The House of the Scorpion

Farmer, Nancy. 2002. The House of the Scorpion. Simon & Schuster. 380 pages

In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He studied them anxiously in the darkened room.

If you haven't read The House of the Scorpion, you really don't know what you're missing. It's as wonderfully complex and beautiful and thrilling as Frankenstein. (Which, if you remember nothing else about me, remember my love for Mary Shelley's monster.) The House of the Scorpion is science fiction. Set several centuries in the future, it revolves around the Alacran family, rulers of the empire of Opium which borders the United States and Mexico. Well, what used to be called Mexico. Our hero, Matteo Alacran, has an unusual upbringing. His first five or six years are almost spent in complete isolation. His only interactions being with his caregiver--not his mother, who was sacrificed--a woman, a servant, named Celia. But one day, in his cabin, he hears voices. He sees two children. A boy and a girl. And despite Celia's warnings, his curiosity gets the better of him. And he springs through the window--the doors and windows being locked--freeing himself, yes, but bloodying himself up in the process. What this teaches him--among other things--is that he is different. Not just a little different, but DIFFERENT. His very existence seems to repulse people. Why? What did he ever do to them? Thus Matt's struggles begin.

The book traces his childhood from birth through age fourteen or so. As I said, it's a unique one. The household being darkly twisted and as dysfunctional as can be. The few friends Matt make cannot ever overcome his great disadvantages. Though small threads of hope remain. Matt's future remains uncertain. And his present is full of dangers as well. Life is not easy, but it's all he knows. His very life depends on the conclusions he will come to draw, the observations he continues to make.

The House of the Scorpion is a thrilling science fiction novel that is intelligent and intense.