Breeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough
I’ve said it before and I do hate to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but as a physician with a biology degree, there is one thing I simply cannot forgive in a horror novel and that is poor science. Oh, I know there must be some suspension of reality when opening a sci-fi or paranormal tale, and I am as open to mutants as the next gal, but a writer of a monster yarn, has two options: 1.) Present your mutant as other-worldly phenomenon or 2.) Blame this new monster on science. If you choose the latter, then you better be willing to do a little research and at least make your story viable.
Let me step down from my soap box of science to say I didn’t hate this book. I wanted to. I hated the main character, Matt and his sexist, egotistical narrative. I hated most of the men in the story but told myself that a female writer must be making them so misogynistic on purpose. I couldn’t believe Matt’s ability to focus on sexuality during this crisis but again, told myself Pinborough is trying to say something about men…maybe? If so, geez she freaking HATES them. The thing is, Pinborough is an effective writer. She moves the story along, her use of setting, description, and her ability to differentiate her characters was effective. I didn’t find myself reading and rereading passages because the technique was bad. And as much as I hated the characters, I wanted to know where these monsters had come from and how women were becoming impregnated with them. I wanted to know why Katie and Jane weren’t affected, how older and presumably post-menopausal women were succumbing. I wanted to know what exactly was happening to the climate and where all the animals went. I needed an explanation to how this phenomenon occurred with such perfect synchronicity that it wiped the entire population out too fast for anyone to do anything about it. And because Sarah Pinborough is actually a decent writer, I went along for the ride, watching the pages dwindle away as my questions mounted.
Back to my science rant. When the answers finally came, I lost all respect for Ms. Pinborough. Come on, pick up a high school textbook, would ya? It’s not that complicated. Let me try to take this point by point.
- What started all this? Page 219: “Genetically modified food….Just because the results aren’t immediately apparent, it doesn’t mean that things aren’t definitely going on beneath the surface. Remember Thalydomide?” Now, we are to believe that somehow genetically modified food has had a sudden and extreme effect on spiders that changed them so significantly that they gestate inside a human’s body (via spontaneous generation?), they have developed telepathy, and grown to monstrous proportions? “A little bit of the experiment floats away on the wind, meets up with a little bit of another experiment and then who knows what could happen?” Right, who knew that all these mutagenic experimental pollens would ONLY AFFECT SPIDERS? Really? That sucks as an answer for this. I wanted to throw the book then and there, but I borrowed it from someone else so I refrained. And by the way, what the hell does something like this have to do with Thalidomide’s side effects? You really can’t compare GMOs to Drug effects. I would assume a geneticist (the man giving this explanation) would know that.
- How were women impregnated with spiders in the first place? Page 300: “It seems that small parts of them develop in different areas, mutating from the host’s original organs, and then each of those sections make their way to the womb, where they finally come together.” So like an anatomical game of Cooties, got it? Never mind that the women (besides getting fat and lumpy) survive throughout this entire process of their major organs turning into spider parts and presumably no longer functioning, lets for a moment review some basic anatomy about the “womb”. The uterus is basically closed to the interior body. Like a hollow pear, its only communication interiorly is the tiny tunnels through the fallopian tubes only 1 mm in diameter where it opens into the uterus. So, besides the ridiculous idea that the parts combine inside the womb, there is simply no way for them to get in there. This isn’t rocket science, even the geneticist should know better.
- Why aren’t all women affected? Sorry, no answer there. I guess we are to assume, eventually, they all will be.
- Why are the deaf immune? Well because they have a genetic mutation that made them deaf. That is the only way anyone becomes deaf and we can be assured that it works the same in dogs as it does humans. (By the way, there are plenty of genetic defects in cats that cause deafness, where were all the cats?) Also, (and this took me very little time to find on line) 360 million people worldwide are deaf. 20-40% of those with an unknown cause for their deafness actually have a genetic defect and more than 50% of deaf children have a genetic defect. Shouldn’t there be a lot more deaf people in this story? They certainly avoided the dog…but then didn’t avoid Rebecca. I’m so confused.
- Why did it take so long for men to mutate? No answer there. Hormones…or something.
- Why is the weather changing so much? No real explanation for that either. Which really drives me nuts. I think Pinborough assumes we will theorize that it has to do with this cataclysmic event of one experiment colliding with another but she never really explains. But my God she makes such a big deal of it the entire way through the story. This first person account who starts out by saying he isn’t sure anyone will be around to read his account yet ends with the hope for mankind and his pregnant girlfriend. (I’m not even going to get into the fact that the guy has had sex with three different women through the course of the book). How in the world can he be so hopeful? And why has he not yet developed lumps? After all if it is GMOs in the food, he’s been eating the same food everyone else has.
- Speaking of these lumps in the men: Why didn’t anyone think of surgically removing them? I mean, they could see and feel them just under the skin for God sakes! They amputated a man’s arm but no one thinks of just cutting them out? By the way, what organ is located just under the skin overlying the sternum? And while we’re on the lack of common sense, why not inject Rebecca’s blood into the mass rather than make him drink it? Eh, what do I know, I’m no geneticist.
I could go on, Breeding Ground is just that, a breeding ground of poorly thought out science. There was so much potential here. I find myself wondering what Pinborough’s goal was when writing this novel. Is she anti-GMO? Is she a hard-core feminist man-hater? Maybe she hates women. Perhaps she just hates spiders as much as she does research.