Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
February 2007

EVA by Peter Dickinson
Laurel-Leaf Books, Copyright © 1990
Paperback, 224 pages, $6.50
Age Group: 12-17

You are thirteen years old and involved in a horrible accident. Your body is crushed and you are in an irreversible coma. Before the horrible accident, memory neurons had been discovered and it was hypothesized that they could be transferred from one host to another. The only way to save you is to implant your memory neurons into the brain of a chimpanzee. Would you rather die or live within a chimp body? A hard decision, yes? The choice is made for Eva while she is unconscious. In order to save her, her parents allow an experimental transfer of her memory neurons into the body of a chimp.

Weeks later when Eva begins to regain consciousness and move parts of her body she is pleased to be alive in any form and particularly happy about it being a chimp. Perhaps because her father is the head of the Chimp Reserve and Eva has grown up with the monkeys as playmates, the transition was easy for her.

The state of the world is a mess. There are 6 billion people on the earth and millions of them are in the United States. So many that there are teeming masses everywhere. So many that people spend most of their time in their rooms because going out in public is so frightening as you are jostled about by the mass of bodies. There are only a few tiny acres of forest that have been preserved. As Joni Mitchell sings, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Eva's father is the head of a chimp reserve. It amounts to a few deserted factories converted into holding pens for chimps. The chimps' reservation is an iron forest and steel panels. Nothing like their natural habitat would be. All chimps are born, live and die is their manmade habitat. Also, these are the only chimps around. They are nearly extinct as are a host of animals on earth.

Eva has grown up with these chimps. Her earliest memories are of playing beside the chimps while one grooms her hair for lice and ticks, etc. Eva's close association with apes provides what is needed for the memory neurons to implant and function. Slowly Eva is allowed to wake up one part of her body at a time. There is a mirror that allows her to look out of the window and in other parts of the room. One wonders when she will turn the mirror and look at herself and the horror of it all. Eventually she does turn the mirror and sees her face. Only a hint of horror is present and within minutes she accepts her transformation. Again, her familiarity with the chimps helps here.

There are two Eva's inside her chimp body. Eva the primate and Eva the homosapien. A third party exists as well. The body belonged to a chimp named Kelly and some of her remains in Eva's mind. Slowly Eva learns to coordinate these "ghosts" and decide which she wants to become. Kelly begins to fade as Eva learns how to use her new body and Eva's memory neurons take over more and more of Kelly's brain.

Eva deals with some important issues. The most obvious being what it means to be human. Does Eva qualify as a human or an animal? Throughout the book she moves from one to the other gradually preferring to spend her time with the chimps. Eva's motivation is two fold: she enjoys the peace of being with the chimps and she wants to help them have a better, natural life. Most of the world sees Eva as a main attraction at the circus. Those with power wish to profit from her existence. Contracts are signed and she no longer belongs to herself. There is a moral question in the novel as well. Is it right to sacrifice one life to prolong another. We ask this question because Kelly is a primate and reminds us of ourselves. Kelly's sacrifice for a human probes the morality of all animal research.

Eva's story is a dramatic one, full of suspense and intrigue. While reading this book I came to care for Eva very much. What better recommendation can you give a story or book? Read Eva, come to love her and adopt her. By the way, Eva can be obtained as a reprinted paperback from Booksamillion.

Interstellar Pig by William Sleator
Firebird (Penguin), Copyright © 1984
Paperback, 197 pages, $6.99
Age Group: 12-17

Interstellar Pig is an ALA Notable Book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and an SLJ Best Book of the Year. This tells me there are a lot of people out there who understood and enjoyed this book. I am not one of them. I had to force my way through to the end only to find great disappointment.

Barney's family goes to the beach (a big lake, not the ocean) for the summer. Barney is sensitive to the sun. He doesn't tan but burns severely. The cabin Barney's family has rented was once the home of an ancient mariner and his crazy brother. As the story goes, the brother went crazy the night a shipwreck survivor was rescued. The next morning he lay dead in his bunk at the hands of the captain's brother. No one knows why the captain's brother killed the man but when they found him his was babbling about the dead man being the devil himself and he had no other choice but to kill him.

It is this house full of legend to which Barney and his family comes. Part of the legend says there was something of great value that the murderer took from his victim. The Captain hid it somewhere on the island in the middle of the lake and people have been looking for it for years. The family settles in for a quiet time at the beach. Barney has brought a ton of science fiction books to read and is also looking forward to some down time himself. All is well until the renters of the cottage next door move in.

Immediately they capture the attention of the family. His parents are enamored with them and Barney in curious indeed. A series of house raids occur looking for that lost item of great worth. Then Barney becomes involved in a board game called Interstellar Pig. Once he learns to play the complex game, he is invited over to play the "real" thing. The consequences of losing the "real" game are catastrophic and irreversible. Suddenly Barney finds himself in the hot seat still trying to figure out what the interstellar pig is.

The volume of Sleator's work lacks the simple, straight forward science concepts that make Singularity and The Last Universe such fun reads. Although the close encounter of the third kind makes this an alien story, there seems to be little rhyme or reason for their presence. Boom! We have alien intruders. Boom! We have an intergalactic war being played out in the dinning room of a cinderblock cottage by the lake. For what purpose? That's what I was unable to determine.

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