National Book Award, Young People's Literature, 2002
Matt is a clone of El Patrón, a powerful drug lord of the land of Opium, which is located between the United States and Mexico. For six years, he has lived in a tiny cottage in the poppy fields with Celia, a kind and deeply religious servant woman who is charged with his care and safety. He knows little about his existence until he is discovered by a group of children playing in the fields and wonders why he isn't like them. Though Matt has been spared the fate of most clones, who have their intelligence destroyed at birth, the evil inhabitants of El Patrón's empire consider him a "beast" and an "eejit."
When El Patrón dies at the age of 146,14-year-old Matt escapes Opium with the help of Celia and Tam Lin, his devoted bodyguard who wants to right his own wrongs. After a near misadventure in his escape, Matt makes his way back home and begins to rid the country of its evils.
In the Beginning
In the beginning there were thirty-six of them, thirty-six droplets of
life so tiny that Eduardo could see them only under a microscope. He
studied them anxiously in the darkened room.
Water bubbled through tubes that snaked around the warm, humid walls.
Air was sucked into growth chambers. A dull, red light shone on the
faces of the workers as they watched their own arrays of little glass
dishes. Each one contained a drop of life.
Eduardo moved his dishes, one after the other, under the lens of the
microscope. The cells were perfect -- or so it seemed. Each was
furnished with all it needed to grow. So much knowledge was hidden in
that tiny world! Even Eduardo, who understood the process very well, was
awed. The cell already understood what color hair it was to have, how
tall it would become, and even whether it preferred spinach to broccoli.
It might even have a hazy desire for music or crossword puzzles. All
that was hidden in the droplet.
Finally the round outlines quivered and lines appeared, dividing the
cells in two. Eduardo sighed. It was going to be all right. He watched
the samples grow, and then he carefully moved them to the incubator.
But it wasn't all right. Something about the food, the heat, the light
was wrong, and the man didn't know what it was. Very quickly over half
of them died. There were only fifteen now, and Eduardo felt a cold lump
in his stomach. If he failed, he would be sent to the Farms, and then
what would become of Anna and the children, and his father, who was so
"It's okay," said Lisa, so close by that Eduardo jumped. She was one of
the senior technicians. She had worked for so many years in the dark,
her face was chalk white and her blue veins were visible through her
"How can it be okay?" Eduardo said.
"The cells were frozen over a hundred years ago. They can't be as
healthy as samples taken yesterday."
"That long," the man marveled.
"But some of them should grow," Lisa said sternly.
So Eduardo began to worry again. And for a month everything went well.
The day came when he implanted the tiny embryos in the brood cows. The
cows were lined up, patiently waiting. They were fed by tubes, and their
bodies were exercised by giant metal arms that grasped their legs and
flexed them as though the cows were walking through an endless field.
Now and then an animal moved its jaws in an attempt to chew cud.
Did they dream of dandelions? Eduardo wondered. Did they feel a phantom
wind blowing tall grass against their legs? Their brains were filled
with quiet joy from implants in their skulls. Were they aware of the
children growing in their wombs?
Perhaps the cows hated what had been done to them, because they
certainly rejected the embryos. One after another the infants, at this
point no larger than minnows, died.
Until there was only one.
Eduardo slept badly at night. He cried out in his sleep, and Anna asked
what was the matter. He couldn't tell her. He couldn't say that if this
last embryo died, he would be stripped of his job. He would be sent to
the Farms. And she, Anna, and their children and his father would be
cast out to walk the hot, dusty roads.
But that one embryo grew until it was clearly a being with arms and legs
and a sweet, dreaming face. Eduardo watched it through scanners. "You
hold my life in your hands," he told the infant. As though it could
hear, the infant flexed its tiny body in the womb until it was turned
toward the man. And Eduardo felt an unreasoning stir of affection.
When the day came, Eduardo received the newborn into his hands as though
it were his own child. His eyes blurred as he laid it in a crib and
reached for the needle that would blunt its intelligence.
"Don't fix that one," said Lisa, hastily catching his arm. "It's a
Matteo Alacrán. They're always left intact."
Have I done you a favor? thought Eduardo as he watched the baby
turn its head toward the bustling nurses in their starched, white
uniforms. Will you thank me for it later?
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
Excerpted from "The House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer. Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Farmer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.