Big Egos by S.G. Browne
Genre: Fiction, science-fiction, humor, literary, I’m having Ego withdrawals even though they don’t really exist
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary: It is the not too distant future and a new temporary DNA-altering cocktail known as Big Egos are now available for mass market consumption. By injecting or drinking an Ego, the consumer can become their favorite television character, a famous dead movie star, a literary figure or fictional hero for one evening. But as with all things too good to be true, the product proves to have a few detrimental problems being swept under the corporate rug and our intrepid narrator and Big Ego devotee must find his true self. All while trying to get to the bottom of a conspiracy before every Big Ego user loses their sense of self forever.
I first read the short story form of Big Egos in author S.G. Browne’s eBook anthology Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel and immediately fell in love. The premise was straightforward enough, it’s the future and you can become a famous fictional character (be they real or cartoon), historical figure or dead celebrity for the night by injecting a product full of specifically configured DNA into your body. That part didn’t change from short story to novel but it certainly did get fleshed out, with our narrator working for EGOS (Engineering Genetics Organization and Systems) and trying to deal with his disjointed memories.
There are 3,000 Big Egos currently in production and the well to-do can purchase a brand new personality that’s effective for six to eight hours for only $3,000, and at 10 uses per bottle it’s not so bad to get to be Han Solo or Katniss Everdeen for a while. Plus I imagine it would be make Comic-Con that much more awesome seeing as Egos are touted as “the ultimate role-playing game.”
By imbibing the Egos (or injecting it into your brain stem like our narrator) slight physiological differences occur but it’s mostly your personality which changes. Which is why it’s recommended for the full effect that you pick an Ego who is somewhat close to your physical appearance. At least if you want to win first prize at the Big Egos parties which are sweeping the nation. But not most karaoke bars, they frown against such things.
Our narrator works in the Investigations Department at EGOS and as an added bonus that extends past job security and making money is that he’s able to take home and test out as many Big Egos as he wants. He is also tasked with investigating complaints. For example, if you find the Fox Mulder to be borish, addicted to porn and paranoid, he’s who would look into the problem.
In addition to the various church groups who oppose the company and the FDA who want to classify Egos as a drug, there’s also the problem of Black Market Egos which use RNA rather than DNA and can do adverse damage to your brain. However, it’s a cheap way to get more affordable Egos and how you can buy non-licensed Egos, living celebrities or even the more infamous Egos such as serial-killers. After all, no one wants Jack the Ripper running the streets again. Or more than one Miley Cyrus for that matter.
As the novel progresses, several themes starts to weave within the narrative, explored by a society who is doing everything they can not to be living their own perceived pathetic existence. In public we pretend to be others on a regular basis, wearing our own masks, taking up different roles depending on the situation. As Shakespeare, or crazy Egoed out Shakespeare would say, all the world is stage and we play many roles while on it. Egos are just a more popular and acceptable way to hide oneself. After all, you can’t truly know a person unless you are that person, or see how they behave when they are alone and let their guard down. (Which is the entire purpose of Chuck Klosterman’s novel The Visible Man. Read it for a novel entirely based on that idea.)
This runs hand in hand with the idea that you are how people perceive you. As Browne explains, “perception is reality” you are what you own, society views you how your are viewed by others, the good thing is if you can project a completely different mask of yourself that view can change. Regardless of how you perceive yourself. Somehow I don’t think Tyler Durden would agree with that statement because you are not the car you drive (except you totally are) from society’s perspective.
So yes, it’s no coincidence that our narrator stays both nameless and featureless throughout the novel while those around him remain fully fleshed out individuals. It’s not how they perceive themselves or how they truly are, it’s how he and society sees them.
In essence, the book is a fun look at some highly imaginative world-building, but it also serves a purpose too. Yay painful introspection! Yay existential thoughts! Yay life! Yay dissatisfaction!
Inter-spliced with these contemplations of the self and the roles we play are fun stories in which our narrator visits Big Ego parties as various characters and the interactions he witnesses there. It’s like one giant crossover of life and fandom. Which of course make these bits my favorite ones in the tome.
For example, he goes to a detective themed Ego party where everyone’s a sleuth. Nancy Drew rubs elbows with Colombo, Marlowe, Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes and the Scooby Gang. The original Scooby Gang. He goes to a science-fiction party and narrates as Captain Kirk, all while Doc Brown talks time travel with the Doctor and Sarah Connor arm wrestles with Ripley over Mad Max.
The narrator even enters the literary sphere. Particularly when as Holden Caufield he goes to a literary character get-together. I loved this section, and it had nothing to do with me being a phony who loves Catcher in the Rye because, and I know this makes me a terrible person, but I’ve never read it. While there he spots Hester Prynne flirting with Patrick Bateman (yikes), Willy Wonka handing out candy to Alice and Lolita as Humbert Humbert creepily watches from afar (double yikes) and Rhett Butler and Jay Gatsby (Gatsby? What Gatsby?) laughing at drunkards.
This is only second to a section in which deceased authors do drugs and have sex with each other at a wild party in LA. Seems Bram Stoker hits things off with Mary Shelley while J.R.R. Tolkien is the Dungeon Master in a game with Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells and Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis dare each other to climb into a wardrobe while William Goulding runs around holding a conch and yelling. Sounds about right.
Thankfully, one not need to get invited to an Egos party to see such nonsense. If you’re lucky you could glimpse Hemingway and Faulkner having a row in a Starbucks about the ocean and the need for complex sentences before getting in a fist fight about the Pullitzer.
Now can you see why one would want to live in such a hilarious and fantastical place? But since we don’t have such a wondrous, albeit terrifying scientific invention like Egos laying around you’ll just have to read the book instead. Which all and all isn’t a bad trade off.
-Intriguing premise that minus the side effects I would die for
-Great look at problems of modern society but through futuristic lens
-Specifically, fabulous exploration of our dissatisfaction with self and desire to find our roles in the world
-Had my literary heart fluttering with all the references
-If Big Egos and The Night Circus aren’t worlds I can actually live in then I don’t want to live anymore! (this is by no means a criticism of the book and more to do with me proving everything in the novel right)
If this story intrigued you- and if it didn’t you are not human (or you only read books with shoes and hairless muscled men on the covers in which case same thing)- check out S.G. Browne’s other novels.
There’s the zombie love story Breathers and it’s Christmas-themed sequel I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus, Fated about the trials and tribulations of the personification of Fate, Lucky Bastard which is about a man who can transfer luck and of course the short story collection that held the story that would go to spawn Egos: Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel. There’s a lot of gems in there, treasure-hoarding dragon not included.