Before I go into the difference in House of Scorpions, I wanted to note a couple of things. This book is fairytale-ish, yet it tackles the very thorny social issue of cloning. The names of the characters are particularly interesting because of their actual meanings compared to the meanings in the text/context: Matteo – gift of God; mi vida – my life; El Patrón – patron, someone who is charitable, philanthropic; Felicia – happy; Benito – blessed; Fani – free; Esperanza – hope; Fidelito – little loyal one; and Celia – blind (to name a few). It is ironic that Maria, the one who seeks to save every animal and person, is the same name as La Llorona. There is a LOT of play on names in this book (maybe for another blog – you can look up the names on just about any baby name website).
What is notably absent is the overt technology (which we will later see towards the end of the book) and sometimes overbearing degree of social commentary. It’s somewhat disorienting to have biomedical advances such as cloning and implants in a place where residents live like their ancestors some 100 years ago. The setting is very rural, with the eejits (slaves) tending the fields, a southern-like dysfunctional extended family creating havoc in what feels like a horrendously humid house (only the computers get constant AC and for parties). One of the first scenes I found jarring was when Matt and Tam ride the safe horse instead of some hovercraft (like they do later in the book). Another scene I found particularly striking is the “birds and the bees scene” between Matt and Tam when Matt first asks if he is a “machine” (80) then later asks where he came from (80). Tam’s responds that he is not a machine, but at the same time, he’s not real either (80). Instead of “machines” working the fields, eejits work the field but they are, in essence, machines, they have no awareness of themselves or others and are incapable of following anything more than a simple script of actions; Matt and Tam find a dead eejit in the field (77). It is here that Matt begins to really learn what an eejit is, “human” and animal (both must be told to drink). What I find rather unsettling is people, like the Alacrans look at clones as animals, yet use them like machines. At the same time there is this realization, perhaps on a more subconscious level, that the clones need to be turned into eejits by being “injected with a kind of drug. It turns them into idiots” 125). Later Mr. Alacran explains why El Viejo seems older than his grandfather, because El Viejo believes “implants were immoral” (106). As the book progresses, it seems that El Patrón has kept Opium in a pre-industrialized state to a large degree (not even pre-technology!). I’m not sure why Farmer decides to have Opium in this time-state, except to maybe focus on the social issue of clones. But what I find different, very different, is I don’t feel like it needs to be set in some bleak (or shiny) futuristic place of flying vehicles and floating buildings to be science fiction. While there are hints throughout the book about a more advanced yet degraded (e.g., deadly Colorado River) society that appears late in the book and satisfy the reader’s need for this futuristic world, I don’t find myself missing it, or taking away from the book.