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The Philosopher's Apprentice

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A brilliant philosopher with a talent for self-destruction, Mason Ambrose has torpedoed a promising academic career and now faces a dead-end future. Before joining the ranks of the unemployed, however, he's approached by a representative of billionaire geneticist Dr. Edwina Sabacthani, who makes him an offer no starving ethicist could refuse. Born and bred on Isla de Sangre, a private island off the Florida coast, Edwina's beautiful and intelligent adolescent daughter, Londa, has recently survived a freak accident that destroyed both her memory and her sense of right and wrong. Londa's soul, in short, is an empty vessel—and it will be Mason's job to fill it.

Exploring his new surroundings, our hero encounters a lush Eden abounding in bizarre animals and strange vegetation engineered by Edwina and her misanthropic collaborator, Dr. Vincent Charnock. And Londa, though totally lacking a conscience, proves a vivacious young woman who quickly captivates her new teacher as he attempts to recalibrate her moral compass with the help of Western civilization's greatest ethical thinkers, living and dead.

But there's trouble in this tropical paradise. Mason soon learns that he isn't the only private tutor on Isla de Sangre, nor is Londa the only child in residence whose conscience is a blank slate. How many daughters does Edwina Sabacthani really have, and how did she bring them into being?

Undaunted by these mysteries, Mason continues to instruct Londa, hoping that she can lead a normal life when she eventually ventures forth into human society. His apprentice, however, has a different agenda. Her head crammed with lofty ideals, her heart brimming with fearsome benevolence, and her bank account filled to bursting, Londa undertakes to remake our fallen world in her own image by any and all means necessary.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2008

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About the author

James K. Morrow

84 books303 followers
Born in 1947, James Kenneth Morrow has been writing fiction ever since he, as a seven-year-old living in the Philadelphia suburbs, dictated “The Story of the Dog Family” to his mother, who dutifully typed it up and bound the pages with yarn. This three-page, six-chapter fantasy is still in the author’s private archives. Upon reaching adulthood, Jim produced nine novels of speculative fiction, including the critically acclaimed Godhead Trilogy. He has won the World Fantasy Award (for Only Begotten Daughter and Towing Jehovah), the Nebula Award (for “Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge” and the novella City of Truth), and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (for the novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima). A fulltime fiction writer, Jim makes his home in State College, Pennsylvania, with his wife, his son, an enigmatic sheepdog, and a loopy beagle. He is hard at work on a novel about Darwinism and its discontents.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 153 reviews
Profile Image for James.
Author 20 books3,714 followers
October 21, 2017
5 stars to James K. Morrow's The Philosopher's Apprentice.

I found this book one afternoon while walking through a book store. It sounded like a good read so I added it to my new pile. It sat for a few weeks while I finished some others ahead of it, and then I dived in. It's divided into 3 separate sections, and even I'll admit there are a few disconnects in the writing style between the various sections, but compared to the amazing aspects of the story, it is very minor (at least to me!). I don't think I've ever had a book that challenged me more than this one. It was phenomenal on so many levels. It helped me learn to think outside the box.

Skip forward about a year...

It's my turn to choose a book for my Book Club. I choose this one as no one else had ever read it. I re-read it over a weekend with as little interruptions as possible. I found so many new layers that I double down on how phenomenal this book is.

A woman is cloning herself to find perfection. It's the story inside all of us. It's shocking and truthful and wicked and sentimental and scary and heartbreaking all the same. You are so trapped in what you think is acceptable and what you think is wrong that you can't escape such a quandry in this book.

Why Not?
The later part of the book goes a bit off track and confuses easily -- you have to focus and release all the questions that come to your mind until you get to the end. For me, it spoke volumes. For a few in the book club, they loved the first half and hated the last half. It's all a matter of how you interpret what you hear -- understand why someone would do something -- and who you are rooting for.

Nevertheless, it's one you should read - at least the first part of the book. Even if you give up midway, just the story in the first section is enough to mesmerize you, activate your innate reactions to the purpose of life and the need of a human connection, and send you questioning your own beliefs.
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
466 reviews996 followers
December 13, 2009
**Warning:** there are bound to be some gross, and most likely inaccurate, generalizations in here about James Morrow based on my current consumption of only two of his novels. And maybe a few small spoilers.

First, let me say that this is the first author in a long time who has engaged me enough that I am working my way through his entire oeuvre. I should probably be doing this in some planned order -- chronologically would make most sense; stylistically could be another option (since he seems to cross genres and styles, although I'm getting a strong sense of a unique and consistent voice). Instead, I am pretty much going at it willy-nilly, based on which book covers attract me the most and which are available in my local bookstore. For example, I picked The Philosopher's Apprentice as my second Morrow, because it was red. I had What Is The What and The Tao Of Pooh in hand, and ....

If this sounds nonsensical, or even silly, well it is. And so is Morrow, which is probably why I like his novels so much. The silliness, however, is just a facade for what are much larger concerns and weightier thoughts. In The Last Witchfinder, it was religious hypocrisy and the triumph of rationalism and science over superstition and barbaric cruelty. In The Philosopher's Apprentice, nothing less than the foundations of human morality and ethical decision-making, encompassing a review of pretty much the entirety of Western philosophical thought, are hoisted up like the Jolly Roger on the Titanic to see who will salute, and who (or what) will be left standing.

Morrow used the device of Newton's Principia Mathematica as the narrator to voice his big questions and themes in The Last Witchfinder. His narrator was not just any book, then, but one of the most irrefutable foundations of modern scientific thought. Hard to argue with gravity, isn't it? Here, in The Philosopher's Apprentice, we have Mason Ambrose, the former Ph.D. candidate who has tried and failed to wrestle an ethics framework from another foundational treatise of science, Darwin's On The Origin Of Species. Keep that in mind: one of the broad themes here is how we are, or whether we are, maintaining any kind of just, compassionate, ethical or moral framework as our evolution as a species escalates -- spurred on by our own self-made technologies.

Here, in a novel that is centrally about what is universally acceptable ethical behaviour, Morrow gives us a narrator who is less reliable, more prone to errors of judgement and more inherently biased. That said, Morrow gives Ambrose an apolitical, amoral voice in some ways, enough that there are times when I found myself annoyed by this character who was not behaving at all psychologically realistically when faced with some fairly significant ethical dilemmas of his own. Consider: you've just encountered a brilliant but mad scientist cloning herself for personal gain. Do you: a) call the authorities; b) take matters into your own hands and destroy the tools of reproduction and/or the scientist herself; c) accept $100K to tutor the cloned spawn, Londa, of aforesaid mad scientist, and hope to instill a more just and compassionate ethic in her because, well, if you don't, who else will?

If you chose c), you're the head Philosopher, Mason Ambrose himself, and there will be three more of you -- a psychologist, an artist and a kids' TV show host (haha), tutoring two more ethically-challenged "vatlings," "beaker freaks" or, if you insist on being PC, cloned offspring, destined to wreak all sorts of havoc and bring to light all sorts of ethical dilemmas for them, for yourself and for the readers. And while the outcome is positive, in that the novel's plot gallops along through set-piece scenes that have, underlying them, a Big Philosophical Question or Ethical Dilemma to be solved, the flimsiness of the set-up always threatens to bring the plot down like a house of cards. Morrow barely holds on to the reins of his plot, or his themes, but it sure is an exciting ride. I could swear there were points in The Philosopher's Apprentice where I could hear the author saying to himself, I can't believe I just wrote that. I think Ambrose himself voiced it after enjoying a lusty romp on stage with the cloned Joan of Arc. Creating an army of revivified aborted fetuses, including Ambrose's and his former gf's own, to stage an end-of-the-world battle royale between right-to-lifers and feminists is another case in point.

The thing is exponentially more complex than The Last Witchfinder, in which good and evil were pretty clear. The Philosopher's Apprentice is more ambitious, and has more room for slippage in the sensibility and logic of plot and character, but these flaws -- and they are definite flaws -- are easily overlooked when there is so much going on, and when the satire is this delicious.

Of the big questions raised here, whether the ends justify the means is a doozy. Another is whether choosing the lesser of two evils can be an ethical choice. And let's not forget the Dr. Frankenstein parallels brought into a contemporary setting, and ask ourselves: under what circumstances is it ethically right for humans to create and end life?

This latter question is explored in a dozen different ways, each one possibly leading to a different conclusion. Corollary: when does sentience begin -- in a fetus, or in a genetically-modified mumquat tree? No one said this was going to be easy, did they?

So again, while good-and-evil; right-and-wrong was clear in The Last Witchfinder, here the very point is to show that ethical questions and behaving in line with their answers, if you can even arrive at them, is complicated, and growing more so in a world where philosophy and those who practice it with discipline and depth have been replaced by right-wing zealots; and where scientists who pursue knowledge and discovery as ends in themselves have become pawns to greedy, immoral capitalists (a dynamic that Morrow takes delight in reversing on the inaugural voyage of the new-and-improved Titanic -- wanna take a guess at how that turns out? ;-p )

Morrow's plots are nothing if not disjointed, utterly absurd, heady mixes of the fantastic and the earthy. Yet, while the situations in which he places his characters are extreme and surreal, and his allusions far-reaching, the themes he explores are contemporary, enduring, important and pretty basic. New reproductive technologies and human cloning. Stem cell research. Abortion. What a fun book this would be to teach in an undergrad class somewhere in middle America.

What appears to me most Morrowesque, thus far, is his ability to use a science/speculative fiction-y paradigm to explore what are huge, all-encompassing themes and make it extremely palatable and accessible to 'the average reader.' (I am not patronizing the average reader. I count myself among that group.) You don't have to have an advanced degree in mathematics or physics to enjoy and get a lot out of The Last Witchfinder in the same way that you don't need an advanced degree in philosophy to enjoy The Philosopher's Apprentice.

The best comparison is to Vonnegut: there is the same 'of the people' tone; the same politics; the same humour and satire; the use of fantastic plots, characters and settings, where necessary, to convey theme (you'd not call Morrow science fiction any more than you'd call Vonnegut that, would you?). But most of all, there is the same deep compassion for humanity, coupled with a realistic but almost despairing sense of humanity's flaws and future unless we shape up and start behaving much better than we have in the past.

Raising this to a mid-4 star level, from what was a high 3.
Profile Image for Sam  Hedrick.
20 reviews9 followers
January 28, 2009
Spoiler alert! This book is a piece of crap!! It was reviewed very favorably on NPR, so I gave it a go. The write-up suggested it was kind of a cerebral "Island of Dr. Moreau", but he only wishes he had such a plot...or any plot at all. At first some of Morrow's wordplay was clever, but in reality he spends far too much time wallowing in his self-delusional intellectualism. You've either got to be a philosophy major (with a 4 pt average) or keep your handy-dandy philosopher's bible within reach to ferret all the name-dropping. Aside from that, everytime a plot started to form he went for a twist; instead of going in an even more interesting direction, he lost focus and went on a wild tangent that did nothing to support any sense of overall plot. Can't believe I stuck it out till the last page...that'll learn me. Already spent too much time with this thing!
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,949 reviews1,295 followers
July 25, 2014
What is this I don’t even.

Argh, my brain hurts. Where did it all start going so wrong? Was it when the sexually ambiguous cadre of private female shock troops seized the recreation of the Titanic in order to force its first-class passengers to toil at menial labour in an effort to rehabilitate them? Or was it earlier than that, when the ludicrously one-dimensional antagonists unleash a clone army of aborted foetuses on unsuspecting would-be parents? Or maybe even earlier, when a lone philosopher discovers that his tutee is in fact a sociopathic clone of his employer?

The Philosopher’s Apprentice is just … odd. And not good odd, like Christopher Moore or Nick Harkaway or Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. All of those authors’ writing has something in common with James Morrow’s slightly absurdist deconstruction of Western morality … but they manage to create a coherent story while they are being absurd, whereas Morrow seems more interested in sandwiching in yet another layer of plot twists.

Part of me worries that I dislike this book not for its merits (or lack thereof) but because it didn’t turn out to be what I expected. From the description, the premise sounded like an Emile-inspired take on Sophie’s World . I was looking for another romp through the history of Western philosophical thought, this time with a focus on morality and ethics. Instead, Morrow discards this pretence of philosophical discourse fairly early on. Mason discovers Londa’s true nature, and he quickly concludes her moral education so that the rest of the story can happen (if that is, indeed, the correct word for the train wreck that follows).

It’s one thing to write a book steeped in philosophical thought that also stimulates a reader’s own thoughts. Sophie’s World accomplishes this through its overtly didactic tones. Umberto Eco’s numerous novels are similar, with his characters wrestling over philosophical dilemmas that are integral to the plot. Morrow, on the other hand, keeps his philosophical discourse on the surface. The Philosopher’s Apprentice is a volatile headache of intertextual allusions and philosopher name-dropping. And while this is consistent with the idea of Mason’s character—one wouldn’t expect a doctoral candidate in philosophy to explain the nuances of various philosophers when he is narrating his life story—it does the reader no favours. Reading this made me feel like what someone a few decades from now will probably feel when they listen to the pop-culture–laden dialogue of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer: a mixture of annoyance and confusion because they don’t understand the references.

Now, I could get past that if, beneath this surface layer, there were a more compelling story into which I could sink my teeth. Alas, nothing like that seems apparent. Mason reminds me of Michael Youngs from Making History : delusional and self-absorbed, obsessed with achieving his place in academic history through a masterpiece thesis of staggering genius. I don’t really feel sorry for any of the things that happen to Mason, as absurd and undeserved as they might be. I don’t really feel sorry for many of the characters, because they don’t feel like real people.

I want to call The Philosopher’s Apprentice allegorical, because that’s the only way to excuse the naked characterization that happens here. There is no attempt to make any of these characters seem like actual human beings; rather, they are a hodgepodge of caricatures, plot devices, and set pieces. They seem just as lost in this illogical and convoluted tale as we readers are; at least we have the option of leaving the story. Mason and his companions are trapped within the confines of these pages, doomed forever to live out this story over and over. Is Hell perhaps becoming a character trapped in a terrible story?

I just don’t get this book. Maybe I’m not smart enough, not well-read enough or well-studied enough in philosophy, so I don’t deserve to get it. I’m the last person to charge that literature needs to be accessible to be good. But I want to believe that, issues of accessibility aside, the story within this book just isn’t very good. Morrow makes a big deal of the fact that Mason is supposed to be Londa’s conscience, that her actions flow inexorably from an inconsistently developed code of ethics laid over her innately sociopathic mind. As far as I can tell, though, her actions seem arbitrary and driven more by plot than character motivations.

The Philosopher’s Apprentice is a hot mess, but not the kind of hot mess you want in your bedroom. There are far better books that manage to mix philosophy with good story telling—just indulge in a little of The Name of the Rose , Foucault’s Pendulum , or Sophie’s World to see what I mean. I’ll give Morrow credit for some of his ideas here, but it took a lot of effort to eke out much enjoyment from this book.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Kyle Muntz.
Author 7 books116 followers
December 1, 2012
The first act of this book is perfect--a subtle, occasionally grotesque meditation on the possibility of ethics, on a picturesque island somewhere between Dr Moreau and The Magus. After that, I don't know. The narrator becomes idiotic and sort of intolerable, and instead of engaging directly with philosophy the book becomes a sort of tirade against right-wing politics and theology, which seemed excessive and silly to me even as an Atheist. The great characters from the beginning are still there, but I sort of hated the narrator for the rest of the book, and especially the end was pretty terrible, to the point I don't really know what Morrow was thinking. I would give the first section of this book (about 160 pages) 5 stars; after that, somewhere between 2 and 3. To be honest I was really unhappy to see the way Morrow ruined things, particularly because I think there are some big weaknesses and philosophical oversights to the conclusion this book comes to intellectually. I would still recommend reading the first section, but, while there were still a few parts I really enjoyed after that, the last 100 pages especially just left a bad taste in my mouth.
8 reviews
June 12, 2008
It's Morrow through and through. Mix 1 part satire, 1 part irreverence, 2 parts modern philosophy and a dash of insanity together and bake -- it's a recipe for disaster or brilliance. This a story of modern morality that makes you laugh and cry at the same time, and challenges your notion of civil society.

The first act of the book is a brilliant adaptation of the Pygmalion story, complete with feather covered iguanas, a brief history of moral philosophy, and the corruption of childhood at the hands of the Marin Heidegger. How can you go wrong?

Act II changes both tone and scope, becoming an indictment of the corporatization of christianity, and Act III changes scope again becoming an examination of moral ambiguity.

All in all is it Morrow's best novel? No. Is it his worst? Not at all. It is however Morrow to the core, and as such may not be as accessible as some of this other works. If in doubt, read "Towing Jehovah" and if you make it though that journey yearning for more then pick up a copy of The Philosopher's Apprentice.
Profile Image for Don.
870 reviews38 followers
October 4, 2011
To say this book is interesting and thought provoking might be an understatement. I really think what one gets out this book will depend on what you are looking for. The premise of the novel starts out simple enough, a philosophy graduate student who torpedoes his opportunity to get his Ph.D., finds himself recruited by a billionaire scientist to come to a remote island to tutor her daughter; specifically, she provides that her daughter has been in a horrific accident that has eliminated her sense of right and wrong, and she is thus in need of moral re-education.

Obviously, while the philosopher Mason Ambrose is tutoring about ethics and all the various schools (Kant, Aristotle, Utilitarianism, etc. - philosophy majors like me will eat it up), the plot unravels more to realize that this girl was in no accident. What follows, ironically enough, raises serious questions about the ethics involved in scientific, particularly genetic, research and application.

Following this, the plot unravels into the even more absurd or weird, depending on your point of view, and provides a scathing satirical comment on certain aspects of our society, and its ability or lack thereof to apply certain ethical principles we accept in theory in our actual policies and actions. If one accepts that Morrow is providing satire for discussion, I imagine one will enjoy the book immensely (as I did, but also in part because of the plethora of philosophy references). If one is looking for a novel commenting on the realities of our modern society, I imagine one will be disappointed as the novel's plot would end up too absurd, too distant from reality to be accepted.

Thus, if one likes philosophy and satire, this is a good read. If one doesn't, best to probably stay away from this particularly novel.
Profile Image for Susan (aka Just My Op).
1,126 reviews58 followers
July 23, 2009
Quirky, sometimes unsettling, and very entertaining, this novel can be a challenge for the average reader, or at any rate, it was for me. A philosophy student (Mason Ambrose) walks out while defending his own doctoral thesis, giving up the future he had imagined. He is offered a job working for a wealthy, eccentric woman who owns an island in the Florida keys where she and a geneticist create such beings as a feathered iguana and a sentient tree. The job is to develop morality, a conscience, for a daughter, Londa, who lost her moral compass when injured in a diving accident. After he has succeeded and left the island, the student and philosopher meet again after several years. The plot was easy to follow but not being a student of philosophy nor of mythology, I found this book had more arcane references and more unknown theories and words than I have encountered in a long time. It also had mad scientists, lesbian security forces, and legions of aborted fetuses brought to life to punish their parents. Morrow insults religion, politics, morality, science, and about every other subject broached, so not a read for those especially sensitive to criticism; there is bound to be something to offend almost everyone. Certainly different, but also thought-provoking and enjoyable.
Profile Image for Alan.
90 reviews9 followers
August 8, 2009
In the opening pages of this novel, I thought I was back in the magic land created by John Fowles in "The Magus." A young philosopher with a rebellious bent is recruited to go to a secluded island and tutor a teenage girl, daughter of a billionairess. He's told his student has lost her memory in a horrific accident. His task: to restore her sense of right and wrong.
It's a promising premise and I looked forward to an interesting novel of ideas with some sexual tension thrown in. How wrong I was!
It soon becomes clear that this cover story is false and there is more going on than meets the eye. Who for instance is the 5 year-old girl sequestered in a different portion of the island being tutored by two other men?
It transpires that the billionairess, stricken by an incurable cancer, has hired a mad scientist to clone three versions of herself -- one aged 16, one 11 and the third 5. Together, they add up to one complete childhood.
This first part of the book has a certain interest and narrative thrust. Then we hit Part II and the plot begins to turn bizarre. The billionairess dies, everyone leaves the island and our hero goes back to Boston, starts a second-hand bookstore and gets married. (PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD, BE WARNED)His wife becomes pregnant but has an illness which makes it dangerous for her to have children. They decide on an abortion. But the mad scientist from Part I has now fallen in with crazed anti-abortion activists and they begin to clone thousands of aborted fetuses to form an army. Yes, it's weird; it's also politically questionable and in literary terms quite silly.
If Part II is bad, Part III is quite beneath any rational criticism. It revolves around the eldest sister from Part I forming her own feminist army and hijacking a cruise liner carrying some of the world's worst industrialists and polluters and subjecting them to a forcible re-education regime. Just writing these words evokes the utter idiocy to which this novel sinks.
Some of the characters in this book come to life through weird science but none of them live convincingly in a literary sense. I simply cannot recommend this book.
Profile Image for James.
Author 1 book21 followers
March 17, 2009
2 stars instead of 1 because it was interesting enough to keep me reading with a modicum of interest. This is one of those books (which I seem to be reading a lot of lately) that presents a compelling premise, but fails to deliver.

The introductory premise was a pretty good hook. A philosophy graduate student gets a job offer to travel to a tropical island, full of genetic anomalies, and tutor a 17-year-old girl who doesn't have a conscience or any sort of "moral compass". The philosopher balks at first at the chance to shape a person's soul, but ultimately agrees.

The first chapter or two had me laughing out loud and it seemed that the rest of the book would follow suit. However, the book quickly changed directions, several times in fact. Additionally, the book contains loads of philosophical puns and witticisms and if you're not up to date on your philosophy or at least taken a 101 class, you'll probably lose the quirkiness that keeps the book afloat--barely.

To my confusion, and later dismay, the plot quickly turns 90 degrees to focus on an assortment of genetic wackiness. The middle section of the book deals mainly with "ontological terrorism", which is just as odd as it sounds. I'll put it this way--imagine a hoard of invading zombie-esque, genetically salvaged individuals, whose lives were ended by their parents before they were even born ...weird stuff.

The third act of the book takes another twist and ends up with a hijacking of a luxury cruise liner. The final moments of the book seemed to me like the author was trying to impress upon the reader excruciating moral dilemmas, but instead, the dilemmas are badly paced and come off with much less impact and emotion than I think he had planned. In effect, I think it was mainly the strange and absurd plot twists that kept me from getting as emotionally invested in the characters as the author expected of me, thus I didn't so much care about the outcome of the moral dilemmas. What's a moral dilemma if you don't even care?

Not recommended.

Profile Image for Brian Steed.
60 reviews
April 19, 2009
Morrow's novels satisfy on pretty much every level - wrestling with big questions while keeping you entertained with his sharply written and wonderfully ludicrous stories. In this one Morrow explores the question of morality, and what might happen if the teachings of the most prominent thinkers on the subject (Plato, the Stoics, Jesus, Kant, etc.) were allowed to override our inexplicable innate sense of morality. The end product is a tasty stew of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, Daniel Dennett, Pygmalion, Darwin, and Night of the Living Dead. If I had to point to a weakness, I'd note that the middle section involving the "immaculoids" (aborted fetuses brought to life and matured to adulthood by a group of well-funded religious fanatics, for the purpose of tormenting the parents who prevented their lives), although germane to Morrow's moral explorations in a general sense, seems disjointed from the rest of the narrative, as it interrupts what seems to be the principle thrust of the story - the arc of Londa's life from her moral education to her misguided application of those principles in the real world. But even this middle section illustrates one of the things that impresses me most about Morrow's writing - the fact that he gives an honest and fair-minded reading of viewpoints opposed to his own (in this case, the "pro-life" position, which Morrow handles so sympathetically you could be forgiven for coming away from the book assuming the author was a firm anti-abortionist, despite Morrow's scientific humanist worldview). Also, any book whose central character is a Darwinian ethicist gets off on the right foot with me.
Profile Image for Teresa.
429 reviews110 followers
December 4, 2007
Having failed the final stages of his PhD, Mason Ambrose accepts the lucrative position of "morality" tutor to Londa Sabacthani on the remote tropical island, Isla de Sangre. What follows is a cross between Pygmalion and Frankenstein (and some have suggested there are element of Lost and the Island of Dr Moreau) as Londa leaves the island, intent on rectifying injustice in the world, but at what cost??

The result is an erudite, beautifully written novel wherein questions of morality and ethics are broached with incisive wit and humour. It's quite a demanding but extremely rewarding read and I would highly recommend it to those who delight in verbal gymnastics and original wordplay imbedded in a gripping narrative.

Thank you, Mr Morrow, for simultaneously entertaining me and increasing my word power and knowledge of philosphical matters in a painless fashion!
Profile Image for Fionna.
112 reviews5 followers
May 8, 2018
If I could rate this book on two scales, I would give it a 3 out of 5 for enjoyability, and a 4.5 out of 5 for content. It’s tough to rate books with the breadth of this one along side the likes of the Peter Grant series - the latter is a romp, and I love it, but compared to the chewy ethical plot point of The Philosopher’s Apprentice it is a piece of fluff.

Anyway. My enjoyment was reduced by the narrator, whom I disliked, and his relationship with Londa which was frankly creepy in ways that the author didn’t explore. The final ethical question was, I think, skimpy in its resolution. But just raising the questions, without having straightforward and obviously ‘right’ answers, is such an unusual and refreshing thing in fiction that my rating goes up again.

Maybe not for the faint-hearted.
Profile Image for Laurie.
79 reviews3 followers
May 28, 2008
I made it to pg 122. And I feel really, really awful about what may be a disparaging comment made in 3-2-1...:

So overly adjectival! Make it stop. I returned this so quickly to the library that I can't even recall some of the special imagery. A smile is once described as a croissant. And that's not even an adjectival phrase.

Synopsis: An ABD from "Hawthorne University" in Cambridge (hmmm...) who takes a mystery job as personal tutor for a troubled 17-year-old. His dissertation which he requires his student to read is "Ethics of the Earth". There's a lot of talk about Heidegger, and Dasein. I did learn (should've known" Heidegger was a Nazi sympathizer. Therefore I refuse to listen to anything about Dasein every again.

The end.
705 reviews8 followers
June 8, 2018
I hated this book. Hated hated hated hated hated this book.

This book is preachy, sanctimonious, incoherent, poorly plotted, misogynistic, overwritten, under-characterized, and petty. Deus ex machina is happening all over this thing, large parts of it make no sense, and the "hero" manages to be completely passive and have a Messiah complex at the same time. Somehow, this book is completely insane, and yet boring, too. It boggles the mind without engaging the mind in any pleasant way.

This book makes Atlas Shrugged look like a masterpiece of subtlety.

I only finished this book because it was for book club. We did have quite the lively discussion about it. That's about the only good thing I can say about this book.

Except for this: I liked the iguana.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,939 reviews58 followers
November 6, 2009
Another wild ride from the author of The Last Witchfinder. At the outset, our narrator walks out on his defense of his philosophy PhD dissertation, "Ethics from the Earth." Thereafter, he faces one impossible ethical choice between evils after another. Unfailingly clever, amusing, and interesting, as well as occasionally deeply disturbing, its strong antireligious bias and ideological heavy-handedness are more bothersome than they were in the earlier book set in the 18th century. But who else could so elegantly integrate Heidegger, Hegel, Kant, and Nietzsche, among many other philosophers, into a popular novel?
Profile Image for Beau.
250 reviews5 followers
October 23, 2009
This book kind of reminds me of Towing Jehovah - wherein the protagonist finds himself in an outlandish situation. From the juxtaposition of "normal perspective" and abnormal situation, complex events gain perspectives that aren't otherwise seen. Sometimes Morrow's dalliances into the absurd are just silly. Other times, they're treasures.

This book is mostly the latter. Whether your issue of choice is cloning, right to life, fundamentalist religion vs secular thought, the distribution of wealth and kindness among the people of earth, or Frankenstein, you can find a lot to enjoy and think about in this book.

Profile Image for Jennifer.
184 reviews
April 19, 2009
This book was recomended to me and therefore I wasn't familar with this author. He difinley must have his fan base but I am not in that catagory. I enjoy some science fiction movies but not books especially when unexpected.

The book actually felt like it was two or three different stories just with the same characters. The biginig was entirley different then the section that takes place on the island. Off the island is where I totally wanted to put the book down but since we have a rule in our book club (you pick it-you read it) I tortured myself to finish. Never again.
Profile Image for Amy.
341 reviews13 followers
May 19, 2014
I enjoyed this book but not as much as I thought I would when I began it. I am not a big fantasy/sci-fi reader and this novel,while it caught my attention for book 1, sort of spiraled into th as t fantasy realm where it lost some plot lines to me and I felt like I wished it would just cut to the chase which happened in book 3. So, as I said I liked the book, but it was sort of out of my comfort zone as far as genres are concerned.
Profile Image for Pamela.
Author 144 books186 followers
March 8, 2009
Excellent writing as always from a master of satire who can make even the most outrageous plots turns seem plausible.
Profile Image for Gary Leach.
8 reviews1 follower
August 10, 2014
Liked it. Had to make a list in the back cover of vocabulary I didn't know. I now use the word "zaftig" where i didn't before...
50 reviews1 follower
March 27, 2020
This book was insane from beginning to end. The plot twists, dramatic reveals, and complex character development had me hooked throughout, but also just generally dumbfounded. As Henry and Mason confronted Edwina about her plan early on, I was impressed with how the story had risen to such a dramatic climax - and there was still 300 pages to go!
I was impressed with the organization of the book. The three parts were well divided, well named, and each had its own clear plot within the overall storyline of the book. The themes were certainly universal throughout the parts as we witnessed Londa's, and Mason's, development.
In trying to come up with themes for the book, a few come to mind. One is about absolute rights and wrongs. What constitutes a moral absolute (if anything) and what actions are justifiable in pursuit of those goals? Then, are people capable of change and moral growth? If so, can that change be forced upon them, or do they have to want it? And finally, the ultimate question - what does it mean to be human? What is the true value of a human life? And does can that value vary? Morrow does an impressive job of treating these themes heavily without totally bringing us to a conclusion. I was left with many thoughts but no real answers, and I think Mason would approve.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
450 reviews1 follower
November 19, 2018
This one took awhile. I was very intrigued in part one, then came to be horrified and bewildered. Very imaginative for sure. Disturbing is a better word at many points. I am at a loss for how to even describe this one. I may come back later after having thought about it more.
Profile Image for Kate.
556 reviews4 followers
April 10, 2021
It reminded me of Margaret Atwood with a slightly more satisfying ending. Clever and full of wit, but for all that, too obsessed with its grand theme to be a very good story. I enjoyed it, but it didn't leave me wanting more.
Profile Image for Kathryn O'Sullivan.
279 reviews4 followers
March 17, 2022
Despite the unappealing (to me) cover design, this clever mashup of Frankenstein, philosophy, and Brave New World was surprisingly fun and uplifting! Londa's unusual education is only eclipsed by her even more unusual application of what she 'learns' through philosophy and her flawed 'conscience'.
205 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2020
Maybe I would have appreciated the book more if I were more into philosophy... I am unlikely to read this book again.
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