Einstein Dog

5 November 2010

Einstein Dog
by Craig Spence
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$14.95 ISBN 978-1-897235-65-2

“It’s a dog’s world,” or so it’s been said, but imagine if that statement turned literal? What if dogs were technologically-enhanced and became smarter than humans? And what if a fascist organization trained and bred these SMART dogs to achieve global domination? These seemingly outrageous ideas are investigated in Einstein Dog, the new juvenile novel written by Langley, BC author Craig Spence, and recently published by Thistledown Press.

In 258 action-filled pages, Spence unleashes confident writing, distinguishable characters, and interesting subplots, but what really sparkles are his explorations of what could be; his flair for adventure; and the care he takes in portraying the singular loyalty between humans and their four-legged best friends.

The story opens with young Bertrand and his friend Ariel – each of whom live with their single parents in the Forestview Townhouses – hoping to have the research dog, Libra (aka SMART 73), released from being “cooped up” in the lab where Bertrand’s father, Professor Smith, is conducting Sequenced Mentally Accelerated Research Trials. The Dean of the Biology Department has other ideas, however, especially after a medical supply firm (AMOS: Advanced Medical Operating Systems) expresses an interest – and a million research dollars – in the studies.

Enter Frank Hindquist, evil Councillor for America North within the Order of the Global Council, who poses a “cell farming” process to develop cures for human ailments. Even Libra, the ultra-perceptive canine, senses the man’s malevolence, and readers soon learn that the acronym AMOS also stands for Advanced Military Ordinance Supply.

Libra and Bertrand enjoy a telepathic connection, “a language made of shared sensation,” which later develops into a kind of speech between them. As the book progresses, this gift is further shared between other characters and all of Libra’s pups, including Einstein, the top dog, for whom the book is titled.

Action aside, characters are the heart of any story, and Spence immediately establishes that albeit young, the dog-loving friends are complex and thinking individuals. Bertrand admires Ariel’s lust for knowledge: “ … she wanted to know why the sky is blue, how gravity works, how a centipede controls all its legs, where salmon go when they’re out to sea.” Motherless Bertrand is the more sensitive of the two: he feels “the complicated pull of his emotions stretching him tight as the skin of a drum.”

There are numerous passages where Spence’s literary skill requires praise. On page 52, a philosophical mini-essay accompanies the birth of Libra’s five pups. It begins: “If you’ve never known light, there’s no such thing as darkness…The unborn certainly feel the paws of their siblings against them, and their own paws touching.”

One need not be a dog lover, as I most certainly am, to enjoy Einstein Dog, but it helps to have a mind that allows one to wander off-leash into a fantastic world, where dogs demonstrate a full range of emotions and communicate with humans and each other; and good triumphs evil. As Spence convincingly portrays it, perhaps it’s not so outrageous after all.


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