Call it Petrofsky’s Dilemma. Born with the sort of brain that absorbs information the way Bounty paper towels soak up spills, Karl Petrofsky has spent most of his eleven years in school trying to hide the 100’s and A+’s scrawled across the top of his tests. It’s no use, though. Everyone knows, and they all hate him for it — or, okay, that’s a bit strong. Let’s say they don’t appreciate how easy school is for him.
Einstein, the jocks call him.
Geek God, shout the skaters, zipping by on their boards.
Intel Inside, quips Mr. Imperiale, handing back Karl’s A.P. calculus homework.
Right now, for example, Karl is taking a chemistry test: ionic bonds, covalent bonds, van der Waals forces, that sort of thing. All around him, others sweat and writhe. You can almost hear the gastric juices swishing and bubbling in stressed-out stomachs. Meanwhile, Karl goes down the page, question by question, filling in answers with about as much agitation as a guy taking a survey. It’s no wonder that most of his classmates have had the urge, at one time or another, to wring his skinny neck.
This is his biggest problem in life: Unnaturally Powerful Cerebrum –> Widespread Social Rejection. Frankly, there have been times when, if a mysterious stranger had offered him Average-Student pills, he would have swallowed the whole bottle. Because he’s not a nerd, he’s not a brown-nose, and he hates the identity people have pinned on him. True, he’s shy, and trips over his own large feet sometimes, and hasn’t yet worked up the nerve to ask a member of the female gender out on a date–but he has friends, and he even makes witty remarks sometimes. Just because he possesses a multi-gigabyte memory, that doesn’t make him a cybertwerp.
The concept for this book—high-tech cheating in high school—was suggested to me by editor Stephanie Lurie. I told her it just didn’t sound like my kind of book. But then I kept thinking of comic ideas someone could use in a novel about cheating. The key was to see it as farce, not intrigue. Everything in the book followed from that.
But even a farce about cheating has to confront the question of why people should or shouldn’t cheat—at least, I didn’t see much point in writing the book just for laughs. If you’re not someone who grew up under a strict moral system—i.e., Do the right thing or you’ll burn in hell—then Why not cheat? becomes an interesting question. An awful lot of people seem to have decided that the advantages outweigh the negatives. And the standard answers (You’re only cheating yourself) don’t do much to clarify the issue. I hope readers will enjoy following Karl down this confusing trail—and that they’ll think of other points that I missed.
Readers will quickly guess that I identify with Karl, the perplexed, ethically uncertain guy who finds himself tugged back and forth between the moralists and the charming cheaters. I wasn’t the smartest guy in school, though, not by a long shot: one of my friends was, and I kept him in mind, loosely, as I drew this portrait of Karl. (For the record, I don’t think he ever cheated in his life.)