's a book about what it means to be human and what wrongs we'll commit in order to make the world right. It's a great read, and one I'd highly recommend.
Review style: After discussing my history with James Morrow's fiction, I want to talk about the obvious inspirations fueling this book: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, and George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I also want to discuss how this isn't your conventional science fiction novel, let alone a conventional story about clones, but rather the exploration of morality and how--believe it or not--the book isn't preachy. No spoilers, as that would be rude since this initially a guest review at Jawas Read, Too!
REVIEW: James Morrow's THE PHILOSOPHER'S APPRENTICE
Book club selections @ calico_reaction. Hop on over! We'd love to have you!
December: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
January: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold