Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review of Bronte's Egg by Richard Chwedyk

In the early 90s, Jim Henson got together with Disney and produced a television show called simply Dinosaurs.  The puppets and dolls anthropomorphized to the point of being human save surface features, the show featured a typical family—of dinosaurs.  Though utilizing many of the common motifs of American situation comedies, the show also tackled a large number of social issues thanks to Henson.  It is thus coming to Richard Chwedyk’s 2002 novella Bronte’s Egg, one can’t help but think the show was a major inspiration.

Bronte’s Egg is the story of Axel, an excitable, sentient mini-dinosaur (“with the scary parts removed”) living in a shelter cum laboratory where other dino pets that have been abandoned by their owners reside.  Waking early one morning, he sets off to the computer Reggie to send a message into space.  After the others wake, they do their part to protect an egg another dinosaur named Bronte has laid that the caretakers are not supposed to know of.  After breakfast, Axel puts the second part of his plan for the day into action: buy a Rotomotoman.  But when Axel’s message to the universe is unexpectedly picked up by a scientific watch group, the young dinosaur and his friends find themselves scrambling to make appearances, Rotomotoman included.

Cute and cheery, Bronte’s Egg is a light-hearted look at a serious issue: humanity’s forethought regarding, and treatment of, its creations—a distant couson of Frankenstein.  Axel and his friends the result of biological experimentation for domestic entertainment purposes (pets, as it were), the families they come to belong to are largely unprepared for the responsibility of dealing with the sentient, hungry little creatures, which begs numerous questions regarding social, corporate, and government responsibility in the area of biological advances in technology and their application.  And the TV frog, well, he’s just the ultimate silent commentator. 

In the end, Bronte’s Egg is a fun story with heart about dino pets with autonomy, and their existence in contrast to the humanity which has created them.  Full of humor (“As if I trusted carnosaurs any better than humans! You're all filled with baloney!”), Chwedyk utilizes the absurdity of the situation to full effect, the story’s message all the clearer for it.  Ted Chiang’s Lifecycle of Software Objects a story in a very similar vein, science fiction proves itself adept at raising ethical awareness of technology evolving toward sentience intended for human pleasure. 

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