Fuse #8

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Review of the Day: Eva

It's an oldie but a goodie and few people would contend with its status as a "classic". Yes it's "Eva"! Still sporting the same darned cover it had back in 1988 and still kicking butt as sci-fi children's literature goes.

If I were an up-and-coming screenwriter and I was to pitch the book “Eva” to, oh I dunno, Harvey Weinstein for a potential film, I’d do so in this manner: “I got five words for you, Harvey. Girl’s brain in monkey’s body”. Which is all anyone who has ever heard of “Eva” knows about the book. I’m a fan of futuristic titles for teens and children but the majority of such books tend to age poorly. So when I picked up “Eva” I knew perfectly well that the book had originally been published back in 1988. Not promising. I half expected Road Warriors to pop out of the pages when I lifted the cover. What a relief then to find that not only does “Eva” make the whole human-brained-chimp idea more than just a story of accepting oneself (which probably would’ve been a bit treacly) but happens to also have something to say about the state of humanity today. Dickinson isn’t just ambitious. He’s insanely complex. Yet “Eva” reads so beautifully that even the passages that discuss day-to-day chimp life end up gripping you by the throat.

Eva wakes up and can’t move anything on her body but her eyes. She’s can’t remember why she’s now lying in a hospital bed. All she knows is that she’s been dreaming of jungles and forests where the air is hot and damp and leafy. Of course, these dreams are ridiculous. Earth hardly has any forests or jungles left anymore, what with the overpopulation and development of the planet. Hardly any real animals aside from humans even exist anymore. There are chimpanzees, of course. In fact Eva’s father works with them on a daily basis. Heck, Eva grew up with the apes and has known them since she was a small child. Maybe that’s why she didn’t freak out completely when she found out that her brain (or, at least, the parts of the brain that make up her personality) has been transferred to that of a chimp. You see, Eva was recently involved in a near-fatal car accident. Her body was kaput, but the scientists in the field thought that she might be an ideal candidate for brain transplants to ape bodies. At first Eva finds the whole thing a bit shocking, but she realizes fast that unless she brings her human and chimp selves together into a seamless whole, she’ll fall apart and be unable to function. And being in a chimp body can be fabulous too! Now she’s famous and everyone in the world’s in love with her. But what about the other chimps in the world? How much longer will human beings sustain them? What Eva comes to realize is that she is in a unique position to not only save the chimps of the world, but possibly human knowledge and existence itself.

Want to get a class of fifth graders’ attention fast? Just throw out the premise of this book. THAT catches the little buggers’ imaginations right quick. Reading “Eva” I tried to determine what the ideal age range would be to read it. A previous Epinions review of this book complained endlessly that it was dull. To be honest, I didn’t get a sense of that at all. Dickinson doesn’t dumb down his writing, that’s for sure. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend that you locate and read his, “The Seventh Raven”. It’s probably the greatest hostage situation children’s book ever written. “Eva”, however, is his best known work and deservedly so. Kids who seek out everything they can on Jane Goodall (and they exist, trust me) will gravitate towards the many layers and strata in the chimp community. Dickinson obviously did his homework for this book and by the time it becomes clear that Eva would like to throw in her lot with the apes and not the humans, you’re not the least bit surprised. Of course, with more than one mention of mating and chimp sex (never seen but often alluded to) this book is probably going to wind up in the hands of teens rather than your average eight-year-old.

Of course Dickinson falls prey to a problem that haunts most authors of futuristic novels. He employs a kind of future slang for technological advances. People watch “shapers”, which is like television but three-dimensional and somewhat interactive. There are also flying machines called flivvers that are never fully explained. It’s funny to consider that in our age of TiVo, some of the technology in this book (like the VCR) has already become outdated. Rather than explain what these things are, Eva just comments on them casually. This may have struck Dickinson as the best way to present the future (or, as I like to pronounce it, The Few-Cha!) but it breaks apart the novel in awkward ways. Fortunately for the reader, such annoyances are few and far between. The idea of corporations having a great deal of power isn’t pounded into the head as with less extraordinary YA novels like Pete Hautman’s, “Rash”. It’s natural to the book and, frighteningly enough, sounds a lot like the state of things today. eep!

Dickinson covers all his bases in this book. For every but-what-about question you come up with, he has an answer. What’s impressive is that the book never questions the fact that a life lived in a chimp body could be every bit as important as a life lived in a human one. But with so many enormous questions waiting to be grappled with, “Eva” ends up being enjoyable on several different levels all at once. I’m a little surprised that it hasn’t been banned for its “unnatural” premise more often than it has. In any case, if you’re looking for something a little classic but just as smart and sharp as any sci-fi text printed today, “Eva” has your number. It knows exactly what it wants to say and says it with Dickinsonian flair. A gutsy novel.


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