Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Where were all the Arnold Schwarzeneggers...

...when you really needed them?" 
~Sarah Pinborough (2011). Breeding Ground

Breeding Ground was a surprising read in many ways. It had an interesting story premise, which reminded me of Matheson's "I am Legend" only crawlier. I enjoyed much of the writing, particularly at the beginning, although I felt some of the novel dragged at bit in the middle. Despite that, Sarah Pinborough has an excellent writing voice and many scenes in the story were superb. For some reason, however, this story took a longer time for me to read than other novels I'd read recently. I can't quite put my finger on why. I didn't have that 'I can't put this book down' sensation that I'd had previously with Richard Matheson's stories, or novels by Clive Barker. 

Although Pinborough wrote this story with the kind of monsters I have an affinity for, something in construction of the work and in the prose (in different places) was lacking at times. At the very beginning, I didn't buy off on Matthew Edge's '...I can't tell you how this all happened...' premise, where this horrible 'disease' is suddenly taking over the women of the world. And then to read later that Dr Whitehead, the scientist, says that the disease came about from genetically modified food, was a mental turn off. I think I could have bought it if I'd seen/read some indication of it earlier...but to just have the idea dumped on me in Chapter 16 was a bit much.  And it was inconsistent. Matthew Edge acts as if he had no idea what happened in the Prologue, but then we find out it's humans who created the aberration. I wanted to see the genetic experiment somewhere, to feel it happening, to understand and know about it  instead of having it placed in my lap midway through the novel.

Genius moments for Pinborough were the initial descriptions of the women gaining weight and the subtle changes going on, coupled with the female transformations. I adored reading about Chloe's physical and mental changes, and the overtly gross verbiage of birthing her baby and eating half of it (Why only half, I wondered), but after that things didn't get interesting for me until the battle with the widows at the boy scout hut. Then the amputation of Dave's arm and their finding safety/shelter at Hanstone Park were excellent. The story concept itself, along with the dialogue, was well done. 

Still, there were overly extended/unnecessarily long run-on sentences in this piece that could have been chopped in two to make the story better. It made me think about my own writing and how I need to cut down on lengthy prose. And in some places there were  sentences that I couldn't believe an editor let slide. Take this sentence for example:

 "Another pang of loneliness and heartache stabbed inside, and I hoped that there would be a time when I felt safe and secure enough to allow some time for all the grief inside to come out and then allow me to keep her close inside."

The word "inside" is used three times in the above sentence, and reading it let me see how mistakes like this can pull a reader out of the story and make it less enjoyable. It was definite food for thought.

At one point Pinborough describes the human rules of their small group trying to survive:

"We were like scavengers now—the morality of taking what wasn’t ours no longer applied."
I thought the above phrase was a great line to describe how their social order, the norm of things, had decayed and was replaced with a different philosophy  of existing.  She does this one more time toward the end of the book:

"We’d all reached the conclusion that this was what had to be done, and we needed to see it through together. A new order had taken hold and our old laws no longer applied. I think this was the first day that we accepted that."
 Overall, I thought the work Pinborough did on this was brilliant. She kept tension throughout the story, and the conflict she wove into it was almost continuous. The worst part for me was (honestly) the ending. Unlike Matheson's "I am Legend," (which I frequently compared this story too because the overall concept was the same) this novel ends on a non-conclusive but hopeful note. Perhaps Matt and Rebecca (and the unborn baby) make it somewhere and survive. Perhaps George and Chester arrive at their destination unharmed. 

But the entire premise of the book makes their survival unlikely. The ending wasn't satisfying for me and I can't describe why. It was like a thread hanging from a web...not part of the symmetrical construction, and not completely free. In the end, I wanted to be convinced that mankind would prevail, that this new world order would diminish. I wanted to believe that the human species would go on despite a massive global anomaly. But how long does it take before an anomaly becomes the norm? How long does it take before the web of life that has changed world structure is no longer something terrible and unexplainable, but is instead, a new breeding ground for the acceptable? One thing is for sure... change bites.




  1. I think the ending worked and helped solidify this as an actual horror story. As I continued to read the book, I kept getting this feeling that they weren’t going to be okay, and that things were not going to end well for them; the sudden decrease in the female population, as well as the entire world’s population, the changing weather patterns, and the final nail in the coffin, the fact that men were harboring some of the parasites themselves. I think Matt and Rebecca’s pregnancy was just a small ruse by the author to give a smidgen of hope, but I think that small light would be crushed quickly if Pinborough decided to extend the novel or write a wrap-up to it.

  2. Cin, I wanted to see more hope for mankind, too. I have a problem with heroes and monsters that are too perfect. I think that's why I can't stand Superman. Even though he has kryptonite, it never seems to be that troublesome of a weakness.

    These spiders had mace and blind-people's blood, but Pinborough wrote the story in a way in which they still seemed too immortal. I wanted humans to rise back and see that struggling was a path to a successful outcome. I liked the story, but I just could have used a little more hope in the end.

    The amazing thing with zombies, even though zombie stories usually lack hope, is that zombies are incredibly weak, but the hopelessness usually comes from the faults of humans; for example, in Night of the Living Dead, Barbara says something about being able to walk right by the zombies, yet everyone but her in the house still ends up dead.

    Having a fear-inducing monster isn't enough. There has to be a good opportunity for the protagonist to succeed or else I lose interest. And if that success is taken away from the protagonist, I get angry. Have you seen Funny Games? I hated it because success was ripped away in an attempt to make the movie surreal.

    Something else that came to my mind was the half-eaten baby. That scene seemed too intense for the beginning, and I wondered if maybe that was why I thought the ending was a bit anticlimactic. After starting with something that horrific, there's not much further a writer can go. I was wondering if anyone else had any thoughts on this.

  3. I didn't like the ending because it seemed like it was meant to keep the story going for a possible series. I'm not a fan of first books that do that and I'm sure that's why I was disappointed.

    I, too, noticed the wordiness and long sentence. My notebook for the class has one big line marked through with my pen saying "unnecessarily wordy."

  4. Your comments about the prose level writing were some of the same I thought. I really think it was ill-written in that aspect. I also liked the build-up at the beginning as we are waiting for the shoe to drop. You are definitely right about this not being a novel that demanded to be read. I actually had a difficult time forcing myself to continue reading. If this wasn't an assignment, I would not have finished reading, as I felt little compelling in the stor.