Reviews for House of the Scorpion


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 September 2002
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 7-10. Young Matteo (Matt) Alacran is a clone of the original Matteo Alacran, known as El Patron, the 142-year-old absolute ruler of Opium, a country separating the U.S and Aztlan, once known as Mexico. In Opium, mind-controlled slaves care for fields of poppies, and clones are universally despised. Matt, on El Patron's orders, is the only clone whose intelligence has not been blunted. While still quite young, Matt is taken from the loving care of El Patron's cook and placed into the abusive hands of a maid, who treats him like an animal. At 7, brought to El Patron's attention, he begins an indulged life, getting an education and musical training, though he is never allowed to forget that he is not considered human. Matt doesn't learn until he is 14 that El Patron has had other clones, who have provided hearts and other organs so El Patron can go on living. This is a powerful, ultimately hopeful, story that builds on today's sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues and prognosticates a compelling picture of what the future could bring. All of these serious issues are held together by a remarkable coming-of-age story, in which a boy's self-image and right to life are at stake. ((Reviewed September 15, 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Spring
In this thought-provoking science fiction novel, El Patr=n, the 140-year-old patriarch of the Alacrßn family rules a narrow strip of land between the U.S. and Aztlßn, and Matt Alacrßn, a clone despised by almost everyone, is the key to his future. Certain parts go on too long, and the ending seems too good to be true, but Farmer has shown great imagination in creating a unique, plausible, and disquieting view of the future. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #6
Between the United States and Aztlçn lies a narrow strip of land called Opium, where eejits, controlled by computer chips implanted in their brains, tend endless fields of poppies. This area is ruled by iron-fisted El Patr-n, the patriarch of the Alacrçn family, who with the help of numerous transplants has lived over 140 years. Matt Alacrçn is the key to El Patr-n's future, and though he feels loved by the old man who truthfully calls him Mi Vida, he is treated with thorough distaste by almost everyone because he is a clone. Unlike most clones whose brains are destroyed at birth, Matt, as El Patr-n's clone, has been raised by a loving woman, and after a brief period of imprisonment, educated and allowed free run of the estate. Matt often wonders about his future, but when he finally grasps what lies ahead for him, he realizes he must make a desperate attempt to escape. Though certain portions of the book go on far too long, other parts of the story are riveting. Suspense and tension continue right up to the book's conclusion when Matt is asked to do something that could easily result in the loss of the life for which he has fought so fiercely. Then suddenly all problems are resolved in an ending that seems too good to be true. Still, Farmer has shown great imagination in creating a unique and plausible view of the future with enough connections to current issues to make her vision particularly disquieting. Throughout the story, she has raised questions about the meaning of life and death and about the nature of one's responsibility for others, and in so doing, has created a thought-provoking piece of science fiction. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2002 July #1
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 Patr-n, 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. (Fiction. 11+) Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 July #1
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 Alacrán 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 Aztlán, formerly Mexico; its vast poppy fields are tended by eejits, human beings who attempted to flee Aztlán, 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. Ages 11-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 May #3
In our Best Books citation, PW wrote, "In this eerily realistic depiction of society 100 years hence, the wealthy class harvests the organs of clones to prolong their lives. Farmer explores vital and soul-searching questions about what it means to be human." Ages 11-up. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2002 September
Gr 6-10-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 Patr-n. 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.

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VOYA Reviews 2002 October
Matt is a clone. More importantly, he is the clone of El Patr n, the aging, half-mad, and overwhelmingly powerful drug lord who rules over Opium, a private fiefdom that runs along the border between a future United States and Aztlan, the former Mexico. Legally, clones are animals, and most are turned into zombies at birth, produced only to provide spare parts for the rich. Matt, however, has been well taken care of by his progenitor and given the benefits of higher education. Still, he is treated with disdain or open disgust by the rest of El Patr n's aristocratic and seriously warped family. The only people who seem to consider him human are Celia, El Patr n's cook; a bluff security guard named Tam Lin; and Maria Mendoza, the daughter of a corrupt U.S. senator whose family regularly visits Opium. As Matt matures, he learns more about his progenitor's evil drug empire and the population of zombies that support it. He also learns that his own life might be in danger. About two-thirds of the way through the book, Farmer's powerful and tightly focused narrative changes direction abruptly; Matt flees Opium, crosses the border into Aztlan, and finds himself trapped in a grim re-education program run by corrupt government officials who preach something akin to Maoism while running their own illicit drug operation. This novel is slightly marred by a happy ending that comes too quickly. It is otherwise enormously powerful and may well win Farmer further award nominations.-Michael Levy. 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2002 Voya Reviews

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