CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 17. . . .January 8, 2010.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2009.
258 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Darleen Golke.
Libra shifted again, pointing her head toward Bertrand’s feet. A faint tickling at the back of his cranium made him smile. Libra was laughing.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
Bertrand shook head and groaned. He seemed to be going through some kind of regression. “What’s the matter with me?” he muttered, opening his eyes. Libra’s head was still nestled in his lap, but she wasn’t snoozing. He followed her glance beyond his feet to the spot where Einstein sat staring, like a determined child.
She bad! Einstein repeated.
It took Bertrand a second to realize what was happening –– his “thoughts” about Dean Zolinsky actually belonged to an eight week old SMART pup.
“I don’t believe it!” Bertrand said.
Talkies, Einstein proclaimed proudly. Genie talk too. We teach others.
“But that’s impossible!” Bertrand cried. “It takes human babies a year or more to learn how to talk. You’re only a couple of months old!”
Monkey, ball, duck, stick, bone, slipper, Einstein recited, visual images of the words appearing in quick succession in Bertrand’s thoughts along with the audio. Elaine, Professor, Bertrand, Ariel, Libra.
Bertrand blinked. The pup stared. Einstein’s lips, tongue and vocal cords couldn’t possibly shape themselves to the requirements of human speech, but he was able to add words to his tellies. “Incredible!” Bertrand gasped.
She mean, the dog repeated once more, then trotted across the compound to join his sister at the perimeter fence.
Libra glanced up at Bertrand without raising her head. Her tail thumped.
“How long have you known?” Bertrand demanded.
She couldn’t say, of course. Speech and the ability to read calendars were, after all, beyond her capabilities.
Bertrand Smith’s dad, a professor at Triumph University, researches canine intelligence and currently has only one dog residing in the lab, Libra, SMART (Sequenced Mental Acceleration Research Trials) Dog 73, who communicates with Bertrand via tellies, “mental images complete with sounds and smells.” The Professor doubts Bertrand’s telepathic connection with Libra, but his assistant declares it the “most important result of the mental acceleration trials,” an “advance in animal-human social interaction.” Bertrand, Birdman to his best friend Ariel, desperately wants Libra to come home and live with him and his dad, but Libra belongs to the university; therefore, the Professor explains, “[B]ringing her home without authorization would be theft” because Dean Zolinsky refuses to grant permission. The Dean has found a benefactor, Frank Hindquist of AMOS, Advanced Medical Operating Systems, who offers one million dollars for research into canine intelligence. AMOS, on a more sinister level, is also Advanced Military Ordnance Supply, and Hindquist, a member of a Global Council committed to world domination, really plans to use the SMART dogs as weapons.
Hindquist intends to steal the next litter of SMART pups, set up his own lab, and “equip” the SMART dogs with the “latest in surveillance and assault technology,” the Canine Spy Packs known as K-Paks developed by his scientist, to become the “most deadly canines on four paws.” The AMOS CEO employs a couple of bunglers to set up surveillance at the lab ultimately to steal the SMART pups and eliminate Libra because she reads his evil intentions, recognizes that he has the ability to communicate in dog, and tries to warn Bertrand of the danger.
Libras successfully delivers five pups and, during the naming process, the Professor experiences his first “tellie” after which he agrees the “SMART dogs must have a life beyond this laboratory” because they are “as intelligent as humans and have feelings like you and I. They cannot be kept in captivity indefinitely.” As the pups develop, all transmit “tellies almost immediately,” with Einstein and Genie showing the highest abilities as they learn language and communicate with Bertrand using words. To Ariel, who does not communicate in dog, he compares the process to television, “words and images at the same time.”
Hindquist succeeds in kidnapping the pups, but, in her death throes, Libra manages to temper his success by hiding Einstein beneath her collapsed body. The Smiths protect Einstein from the death sentence an infuriated Hindquist issues but can do nothing for Genie whom Hindquist trains and moulds to be the canine prototype to fulfill his vision of SMART dog weapons. He orders the other three pups killed, but one of his goons outwits him and sets the dogs free. When the escapees manage to link up with Einstein, they join Bertrand and Ariel; the human/canine coalition resolves to rescue Genie and destroy Hindquist’s evil empire. Although Genie successfully fulfills Hindquist’s expectations, even finding immense satisfaction with her accomplishments, she experiences discomfort with his philosophy and decides she must destroy him and his organization because she cannot bear the thought of her descendants as weapons in his unscrupulous hands. The “good” human/canine conspirators, helped by Genie inside AMOS, ultimately manage a final exciting showdown with the power-hungry villain, and, of course, good triumphs over evil.
Journalist, novelist, blogger, and online collaborative-story co-ordinator, Spence dedicates this fast-paced adventure to “those who believe in the sanctity and intelligence of all species –– especially those who have dedicated themselves to the well being of dogs and other animals that live in close proximity to humans.” His first novel, Josh and the Magic Vial, 2007, was nominated for the BC Book Prize and the Chocolate Lily Award.
Spence skilfully draws canine and human characters integrating endearing quirks and foibles. Taking a delightfully imaginative spin on science and technology, the author ensures the adventure will raise some questions about science and ethics, good and evil, the quest for power, and human and animal interactions. The main characters meld well; the protagonists are admirable, the antagonists deplorable. With well-paced prose, realistic dialogue, and plenty of action, Einstein Dog is laced with humour and fun and will appeal to young readers who, conditioned by movies and television, probably will have no difficulty accepting anthropomorphizing dogs. However, violence that may disturb some readers does creep into the story with the bumbling henchmen, some workers at the AMOS facility, and Hindquist paying the ultimate price for their nefarious activities. The author highlights the Langley, BC, setting and describes, in some detail, locations like the Nicomekl Floodplain area where the conspirators meet and train. In an amusing scene set at the Codswallop Cafe, Einstein, pursued by a pack of dogs, causes pandemonium and havoc before escaping. Young readers, especially dog lovers, will enjoy meeting the human and canine “kids” and watching them outwit and defeat the forces of evil.
Einstein Dog would be an entertaining gift for young readers and a good choice for school and public library collections.
A high school teacher-librarian in another life, Darleen Golke writes from her home in Abbotsford, BC.
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