Friday, February 22, 2008

On A Beam of Light

“My name is prot.”

When I first read those words in Gene Brewer’s K-PAX almost 4 years ago, I didn’t realize how drawn into this book I would get. K-PAX is an amazing science fiction adventure that is not only insightful in its criticisms of our society, but also humorous in its depiction of humans from a different point of view. prot, a scruffy looking man who never takes his sunglasses off, is found stranded on the streets of New York in the preface of the novel. As the police pick him up one fateful night, he is soon taken to the psychiatric ward to be examined by Dr. Gene Brewer after claiming to be an alien from the planet K-PAX. After being questioned by Dr. Brewer, we learn that prot is not simply some homeless man who refuses to take his sunglasses off, but rather an incredibly intelligent man with an astounding knowledge of mathematics and astrophysics that would make even the most prominent scientists blush. Dr. Brewer is an aging psychologist who's seen it all and this prot wacko is simply suffering from a mental illness. Dr. Brewer and prot engage in regular interviews and discussions depicted through the audio tapes that Dr. Brewer records during his sessions with prot. These discussions range from something as mundane as the food that we eat or mathematics to serious everyday issues such as the value of our education system and murder and rape. As prot’s story begins to unravel, Dr. Brewer attempts to figure out the truth behind prot and where he’s really from and why is it that all of the other psychiatric patients have become so upbeat since prot’s arrival.

Without revealing too much of the plot, every part of prot’s life symbolizes somebody’s ideal society and their own views on things. This utopian society is both simple, yet complex; K-PAXians, as they like to be called, have technology that is years ahead of anything that Earth is capable of creating, but they are also very modest people who rarely use their technology for anything beyond necessity. As things begin to fully unravel, prot’s claims of being from another planet begin to be more and more believable, and the residents of the psychiatric ward are beginning to eat up the wonderful world of K-PAX. Amidst this science fiction novel lies a mysterious and almost spiritual aspect as well. When we first hear about prot’s past, it’s hard to imagine anything aside from a mental patient’s view on society. As we delve deeper into the story though, we learn that the author convinces us that this man is from K-PAX. We will truly and utterly believe that he is not from Earth, despite Dr. Brewer’s advice to the contrary. Ranging from prot's insatiable love for all of Earth's fruits and veggies (at one point, he eats an entire bowl of fruit peels, stems, seeds and all) to his ability to describe a typical day in the life of a K-PAXian for 15 minutes straight. That’s where things begin to get interesting—we start to feel a way that we know we shouldn’t. The evidence is there, right in front of us that this man is something that he claims not to be, but as readers we want him to be that man from the stars. In this sense, prot plays the role of a messiah, not only to us in a small part, but to his is audience of patients. With promises of a better land in K-PAX for being good and trying to live a good life on Earth, prot gives something to these people that they haven’t had since being institutionalized; faith. Without spoiling too much of the story, I can easily say that all of my expectations were met and verily exceeded after reading this novel. Even after finding out the truth, I wanted to know more about prot, and I wanted him to always be in that room with Dr. Brewer chatting away about his distinct lifestyle on that planet that would be a great place to vacation. There is a lot more to this book that I would have loved to cover, but for the sake of keeping the secret a secret, and allowing you, the reader to make your own judgments on the world of K-PAX, I left out many details about the book that will eventually fall into place once it’s read. Perhaps the best aspect of this novel is the author’s ability to create an engaging and endearing story with not only a prophetic feeling to it, but a subtle love story that unfolds later in the author’s next two books based on K-PAX as well. Though it may be geared more towards the science fiction fan, just about anybody can pick up a copy of K-PAX and find something that they’ll like about the book.


Megan said...

What an interesting piece to review. I am not a sci-fi fan, but you may have inspired me to read this. It sounds like a tale of human interest and discussion of values more than a sci fi story. Nice review.

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