Eden jumped at the sound of approaching steps. They must not see. Hide Beauty Map!
Her mental command caused the Life-Band she wore to send a tiny white spark into the air. In a flash, the holographic images that appeared in front of her – a blond girl playing on a sunlit beach – disappeared.
"What's going on?" a woman asked.
Eden shot to her feet, her heart racing, as a plump, dark-skinned lab assistant appeared on the other side of the partition. It was only Peach, who wasn't as cruel as the rest of them.
Eden's blank emotional mask slammed into place. Never let them see how you feel.
Former actress Victoria Foyt's second novel (and first self-published by her Sand Dollar Press), Save the Pearls Part One: Revealing Eden, has, for those of you who have been living under a rock these past few months, developed a rather unsavory reputation. Its setting, a semi-post-apocalyptic world in which UV radiation has caused widespread melanoma among whites (the "Pearls" of this story), perhaps was intended to provoke audiences to think of a role reversal in which the darker-skinned ethnic groups (the African-derived "Coals," the Asian "Ambers" and the Latino "Tiger's Eye") now dominate the fair-skinned "Pearls," to the point where these "Pearls" have to don blackface in order not just to survive but also to be able to eke out a meager living at the sufferance of the "Coal" superiors.
The usage of blackface is a very controversial element even in works which clearly have a subversive bent to them. The problem with Save the Pearls is that there is no apparent irony to the situation, nothing that after its nearly 300 e-book pages would indicate that the reading goes deeper than the surface. Eden Newmann (one of the less subtle cognomens encountered in SF literature) is 17 years old at the story's beginning. If she doesn't find a mate before she turns 18, she gets cast out, left to die in the parched and ravaged outdoors. She hates that her natural fair-skinned, blond, blue-eyed self is considered low; after all, look at the very first thing we see from her point of view: an old image of a white girl on a beach, with "beauty map" listed. She defines others as "they" and a major component of her character, early on at least, is her alternating revulsion and envy of the "Coals" and their power in society. It is hard not to make the connection between this and something that one might encounter on a white supremacist site.
It is easy to read the first couple of chapters (they are available as a free sample on Amazon) and conclude that at best Foyt just does not understand the dynamics involved in racial symbolism and viewpoint interaction. In fact, it probably would be best to just drop reading this implausible, poor excuse for a story at that point, as it does not improve. If anything, it gets much, much worse.
Save the Pearls is a mass of contradictions. We learn early on that due to UV radiation spikes due to weakening of the Earth's atmospheric protection, most of humanity has been driven underground, with a condition called The Heat affecting not just melanoma rates but also fertility. Yet there is so little about this that jibes with questions of "why didn't they just use parasols and better SPFs when outside?"; "if there is an advanced genetic institute, how come it's the brutal "expose the 'Cottons' (albinos)" instead of prenatal testing and alteration or abortion?"; "doesn't Foyt know that selecting specific chromosomes doesn't work very well in trying to create cross-species hybrids?" and so forth. Any reader who is familiar at all with genetics (or evolution or just everyday life) is likely to just facepalm at all of these egregious errors of fact and plausibility in Foyt's story. But no, the South Park Chewbacca Defense does not hold here: It does not make any sense, you must not acquit.
Many of the other commentaries/reviews of Save the Pearls have focused on the underlying racist elements, many of which are noted above. Yet there are other, equally disturbing elements that perhaps have been overlooked due perhaps to sensible readers not being able to stomach more than the opening chapters. First among these is the prevalence of sexist rhetoric: Almost every situation in which Eden thinks about another woman she has encounter, the pejorative "bitch" is used to describe that woman. There are no good examples of women who think or act for themselves outside of the need to meet the sexual desires of a man. Remember, Eden has to "be mated" in six months or else she is to be cast out to die. There is no irony or hint of subversion in this mindset: Eden's thoughts quite often deal with her looks and how (un)desirable she may be to a potential mate.
Added to this is the troubling main plot sequence focusing on an experiment to create a hybrid jaguar (and eagle and anaconda)/man. The man involved, at least double Eden's age, is mutated into a somewhat brooding version of a Thundercat. Rarely referred to by his first name of Ronson, this character, Bramford, is frequently cast as "other" because of his mutated state and his threatening aura. Of course Eden is going to lust after/fear him and most of the second half of Save the Pearls revolves around this, related in language that easily could be taken from a putridly-written romance novel crossed with "white flight" symbolism:
He pounced toward the hut, and out of view. Eden watched, breathless, as he sprinted back. He lashed out but his punches only struck air. Was this some sort of primal dance or demonstration?Added to this was a laborious plot twist in which Bramford decides he rather continue his mutation, with the later reasons being sketchy at best. To this is added the use of a South American tribe, the Huaorani, to provide the "local color" for a legend of the jaguar-man (never mind that Foyt screws up by having them speak exclusively in Spanish and not using yaguar, but instead the incorrect el Tigre for Bramford). As if the presence of an indigenous tribe, even though reduced to being the sort of wise "nature's child", after the earlier pretense of humanity barely being able to be outside during the day was not enough, Foyt compounds this by having references to present-day Aztecs. One might wonder if Foyt needs to learn the difference between Central and South America, not to mention the connotations of the terms and physical symbols that she employs in this story.
Bramford immediately zeroed in on her. She swore she could feel the heat coming off of him. Her yearning became unbearable. Was it for her sake or Rebecca's that she flew towards him? She no longer cared why. She simply knew she had to be with him, whatever that meant.
Eden twirled around and laughed lightly. What would that callous beast think of her now?
These poorly-thought out and argued elements, however, do not detract from the story. No, the story itself is horrendous, making works like The Dark God's Bride feel like an objet d'art. There is little rhyme or reason to the premise, the characterizations are hollow shells when they aren't offensive, the story is hackneyed and the conclusion is ridiculous. There is nothing redeeming about Save the Pearls, except perhaps as a cautionary tale of why people need to check with others to make sure that something "controversial" actually might just be a flat-out reinforcement of earlier societal racism. Easily the worst POS that I have read in years; even worse than having to read Hitler's speeches and Mein Kampf for grad school. At least he didn't try to claim that his works were not racist at all.