Have you heard about Save the Pearls? I am not even going to post links - it is all over the Internet, so if you haven't heard anything about it, you must have spent the last week hiking in the Andes or something. A Google search will enlighten you in short order, but here's the short version: an author named Victoria Foyt self-published a YA dystopian novel called Revealing Eden (the first book in her "Save the Pearls" trilogy), the premise of which is that in the future, the depletion of the ozone layer, resulting in higher levels of UV radiation, has almost wiped out melanin-deficient white people, and now they are oppressed by dark-skinned people who rule the world.
If the above description already has you head-desking, believe me, I haven't even scratched the surface.
Anyway, the book has triggered massive outrage, which, again, there is no need for me to rehash here. Like I said, it's all over the Internet, folks.
But I admit, I am curious about trainwrecks like this. So I decided to read the sample first chapter, just to see what it's like as a book, pretending that I could ignore the massive racefail.
So, on the basis of the first chapter: the writing itself is not terrible in terms of grammar and coherence. Foyt apparently did actually have a previous novel published by a real publisher, albeit its sales were so bad it disappeared into Out Of Print limbo. So she can string sentences together competently enough, which is more than I can say about some of the self-published novels I have reviewed previously, like Hush, Hush or The Pack.
That's the only positive thing I can say about Revealing Eden.
The actual narration is full of infodumps that are not just clunky, but absurdly intrusive. For example, this:
The message had been clear: this is where you'll end up if you don't obey. All Pearls, the racist term for whites, feared the light.
This is the third-person omniscient narrator referring to white people as 'Pearls' while explaining to us that it's a racist term. It doesn't even make sense to use it thus in this context, and it's horrible style to tell us what "Pearl" means when it could be much more effectively demonstrated. Victoria Foyt, writing for YAs, apparently believes that YAs will not grasp the subtle nuances of her VERY CLEVER REVERSE RACIST world unless she spells everything out in painful literalness.
So.... white people are called 'Pearls' (which is a racist term) and black people are called 'Coals' (which is not). Bwuh? Okay, already making zero fucking sense. How does the dominant race end up insulting the oppressed minority by referring to them as rare, valuable jewels and referring to themselves as, well, coal? What is this I don't even
Anyway, as the chapter begins, Eden, our blonde, blue-eyed 'Pearl' protagonist, is in a laboratory grooving out to a holographic fantasy projected by her 'Life-Band' while on her break.
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.
Peach bawls Eden out about something stupid, gets flustered when Eden points out that she couldn't do what she was asked to do, and leaves.
Thank Earth, the Uni-Gov provided her with a Life-Band. They cared about her.
LOL at every bit of this worldbuilding. First of all, in the rest of the chapter, they refers to the evil Coals who are always oppressing her. So who is the "Uni-Gov," if not them? And "Thank Earth?" I mean, fine, a futuristic society in which God is no longer the default belief is plausible (one can only hope...), but do they all worship the Earth now? If you're going to make up oaths and curses, make up something... I don't know... sensible, or at least creative.
Following this is more VERY CLEVER REVERSE RACISM in which Eden wistfully watches images from the past of white girls prancing around on the beach, reflecting that once, white girls were actually considered beautiful!
Images of Pearls in natural coloring were forbidden. If they caught Eden looking, she would be punished.
Maybe it's explained later in the book, but in the first chapter, there is no hint of why white people have become a despised underclass. (Never mind the whole "Increased solar radiation means white people become endangered" because I guess no one else gets skin cancer, and in a future society with hovercraft and mentally-controlled computers and genetic engineering, they have lost the ancient technology of sunscreen.) So I guess we're just meant to assume that all the colored people rose up and turned on whitey at the first opportunity.
Some brain, too. Because of his high intelligence scores, they had overlooked his race and given him the position of lead scientist at Resources for Environmental Adaptation, or REA. He had even secured Eden a plum researcher's job at the lab. They were the only Pearls allowed to work there.
Thank you for telling us what the acronym for Resources for Environmental Adaptation would be, Victoria Foyt.
So of course the white guy is the brilliant scientist actually running things in a world ruled by black people. Eden's "oppression" seems to consist of having black women be mean to her at work. She has a cushy job as a lab assistant, she even gets lunch breaks, and she is allowed to carry around a 24/7 Internet connection.
As he turned his head, Eden winced at the sight of pale skin peeking through his worn, dark coating. For Earth's sake, how was she supposed to pass when her father didn't maintain standards?
Oh fer fuck's sake, "passing"? Much has been made of the white actors wearing blackface in the book's promo videos — it's horribly offensive in itself, of course. But in the context of the book, it doesn't even make sense. Since it's obvious that all the Coals know that she and her father are Pearls, she's not "passing" for anything.
Victoria Foyt seemed to be almost kind of vaguely maybe in the vicinity of saying something meaningful here with her VERY CLEVER REVERSE RACISM by emphasizing Eden's wish that she was beautiful and dark-skinned like the Coals, and not an ugly, worthless Pearl. You know, as a metaphor for the white beauty standards that have had such negative effects on POC. The pathetic image of her and her father slapping poorly-painted blackface on, fooling no one, might have approached something like a point if I thought Foyt were even familiar with The Bluest Eye, which I strongly suspect she is not.
But everything else in the chapter completely belies what little credibility I might give to Foyt's intentions.
And now, MOAR WORLDBUILDING!
Of course the dark races got The Heat too, but not nearly as often. The higher amounts of melanin in their skin protected them from the sun's radiation. Since their numbers hadn't been decimated in The Great Meltdown, as the other races' had, they now ruled the planet.
Eden bet Ashina had dozens of suitors offering to pick up her mate option. She could afford to choose someone she liked instead of angling to improve her offspring's genetics, while Eden was assigned to the bottom of the reproductive heap like all Pearls. Good Earth, her mate-rate was an embarrassing fifteen percent. Only Cottons, the derogatory word for albinos, were lower, and they were extinct.
Time was running out. If Eden wasn't mated in six months when she turned eighteen — the deadline for girls — she'd be cut off from Basic Resources, and left outside to die. But who would want a lowly Pearl like her?
I mean, seriously, WHAT? THE? FUCK?
I don't even know where to begin.
Okay, so this dystopian society requires girls (not boys, apparently?) to get mated by age eighteen or you're thrown outside to get sunburned to death. Whu - why- HOW DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?
I assume it's supposed to have something to do with needing to reproduce 'cause the Earth has been depopulated (in "The Great Meltdown" - did all the white people melt? I hope she's talking about icecaps or something). So how does it make sense to eliminate girls who are in their prime reproductive years just because they haven't found a "mate option" yet? Why would monogamy make sense if reproduction is a problem? And what the hell is a "mate-rate"? I assume it's meant to mean her statistical odds of getting mated, but it sounds more like, I dunno, she met a hundred boys and only mated with fifteen percent of them? Or if she manages to find anyone who'd hit that, her "weak Pearl genetics" only have a fifteen percent chance of being reproduced? WHY CAN'T YOU AT LEAST MAKE SOME FUCKING SENSE, VICTORIA FOYT?
Why would there even be a derogatory word for people who are extinct? But albinism is a mutation which is found in all races (and animals!). Even if white skin does becomes a Darwinian disadvantage (fifteen percent mate-rate!), albinism won't disappear.
The stupid, it burns like The Heat.
Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.
"Get your hands off me, you damn Coal!"
For an oppressed minority used to living in subjugation, Eden's attitude toward her "superiors" seems a lot more like, oh, I dunno, that of a privileged white girl who's unhappy that all the dark folks are getting uppity? Again, the behavior of the characters does not at all make sense given the supposed setting that exists in Victoria Foyt's VERY CLEVER REVERSE RACISM world.
Until now, "Coal" seemed to be the normal term for black people, something they call themselves in this world. So how does it suddenly become a racial slur?
This is followed by all the "Coals" jumping up in outrage and calling her things like "Earth-damned Pearl!" and "White Death!" in a scene that so obviously invokes images of a pretty white girl being mobbed by a bunch of angry blacks (there's no explicit sexual threat, but how can you avoid that subtext?) that I just find it very, very hard to believe that the author wasn't doing this shit on purpose.
The author has, in fact, claimed that she's totally against racism and that she meant this book to be an anti-racist statement about the power of love.
Uh, yeah. It's hard to believe any adult in the 21st century could be this clueless. But maybe her intentions really were noble and she really is just that detached from reality.
I do believe it's possible to enjoy a racist book. Gone With the Wind is horribly racist, but the author's agenda is clear (Margaret Mitchell was probably one of those ladies who claimed she just loved all the
Ian Fleming is racist like boy howdy, but there's no pretense here of an enlightened view of the world. It probably never even occurred to him to care whether non-white people might find his descriptions of them offensive.
Victoria Foyt seems the more invidious to me, because she's written something that is just spectacularly, horribly racist in the guise of a YA fantasy romance that's supposedly saying something benign with its VERY CLEVER REVERSE RACISM.
As someone who very much enjoys Gone with the Wind and Ian Fleming novels, I'm capable of appreciating (with perhaps a tiny bit of guilt) a story for its other merits despite horrible messages, but at least based on the first chapter, Revealing Eden has none. Even if it weren't racist schlock, it would still be badly-written schlock.
I may someday find a self-published novel worth reading, but this ain't it.