Matt Alacrán has spent his youth secreted away in a secluded hut, his only knowledge of the world provided by his caregiver Celia and his view out the window on the white ocean of poppies growing all around. Matt is a clone, an outcast hated and feared as a beast by human society. When he uses an iron cooking pot to smash his window and goes out into the world, Matt sets into motion a fantastic adventure in a land called Opium, a strip of land between the US and a place once called Mexico. Opium is ruled by El Patrón, a 142-year-old drug lord, inhabited by "eejits"-docile farm workers controlled by brain implants-and overseen by an army of bodyguards. Farmer's tale is a wild, futuristic coming-of-age story with a science-fiction twist: How do you find out who you are when what you are is a clone-a photograph-of a human being. How have you come to exist, and for what purpose? Can you ever expect to be more than what you were designed to be? As demonstrated in The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994), Farmer has a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds. With undertones of vampires, Frankenstein, dragons' hoards, and killing fields, Matt's story turns out to be an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence. A must-read for SF fans.
Farmer's (A Girl Named Disaster; The Ear, the Eye and the Arm) novel may be futuristic, but it hits close to home, raising questions of what it means to be human, what is the value of life, and what are the responsibilities of a society. Readers will be hooked from the first page, in which a scientist brings to life one of 36 tiny cells, frozen more than 100 years ago. The result is the protagonist at the novel's center, Matt a clone of El Patron, a powerful drug lord, born Matteo Alacr n to a poor family in a small village in Mexico. El Patro n is ruler of Opium, a country that lies between the United States and Aztl n, formerly Mexico; its vast poppy fields are tended by eejits, human beings who attempted to flee Aztl n, programmed by a computer chip implanted in their brains. With smooth pacing that steadily gathers momentum, Farmer traces Matt's growing awareness of what being a clone of one of the most powerful and feared men on earth entails. Through the kindness of the only two adults who treat Matt like a human Celia, the cook and Matt's guardian in early childhood, and Tam Lin, El Patron's bodyguard Matt experiences firsthand the evils at work in Opium, and the corruptive power of greed ("When he was young, he made a choice, like a tree does when it decides to grow one way or the other... most of his branches are twisted," Tam Lin tells Matt). The author strikes a masterful balance between Matt's idealism and his intelligence. The novel's close may be rushed, and Tam Lin's fate may be confusing to readers, but Farmer grippingly demonstrates that there are no easy answers. The questions she raises will haunt readers long after the final page. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In a possible near future, the United States and Mexico have dealt with their continuing border troubles by forming a third country called Opium. It is run by drug lords who control opium production using the labor of humanoid "eejits" with computer chips in their brains. Matt has spent the first six years of his life in isolation until the day he is discovered by three children and taken to the big house. The adults treat the boy like an animal, but with superficial deference once they realize he is a clone of El Patr-n, the supreme ruler of Opium. Scientific advances have made it possible for the man to live to be 142, via transplanted organs harvested from clones, most of whom have their brains stunted at birth. Matt was spared this fate and is educated as a conceit of El Patrón. At 14, with the death of the old man, he is able to flee from Opium. He is caught and detained in a work camp/orphanage, but with the help of his new friends, he escapes and returns to Opium to try to right the wrongs of the past. The novel's well-described, exotic setting is a background for imaginative science fiction that looks at the social implications of technological advances. The multilayered story raises many issues, and doesn't always resolve them in obvious ways. Fans of Farmer's work will seek out this title. Some readers may be put off by its length, but those who dive in will find it worth the effort.-Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Newbery Honor author Nancy Farmer wows us with this riveting sci-fi thriller about a young clone struggling for acceptance in his tumultuous, sheltered world.
Matt's last name is Alacrán, which means that he belongs to a powerful family that controls the drug Farms between the U.S. and the former Mexico. But Matt's different; he's a clone in a world filled with dangers for his kind. His only protection from the brutal surroundings are El Patrón, the elderly patriarch/drug lord kingpin from which he was made, his caretaker Celia, and a bodyguard who has been assigned to him. Things fall apart when Matt learns the real reason for his creation and he makes a harrowing escape to a promising -- yet frighteningly insecure -- world.
With all the makings of a modern classic, The House of the Scorpion is both shocking and intense, particularly because it looks toward an all-too-possible future. Matt is a courageous, sympathetic character, but his strong-willed fits of anger, which mirror El Patrón's, leave a bittersweet taste amid his good intentions. Another impressive book from Farmer, this novel is true science fiction genius. ----Matt Warner
The Barnes & Noble Review