Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Pure

by Julianna Baggott

cover 

 
Most post-apocalyptic novels feature a breakdown of society as survivors turn against each other and fight over what's left. We expect anarchy and chaos. So the way the world is in Pure seems unusually well ordered. It's just not the kind of order normal people want. And that's the other thing about this novel: no-one is a normal human being any more.

Almost everyone is a "wretch": exposed to the Detonations, those who survived often carry burn scars, but the worst of it is that their bodies have fused to whatever they were standing near at the time. Some people fused with each other, leading to bizarre pairs and "groupies" which are melded collections of people. Pressia Belze was relatively lucky: her hand fused to a doll's head, which is far from the most grotesque aberration we encounter.

Luckier still are the Pure, those few who were within the protective Dome at the time of the disaster. They live in isolation, untainted by the mutations, choking ash and poisons that afflict people on the outside. They're also spared the OSR, an organisation run on military lines and prone to regular killing sprees to weed out the weak. The OSR force anyone over the age of 16 to join them, which means Pressia will soon be their target.

However it's not all sunshine for the Dome-dwellers either. Partridge, a young man on the verge of completing his schooling, is having trouble with aspects of his "coding". That's the genetic enhancements young people are subjected to in order to turn them into better, faster, smarter beings. So although he's a "Pure" he's not an unadulterated human. But Partridge isn't happy in the restrictive environment he lives in. He suspects he's not being told the truth about recent history, and after a trip to the archives he becomes convinced his mother, who he's long thought dead, is out there organising opposition to the Dome authorities.

Partridge is determined to escape and find his mother, but getting out of his claustrophobic little world will be no cakewalk. Once on the outside he will have to contend with bitter wretches who want to make him pay for what they've gone through, as well as hybrid animals, a hostile environment, ravenous part-human creatures melded to the earth, and other horrors. This is certainly one of the most startlingly original novels I've read in some time, particularly because of its imagery. It's science fiction because the mutations are supposed to be due to nanotechnology, although I felt there was a fantastic aspect to them as well. All of the wretches are affected in different ways, as though each mutation has a psychological meaning for the character.

I warmed to the characters in Pure immediately. Pressia is torn between hiding from the OSR and protecting first her grandfather, and later other people she gets close to. She's a survivor, but we never feel this teenager is too capable and kick-ass. Bradwell, the young political agitator and conspiracy theorist, is intriguingly mysterious and well-informed, and I liked him best for his antagonistic relationship with Partridge. Another good character is El Capitan, who is stuck with his moronic brother Helmud fused to his back. El Capitan is an OSR officer so we don't quite know which way his loyalties lie. And then there's the enigma of his brother: they are saddled together, with Helmud literally riding El Capitan, but how do they really feel about their overly close relationship?

Quite apart from some of the bizarre configurations of people, animals and machines within this book, there are some scenes that aren't for the squeamish. But what shocks is less the violent acts themselves, and more the gratuitousness of them. People are horrible to each other, and the justifications they give are paper-thin, trivial and pathetic. I think that's the point.

Another interesting issue is the way people are divided. Obviously the Pure/wretch division defines everyone, but there's also a feminist rift. The Feminine Feminist movement seems to be some militant neo-con group that sprung up before the Detonations (we don't learn a lot about this group yet), and then there are the man-hating followers of the Good Mother. The story hints at a lot of social manipulation that's gone on before the start of the book, in order to set people against each other and to create the kind of situation where the misery of the Detonations and their aftermath can take place. Pure is very political and quite cynical, and it manages to be astute and intelligent one moment then the next it's slicing through action scenes or knocking us for six with a heart-rending revelation. It's exceptional.

21st January 2012

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
 

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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