As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read Breeding Ground, by Sarah Pinborough, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground had great potential for me, because it involved spider-like creatures. It’s funny that it would be assigned as reading in a class about monsters when I often refer to spiders as mini-monsters. Spiders are hairy and leggy, with pincers and many eyes, and they hunt and eat other creatures, trapping them in sticky webs. “If they were bigger,” I’ve often said, “they would eat you.”
My point is twofold: (1) Spiders are a great subject for a horror novel. And (2) I may be slightly arachnophobic.
There were some things I liked about Breeding Ground. From page one, there was the feeling of impending doom, and the later story and quick pace did not disappoint. The author created some brilliantly horrific images with her words. Some of my favorites include:
The white strands that had characterised the widow’s bite on his arm were working inwards from the corners of his eyes, appearing from within the socket, clinging to the slippery surface, twisting miniature versions of the thick coils that had been draped across the pub, each thread reaching out for another on the opposite side of his eyeball. (Pinborough, Sarah. Breeding Ground. New York City: Leisure, 2006. 276-77. Print.)
He was shaking again now, his head distorting, and as the scream rose to almost a whistle the flesh of his cheeks and throat finally gave way, hard shiny black legs forcing their way through, ripping at him, tearing the life from him, aggressively bursting into the world. (p. 332)
Spiders. Ugh! *shudders*
On the other hand, I had many issues with the book. First, the writing style. Even though I liked the imagery in the quotations above, I did not appreciate that they rambled on. Each is only a single sentence, long and with too many participial phrases. This is representative of Pinborough’s style throughout the novel.
What I disliked most about Breeding Ground is that it tried to be science fiction in addition to horror. Every so-called scientific explanation given ripped me out of the story a little bit more.
First, the widows came into existence because of scientists playing with hormones in food. As a result, the spider-like widows grew inside human females. A complex, intelligent species with psychic abilities came into existence due to modified food … I cannot suspend disbelief.
In yet another attempt to explain things with science, a doctor claims that, because all the widows evolved from human women, “[l]ogic would therefore dictate that they’re female spiders” (p. 323). Say what? In this world, apparently, only women can be born of other women, because logic. However, this gives way for the author to introduce new, male spiders toward the end of the book. In hindsight, this unbelievable version of science seems to exist to allow the author to up the stakes at the end of the book.
Last and definitely not least, the blood of deaf people (and deaf dogs) acts like acid when it touches the widows. In this world, the deafness of all encountered humans and dogs is caused by a single genetic defect, which just happens to cause the blood to behave like acid. I may have rolled my eyes a bit (meaning a lot) when the characters figured this out.
Sometimes, the genesis of a monster or other being of horror can add to the fear factor. Other times, the mystery—the lack of knowing—can be a good thing. That unknown can keep a reader up at night thinking that the horror she read about can happen at any moment. In this case, the scientific explanations only managed to increase my level of disbelief. I wish the author had left that a mystery.
In short, while Breeding Ground wins at horror, it fails at science fiction.