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on Jan. 04, 2013 :
With its homosexual relationships and dominant slavery theme, this powerful well-written novel seems a challenging read for those of us who are in the mainstream. Yet George Orwell’s *1984* hardly slots into the norm and we have no trouble reading about Winston Smith’s brutal torments at the hands of the virtual slave-state known as Big Brother. Most Goodreads members who have read *Hidden Boundaries* classify the novel as M/M (male on male) Romance, but that trivializes a work that may best be described as homosexual literature. The question remains as to whether we really need to make a literary sub-category based on sexual orientation.
The novel is set in an alternate universe, which technically makes the book science fiction, but it reads like SF only in the Orwellian sense. The author would have been wiser to choose, like Orwell, a near-future milieu. As it stands, the Earth-like setting plays such a minor role in the novel that it is essentially irrelevant. What matters is that one despised nation among all the others allows slavery.
Some people become slaves in much the same way as debtors once landed in prison in Victorian England. Fail to pay and you forfeit your freedom. Others are sold into slavery by those who have the right to make that decision, much like the African chiefs who once sold unpopular or unwanted tribe members to passing Arab slavers. Illegal and controversial raids on neighbouring countries garner a few more. The novel explores the fate of Cor, one such captured slave. His name is actually much longer, but slaves may not have impressive sounding identifiers.
As someone entitled to a normal life in his own land, Cor bitterly resents his status as a slave. He resists. The highly ritualized system requires that, like Winston Smith in *1984*, he be made more compliant. A large portion of the novel deals with Cor’s prolonged and painful indoctrination process, which does resemble the horrors of *1984*. Cor has no way to escape, so in some way, he must come to terms with his situation. How he does this is quite startling, yet makes perfect sense within the logic of his hopeless position. His owner is not especially keen on slavery, but an hereditary estate and his role as an elected official require him to take part in the unsavoury system. The complex relationship between Cor and his master makes up the other major aspect of the novel.
McClellan’s approach to the searing moral issues implicit in slavery is both insightful and horrific. Cor’s absolute vulnerability to exploitation of every kind, including the sexual, is appalling and illustrated with some brutal emotionally wrenching scenes. Yet this is not a novel of sadomasochism, nor is it homosexual erotica. We are looking at issues faced today by anyone victimized by human trafficking. Here lies some of the novel’s relevance as a literary work. It manages to illuminate the old historical evils of plantation slavery in the American South (and elsewhere in the New World) and the new evils of human trafficking in the present day. At the same time, it explores the kinds of intricate caring relationships that can emerge even under such inauspicious circumstances.
If you relish a thought-provoking read that will open your eyes to aspects of life you may not be familiar with, *Hidden Boundaries* is highly recommended.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Dec. 24, 2011 :
I auspiciously read Hidden Boundaries at a time in my life when I was able to assimilate and appreciate the complex and intertwined layers of meaning found in this troubling tale of slavery and societal hive mind. The slavery parallels between this fictional story and the history of societal development within the human species proved to be personally sobering and enlightening.
The story describes the transformation of a free man into a slave over a period of say, 5 years. I'm unsure of the exact time it took, because the breaking down of a human mind and spirit is a gradual process, and marking an exact time to do that is impossible. The story also chronicles an evolving relationship between a specific "Master" and a specific "Slave."
I exclusively sympathized with the Slave(s). McClellan presented the Slave as a likeable character with a proud and (seemingly) independent past. The transformation into complete slavehood was painful and disturbing to read. In contrast, I did not sympathize with the Master. Maybe other readers would sympathize, but I did not. He came across as naive and unworldly, counter to his position as a supposedly learned, astute politician in his country. I realize his naivety and brainwashing was largely attributable to his being a product of his environment, but I am a stickler, and I hold people- and characters- to an impossibly high standard. I do not excuse observers and participants in abuse and slave-making just because they have been steeped in the norms of their societies.
Hidden Boundaries is a novel that will continue to peck at me for years to come. I will absolutely be reading the sequel Crossing Boundaries, and other slave novels from McClellan.
Slavery is a real modern-day pandemic, and McClellan's treatment and explanation of slavery in fictional form is transformatively valuable in understanding the non-fictional human condition of ignorance- willful and indoctrinated- and the evolutionary phenomenon of "dominator" and "dominated." Five stars for this highly believable and REAL fantasy novel.
(reviewed long after purchase)
Lorinda J Taylor
on Dec. 08, 2011 :
According to one of the author’s websites this book is laid in an alternate universe, although that fact is not made clear in the story. I would call it “imaginary country” fiction, akin to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Malafrena” books. The country of Carhagen preserves a custom of legalized slavery, and while the author obviously opposes this practice vehemently, yet she transcends didacticism by writing a sensitive relationship story between a conflicted master and his strong-willed new slave. All is not black-and-white here.
The book is well written, in a style I would call solid. The plot is very simple and progresses forward at a steady pace with few peaks and valleys; there are no strong climaxes and very little physical action. The action is mostly psychological, something that appeals to me. The homosexual context is handled sensitively and gracefully. The characters are well depicted, developing throughout the story. Cor is in most cases the point-of-view character, which preserves a certain mystery about his master Alcot that keeps the reader intrigued.
One thing puzzles me; women are almost entirely absent in this novel. I realize that the estate on which almost the entire action takes place is male-oriented and includes no women, but even in a brief foray into the outside world, we see no women, and I would guess one could count on one hand the number of times women are even mentioned. Obviously, there are women in this country where gay sex is widely practiced; if not, the Carhagens would soon be a vanishing people! And all those young bed slaves have to come from somewhere! What kinds of roles do women play in this culture? Are there any female slaves? Are free women also basically enslaved (maybe hidden away in harems), even if not by law? I would like the context of the country to be broadened at some point. I haven’t read the sequel, “Crossing Boundaries,” but it may possibly address some of these issues.
All that being said, I really enjoyed reading “Hidden Boundaries” and I found it of sufficient quality to merit a five-star ranking.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)