Friday, March 23, 2012

Really, Another Dystopic? Okay, Maybe One More

As everyone knows, The Hunger Games comes to the theaters today (well, technically at 12:01 this morning) and it’s almost all anyone can talk about. I can’t blame the world, I’m right up there with everyone else and right after work I will in line with the masses to partake in this pop-culture phenomenon. As regular readers of Sifting through the Pile know, I have a slight penchant for dystopic stories. Well, maybe more than slight. I tend to devote a lot of blog and recommendation time to this genre, so recently I have made a concerted effort to specifically mention many of the non-genre books I read that are equally as fantastic and close to my heart. Because of this attempt to diversify my review writing I have mistakenly let a really captivating and rather innovative book go by the wayside. So, in honor of The Hunger Games movie release, I am courteously and briefly going to suck readers back into my obsession with post-apocalyptic/dystopic fiction.

Pure by Julianna Baggott has been available for the past couple of months, and thanks to my misguided attempts to diversify, has gone largely unnoticed amongst my readers. Pure is yet another of those post-apocalyptic books where society has been split apart by war (in this book, the Detonations), with some members of the population secluded within a rigidly controlled, sterile environment and others, outside, starving in what remains of a world that no longer really exists. While this is not an unfamiliar premise in the least, what sets apart Pure from the other novels of similar vein is fusing. Those who live on the outside under an autocratic rule, with little food, and much fear are fused; meaning that during the Detonations (nuclear strikes), some were horribly scarred and disfigured, and others became fused with the environment surrounding them. Mothers became fused with their children—children who are never capable of physically growing, forever tied to their mothers arms, one boy has a flock of birds fused to his back, another is forever fused with the desert floor to become a monster of the worst and most frightening proportions, and our heroine, Pressia has a hand fused to a baby doll—its blinking eyes forever attached to what was once a hand. It is only those within the domed autocratic society that are unmaimed, or rather, “pure”. When Partridge, a pure with the highest of lineages, escapes the confines of the domed society in an effort to find the truth of his brother’s suicide and his father’s machinations, he discovers Pressia and her world of survivors. It is there that the two, along with an unlikely band of fused, uncover a plot and connections between Partridge and Pressia that take them all into a danger beyond their wildest imaginings.

What seems at first glance to be an absurd plot with a concept that could easily become cheesy and idiotic, is in actuality a brilliant use of imagination. The fusing is described in such a way that it actually makes sense from a scientific angle (at least for a layperson), and the fuses themselves—whether they are alive, like the children or birds, or inanimate like Pressia’s doll head—are almost characters in themselves, as Baggott makes clever use of them throughout this first book in, what is to be a series. It’s actually amazing how such a seemingly odd, and possibly ruinous plot point ends up “making” the story and when genetic manipulation, paramilitary groups, authoritarianism , and revolution are thrown into the mix, readers can’t help but become engrossed.

I won’t say that if you read one genre book this year, Pure is the one to read—there are too many well-written vehicles out or about to be released, but I will say, that should you choose to partake, Pure is one to give more than a second glance to.

For a bit of entertainment, check out the book trailer below.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Mommy Porn—Really?

I need to go on a little rant here. There has been much ado about a new book called Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James and I just need to speak out. According to the Los Angeles Times the following is the much-discussed back-story to this bestselling ebook turned insta-print hit:

“British author E L James, a former television executive, first published the book on fan fiction site as a super lengthy tome ... that "reimagined the Bella and Edward love affair set in contemporary Seattle, Washington with Bella as the young college graduate virgin and Edward as the masterful billionaire with secret sexual predilections."  (

So obviously James changed the names of her characters to protect herself from the wrath of Stephenie Meyer, and this now three volume saga has been picked up by Random House to be sold world-wide in print form. It’s hard to go somewhere in the book world without hearing this title or author’s name. James has officially surpassed former self-published wunderkind Amanda Hocking and infiltrated the masses that read, well maybe not READ, but at least consume what is popular. After hearing about this book for a few weeks, I finally got my hands on one yesterday and had myself a little go and let me say—what complete and utter garbage!

The book is painful to read. I’m quite certain that those of us who perused it together yesterday are all worse off intellectually than we were the day before. The writing is ghastly, something from “how not to write”, the prose similar to what one might see mocked in a movie where teenage girls read awful romance novels to each other and giggle in hysteria at how utterly painful it is. For example:

“I have rules, and I want you to comply with them. They are for your benefit and for my pleasure. If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn,” he whispers. I glance at the rack of canes as he says this.” (Fifty Shades of Grey, pg. 73)

Honestly, I think I saw something like this at the Hustler store when I went in for gag gifts—and trust me that stuff was never going to find its way to the bestseller list. I don’t know whether to be more appalled that this book is helping the cause of the self-published “bad writer” (I’m sorry, most people, but not all, can’t find a brick and mortar publisher for good reason), or that women everywhere are being sucked into this vortex of bad prose wrapped in porn. If I were a mother I would be offended that this tripe has been tagged as “Mommy Porn”, because no self-respecting mommy that I know would pummel their brains to horny mush with such unmitigated slop. I’m offended on the part of intelligent women everywhere. Seriously, having come off a year where women have taken a step up cinematically, proving that female ensembles can be smart, funny, even gross, and yet oddly sophisticated (Bridesmaids and The Help), why in literature are our standards so low? Fifty Shades of Grey is the cinematic equivalent of 2011’s What’s Your Number, ridiculous, brain numbing, not worth the time, and a general insult to my intelligence.

Look, I get that there are women who enjoy erotica. I’ve read a few, and I can see where the, I hate to say pleasure, but the thrill of it lies. My issue is taking a piece of poorly written fan fiction and turning it into a mega-hit that women are pursuing as though it were lottery winnings instead of fancily disguised pornography. This book isn’t art. It’s not even good. So, go ahead read it, but stop trying to make it something it’s not, which is good.

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