From the first page of Benjamin Hale's exquisite novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, Hale’s linguistic talent locks the reader into their seat and sends them ticking up the roller coaster ride of Bruno Littlemore’s life. An unlikely narrator, Bruno is a chimpanzee trying to become a man--a process he sees as “equal parts enlightenment and imprinting your brain with taboos.” Bruno acquires a fervent love of language--and of primatologist Lydia Littlemore, with whom he develops a deep (and, yes, sexual) relationship until she falls ill. Comic relief comes in the form of Leon, a boisterous subway thespian, who introduces Bruno to the stage shortly before a murderous transgression results in Bruno’s return to captivity. With Bruno Littlemore, Hale has crafted a truly original narrator, holding a mirror on humanity with a razor-like precision that makes this stunning novel one readers will want to discuss the minute they turn the last page.In a general sense, the description does not make the idea of the book sound all that groundbreaking. Howard the Duck, a Marvel comic book by Steve Gerber delivered similar themes way back in the 1970's. The comic was in no way pornographic, but it was strongly suggested that Howard, an intelligent duck (from another universe, not genetically engineered) was having a sexual relationship with a human woman named Beverly Switzler. Unrelated to comics, but squarely in the science fiction world, Philip Jose Farmer once famously suggested that Tarzan was involved sexually with the apes of his tribe before Jane wandered into the jungle.
Okay, I don’t mind a yarn about a chimp that acquires human attributes as a vehicle to engage in social criticism. Having a pure outsider react to suddenly being immersed in a culture is a time-tested approach.As if all good science fiction isn't culturally subversive. Smith, apparently was dissatisfied that no review of this book he could find expressed enough outrage at the pornographic depictions of human/chimpanzee sex and searched the web to find them.
But it strikes me that when a book apparently includes graphic and positive depictions of bestiality, and is praised for it, we have embarked on a road that leads to cultural subversion...
Curious about whether the Chronicle review was an outlier, I looked in vain for a review that criticized the bestiality. An essay in The Observer quotes a graphic depiction of the first sexual intercourse between chimp and woman, stating evenly:Frustrated by the lack of condemnation this book has engendered, Wesley decided to write his own review. Why?
We almost recognize this tone, because it’s aspiring to the Swiftian sound of someone discovering for the first time things that we long ago forgot we had to learn [the mechanics of having sex].And that, my friends, is a classic example of terminal nonjudgmentalism.
This is a real storm warming. Positive and pornographic depictions of bestiality are nothing to smile about or shrug off. Standing against the normalization or acceptance of bestiality is far more important than having our “sensibilities” offended. As I have written elsewhere, it is a crucial matter of defending and upholding human dignity.Getting excited about science fictional concepts, even when the science in the fiction seems right around the corner, seems pretty crazy. In other writings Wesley J Smith has gone of on the concept of "human exceptionalism" the idea that humans are in some way special, and not just animals. I am good with the concept in theory, but in practice, this view too often means treating all animals as things. Whales, great apes and even dogs under this theory are considered to have the same level of rights as insects, trees and rocks under this view.