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Flowers for Stevie
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Flowers for Stevie:

For quite a while, I've been wanting to bring a story out of hietus — in which one of the characters is this young, avid 10-year old boy called Steve. (He prefers to call himself Stevie.) As a product of the very late 20th century, he is quite the awkward fellow. He likes taking out his Chemistry 2000 set in his pasttime, as well as playing Metal Gear on his Playstation and watching the morning cartoons. With his coke-bottle glasses to complete the image, he might sound something like a stereotypical nerd.

But he wasn't always the intellectual.

Before he underwent experimental neural surgery, Stevie had a measured IQ of 69. He was somewhat naive then; understanding people was exhausting guesswork for him and he could only read up to around a toddler's level. But he liked picture books, because you didn't have to decipher the foreign text, you just look at the wonderful contours and colours. He also still liked watching cartoons then — if for the slapstick action. (One of these cartoons is a bootleg dub of Revolutionary Girl Utena [smile])

His father was an accomplished PHD polymath, well-versed in much of the sciences — Engineering, Psychology, Applied Chemistry. He holds tenure at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, and one of his research projects involves invoked Intelligence Intensification. More specifically, the stimulation of catatonic chimpanzee's amygdala with compound N-23 (because that part of the brain is the gateway to emotional and memory functioning.) His father was doing this in hopes for his son.

There was a breakthrough. The catatonic chimpanzee gradually became more active, and soon he rejoined its mates. Even better, this chimpanzee began to outwit them as he started pulling off practical pranks. (And delivered the monkey equivalent of a Hannibal Lecture.)

Stevie's father was no doubt pleased — he performed the same surgery on his son, ASAP.

Four years later, we have the geek. Now at 4th Grade in school, Stevie has to sit contentedly with his peers as he corrects many of the fumblings and mistakes his Math and Science teachers make. (The lack of a teacher's union doesn't help, nor do their awfully low salaries.)

The experimented chimpanzee begins to show signs of mental deterioration. His frontal lobes are aging rapidly into dementia. It seems the compound has caused cellular mutation; making the telomeres crumble away like a rotting wooden bridge. Stevie's father tries engineering another compound to fix this.

By the time the story starts on Christmas Night, the chimpanzee is already the equivalent of a 105-year old man. His father never tells Stevie about his fate, even though his grief shows as this grim shadowing on what once was the chipper face. Stevie suspects something, but he isn't sure what.

The Polar Express arrives at his house, close to midnight. Stevie offers his golden ticket to the conductor, thinking he can ask Santa for that Super Spy Kit 3000..

I know this story already sounds familiar — Flowers for Algernon had made me wetting tears all through the night. But I am wondering, does this backstory have enough drama to it? Might there be interesting tidbits I can add on?

edited 9th Mar '11 10:17:33 PM by QQQQQ

The Puzzler
First off do you think that this story has enough drama in it? Do you have any interesting tidbits you want to add on? Personally I think it is important to have some sort of an answer for your own questions, so that you have something to compare to another troper's answer.

In answering these questions I think the story has enough drama in it, and I have nothing to add onto it as long as the story doesn't tend to turn out exactly like Flowers for Algernon. Lol I almost typed CharlieBrown... tongue

On another note I liked Flowers for Algernon too. I can't wait to see your story! grin And for some odd reason I want to cuddle someone. Damn strange random feelings from nowhere!

edited 10th Mar '11 8:19:13 AM by EldritchBlueRose

So now I know that my lack of success in college is due to ADD — or sleep apnea. I need to do a sleep study some time.
My biggest advice is to do the research. The biggest problem with Flowers for Algernon, in my opinion, was how much they got wrong. Charly was too incompetent for his stated IQ, didn't think like a mentally disabled person, got 'instant knowledge' as he got smarter, etc. (I'm actually working on a story with a guy who has the intelligence level of whoever he's with, so I've been doing a lot of thinking about this.)

"Stevie had a measured IQ of 69. He was somewhat naive then; understanding people was exhausting guesswork for him and he could only read up to around a toddler's level."

A six-year old with that IQ would function similarly to an average four-year old in many ways. Probably the biggest difference between him and a typical kid would be that he'd still be in the preoperational stage whereas most 6 year olds are entering concrete operations. So his thought pattern would be fairly illogical, he wouldn't understand that play-dough spread out is the same amount of mass as play-dough rolled up, would show magical thinking, etc. Also, his brain works differently in some way that makes him less efficient at learning, which would make him different from a typical 4-year-old. Could be that he thinks less abstractly than them, so a lot of what he does is stuff he learnt by rote without really understanding it.

After his change, he wouldn't immediately gain a whole pile of knowledge, but his learning style would have changed into something more efficient for learning. If you decide to go the abstraction route, maybe now when he ponders something he automatically figures out the abstract principles behind the thing. For example, when taught how to carry to subtract 56-18, he'd immediately think up the mathematical reason for that (or else think 'that's stupid, of course you do that' because he figured it out as soon as they brought up two-digit subtraction).

"His frontal lobes are aging rapidly into dementia."

Well, then, research frontotemporal dementia, sounds like your degeneration would look similar to that. At first, intelligence would be unaffected, but he wouldn't be performing as well as his intelligence would suggest, because he can't regulate his own behavior. ADHD is thought to be due to frontal lobe problems. Basically, you can't control how much effort you put forth - if you happen to be interested, you'll work really hard, but if you're not interested you've lost the ability to force yourself to work. Plus loosing the ability to stop yourself, so he'd do stuff on impulse that he wanted to do but stopped himself before. As it progresses, he'd start getting apraxia, which is a motor impairment where you can't do skillful, planned movements despite being able to do simple or impulsive movements just fine. Part of this might be loosing the ability to speak, such that he can understand speech but can only say isolated words (Broca's aphasia).

Frontal lobe impairment is interesting - you can have a severely affected person who tests just fine on standard cognitive testing, because they can only use skills when they're cued and the testing cues those skills. Often there can be an unfortunate thing where someone who really can't cope is given no help because the tests don't show their problems.
If I'm asking for advice on a story idea, don't tell me it can't be done.
^^ Hehe, Charlie Brown. For some reason, I think the Christmas special might have also been an inspiration for this one, if in a vague way or another. But I digress. This is Hidden Depths backstory for one of the characters' subplots — in this fanfic. Huggies!

^ Hm, I know this surgery is not like popping an insta-knowledge pill, where all of a sudden you know Faust or trigonometric integrals. I imagine Charlie had plenty of textbooks and novels around him during that three-month period. I suppose this brain surgery allows for more tendencies to take in learning, to adapt. What you've said is quite insightful.

edited 10th Mar '11 9:20:12 AM by QQQQQ

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