Peter Dickinson’s, Eva, published in 1988 is a science fiction book I first read in 2005. I still recommend it to my students who like science fiction because it is thought provoking and has an extremely unsettling in its theme.
The setting of this book is quite important to the plot and theme. It takes place in the future on earth. Most of the earth is devoid of vegetation. Cities have taken over because of over population leaving very little space for trees or grasslands. Animals such as elephants, giraffes, gorillas, whales and dolphins no longer exist. In fact, the only animals that have survived are those who have been able to adapt such as rats, pigeons, and of course, many insects. The main character Eva is a 13-year-old teenager whose father works for a university and is the Director of Primate Zoology in charge of research. Since chimps are so much like humans, the world, after losing most of its animal population, decided to try and save the chimps from extinction. Consequently, Eva grew up with chimps as playmates, and her father even used her in his research on their behavior. Now, due to an accident, Eva’s father along with other university scientists, have managed to transplant Eva’s brain into the body of a chimp. The reason why the setting becomes important to the overall theme is that eventually Eva must decide how she wants to live … as a human in a chimp’s body, or as a chimp with a human brain. Her decision makes for an extremely provocative ending that uses the setting as part of the resolution.
Dickinson’s book brings up a variety of moral questions that have to do with the theme. One, of course, is scientific ethics. How far does mankind allow science to advance, and where should that line be drawn? Another is the humane treatment of animals and their use in advancing medical research. Finally, does medicine have the right to keep people alive, or are there times when saving a life (even if medicine has the ability to do so) is the wrong decision? This of course, has to do with the concept between quantity and quality of life and whether or not euthanasia is ever justified? As you read this book it is impossible not to think about all these questions especially when Dickinson does such a terrific job at having the reader experience what his character is experiencing. He does this by creating a strong intelligent character and by using first person point of view. His use of these two elements places the reader inside Eva’s head, and since that is all that remains of the real Eva, it creates the allusion that the reader is going through the same things that she is.
It is because of the ethical questions, and Peter Dickinson extremely strong characterization that this science fiction is such a dramatic, and at times, horrifying story. I would highly recommend it for readers who like books that will make them think long after they have been re-shelved, which is why it remains one of my oldies but goodies pick