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Bookends: The Pitfalls of Steroids for the Mind December 4, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: The Pitfalls of Steroids for the Mind

By Dan Davidson

November 23, 2011

Star, Nov. 25/11

– 850 words –

Limitless

By Alan Glynn

Penguin Books

360 pages

$18.00

Warning: this review contains spoilers. You’ve already seen the movie, so there’s no reason for me to be careful here.

Science fiction has a long history of scientifically induced intelligence enhancements that don’t quite work out as planned. The best known is probably the award winning “Flowers for Algernon” (movie version – “Charly”) by Daniel Keyes, in which a mentally challenged young man’s brain is enhanced to superhuman status. What he gains in effect he loses in affect and, ironically, is able to complete the research that enhanced him only to discover the truth that the change is not permanent. Written in journal form, the story tells the story of his ascent from Charly to Charles and back down to Charly.

Another theme with a long history is that of the “deal with the devil”, which most people will recognize as the story of Dr. Faustus, or perhaps as the major plot device in every seasonal arc of “Supernatural”. In this theme you get what you want, but there’s a catch to the deal.

Alan Glynn’s Limitless (original title: The Dark Fields) is that kind of story. The book is significantly different from the movie, so if you really need that Hollywood happy ending, you won’t like it. Daniel Keyes refused to let Hollywood give Cliff Robertson a happy ending in the movie “Charly”, which is perhaps why Robertson won an Oscar for his portrayal of the troubled Charlie Gordon.

Eddie Spinola is a copywriter for a small New York publishing house. We know from the very first pages of the book that whatever has happened to him is not ending well and that he has decided to write it all down while he still can.

Eddie is sloppy in his work and in his life. He has many failed friendships and is a terrible procrastinator. He is not without ambition, but devoid of the drive needed to attain his goals. Devoid, that is, until a chance meeting with a Vernon Gant, his ex-brother-in-law. Vernon’s a dealer and he’s pushing a drug called MDT-48, a steroid for the mind, he calls it. He offers Eddie a sample.

After taking the drug, Eddie finds himself supercharged. He goes back to his apartment, cleans it up, alphabetizes his CD collection, sifts through research material he’s been gathering for a book he is under contract to write, sits down and bangs out 40 pages in an evening. He also quits smoking. The drug has opened up his entire brain, giving him the ability to take in, retain, and organize vast amounts of data and find patterns in chaos. This organizational upgrade also affects his personal habits and his interactions with other people.

Going to find Victor to get another couple of pills so he can finish his book, Eddie runs an errand for him and comes back to find him murdered. Apparently someone is after the stash of pills. Eddie finds this, a package with hundreds of pills in it, hides it, and then reports the murder to the police.

Over the next week or so (time gets a little fuzzy for Eddie) he takes regular doses, finishes a number of projects, makes a fortune on the stock market (financing this by borrowing money from a local Russian mob boss) and becomes involved in the business affairs of a major media tycoon, Carl Van Loon. He discovers that he is a mesmerizing conversationalist and the center of attention at any gathering. Women find him fascinating in other ways as well. He finds himself becoming more aggressive.

But then there are blackouts and during one of them Eddie is desperately afraid he may have killed a woman he recalls being with. He tries to taper off the drug and discovers something that his enhanced intelligence should have known already – he’s addicted. He needs maintenance doses just to feel normal.

Plans and business dealings fall apart. Investigating a list of names in Victor’s address book he finds that they have all had sudden career surges and that most of them are now either dead or very sick. He begins to realize that he can detect when another person has been using the drug and sees signs of it in a number of national leaders, including a president who is behaving belligerently.

When the Russian, Gennady, comes after him in search of his stash of pills, Eddie accidentally kills him. At the same time, the people who make the pills decide that the experiment known as Eddie Spinola has been running long enough and repossess the drugs. This leaves Eddie on the run, hiding out in a small hotel in Vermont, trying to put as much of his experiences into words as he can before they find him and before the serious withdrawal kicks in.

“I look at the keyboard once more and, wishing the commands had a wider, smarter application – wishing it could somehow mean what it says – press ‘save’.”

 

-30-

 

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