Mockingbird (Tevis novel)

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Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorWalter Tevis
Cover artistFred Marcellino
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction novel
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
LC ClassPZ4.T342 Mo PS3570.E95

Mockingbird is a science fiction novel by Walter Tevis, first published in 1980. It was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novel.


A central character is the dean of New York University, Spofforth, an android who has lived for centuries yet yearns to die. The novel opens with his failed attempt at suicide. Spofforth brings a teacher, Paul Bentley, to New York. Bentley has taught himself to read after a Rosetta Stone–like discovery of a film with words matching those in a children's primer. Spofforth disliked Bentley and his reading knowledge. Bentley says he could teach others to read, but Spofforth instead gives him a job of decoding the written titles in ancient silent films. At a zoo, Bentley meets Mary Lou, explains the concept of reading to her, and the two embark on a path toward literacy. Spofforth responds by sending Bentley to prison for the crime of reading, and takes Mary Lou as an unwilling housemate. The novel then follows Bentley's journey of discovery after his escape from prison, culminating in his eventual reunion with Mary Lou and their assistance with Spofforth's suicide.


Anne McCaffrey commented, "I've read other novels extrapolating the dangers of computerization, but Mockingbird stings me, the writer, the hardest. The notion, the possibility, that people might indeed lose the ability, and worse, the desire to read, is made acutely probable."[citation needed]

When a new edition was published in 1999, with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem, Pat Holt stated that, "The book often feels like a combination 1984 and Brave New World, with a dash of the movie Escape from New York thrown in."[1]

Reviewing the 1999 edition, James Sallis declared that "Mockingbird collapses the whole of mankind's perverse, self-destructive, indomitable history, cruelty and kindness alike, into its black-humor narrative of a robot's death wish."[2]

PBS production[edit]

During one of his last televised interviews, Tevis revealed that PBS once planned a production of Mockingbird as a follow-up to its successful adaptation of The Lathe of Heaven (1980). The San Francisco Chronicle called Mockingbird "an unofficial sequel to Fahrenheit 451, for its central event and symbol is the rediscovery of reading."[citation needed]


External links[edit]