For a book I almost gave up on after the first 100 page, The Breeders turned out to be a rather engrossing read. I still think it's a bit over-the-top in its satire, and too extreme in its swing towards homosexual tyranny, but Matthew J. Beier has written a politically charged sci-fi thriller that manages to both provoke and entertain.
In Beier's bleak future, humanity is struggling to recover from the brink of extinction, brought upon itself by overpopulation, religious oppression, and civil war. It's a theme that's been written about countless times before, usually with society reacting by outlawing procreation or enforcing sterilization. Beier does all that, but then goes even further, putting homosexuals in power, giving them the ability to reproduce artificially, and genetically modifying the few heterosexuals kept around for emergency breeding purposes.
Just to add another layer of significance to the tale, Beier also deals with the theme of sexism as well, establishing lesbians as second-class citizens within the homosexual majority. As the story begins, humanity is on the brink of another genetic leap forward, ready to do away with the spare heterosexuals - and, it is suggested, the lesbians - altogether. Led by the tyranny of the United Nations, change is in the wind, and rumours of the Antarctic 'haven' established for fertile heterosexuals actually being an execution camp are running rampant.
It's a terrifying place to live, as we discover when Grace (already the victim of a dyke gang rape gang) begins bleeding one day while shopping. At first, she's terrified that her impossible menstruation will doom her to exile, but when she discovers she's already pregnant, her new fear is death. Fortunately for Grace, the father is a responsible, slightly older gentleman who is already part of a cynical, conspiracy-minded, band of would-be political activists. With no other choice realistically available, they choose to run . . . to become breeder fugitives.
Like I said, the satire is extremely heavy, so it does take a little bit of intellectual rationalization to get into the story. Make the mistake of taking Beier's future as a plausible course for humanity, as I originally did, and the book collapses under the weight of its own reversals. Take it, instead, as a magnifying mirror for the ugliness of society today, and the book falls into place. What makes it so chilling is not just the parallels between now and then, but the glimmers of possibility in where good intentions have gone so horribly wrong. Intellectually, some of what the UN has imposed upon humanity makes sense from a survival standpoint - it's the extremes to which their hate-filled, fear-mongering agenda have been pushed that is the problem.
Despite the heavy handed satire, the polarizing political themes, and the social commentary inherent in the tale, this is also a story of characters, and that's where most readers will find their way into the story. Beier fully fleshes out his characters, giving them lives and personalities beyond the page. What he does with the family dynamic, exploring mother/mom and father/dad relationships, as well as sibling rivalries that cross lines of gender and sexuality, is fascinating. Grace's parents are a perfect example, with one ready to sacrifice almost everything to save her, and the other ready to toe the UN-mandated line of social morality. His portrayal of the underground resistance is quite original, and the worst of his villains are entirely despicable.
I suspect heterosexual and homosexual readers will have a very different reaction to the first few chapters, with some marginalized members of society experiencing a schadenfreude kind of moment, but I think Beier does an amazing job of bringing the two diverse groups together by the end, showing us that we're not so very different after all - for good, or for ill. It's a very dark tale, with most of the hope to be found in the heart of the reader, as opposed to on the page, but it absolutely succeeds in making you think (and rethink) how we treat one another, and just where we may be headed.