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About halfway through Soli Mendez’s latest The Pure, you get the sickening feeling that you know where it’s all headed. But by the third act you realize you were way off and that queasy feeling has turned to disgust because where it does all go is worse than what you were imagining.
In the world Mendez has created, mankind is so far beyond redemption that it needs to genetically create pure (that is, unsullied by human contact) beings which will act as moral compasses for the rest of us. They will not only write the laws for this new world order but they will also serve as judge and jury, leaving the executioner role to man’s most reprehensible.
As a sort of penance, those found guilty of crimes will be offered a chance to “balance out” the wrong they have done with a selfless, sometimes dangerous service, one that “will be in accordance with their crime.” So, for instance, no suicide mission just to pay off a parking ticket. (They don’t have parking tickets, or parking for that matter, what with all transportation automated and interconnected.) These penances could take the form of soldier (if ever their country’s border were threatened), fire fighter, toxic waste cleanup or other high risk jobs.
That means the most dangerous criminals can choose “confinement” or “rehabilitation,” a word retained by the titular pure but subverted in their context. The prison or jail intimated by the word “confinement” is only alluded to before its reveal, but it is taken as worse than the chance for “rehabilitation.” No one is ever truly accepted back into society whose crime has crossed a certain threshold, however, meaning the worst of the worst are merely used over and over again for the most dangerous tasks until they die. Think of it as execution by hazardous labor, though one never knows how the job will go. A criminal condemned to such a fate might live another twenty years as they try to make up for their wrongdoing in endless service to society or they might be killed on their first job.
Sometime in the future, each of the world’s governments were simultaneously overthrown by violent uprisings and synchronized attacks on the power grids of the biggest cities as well as the global dismantling of all internet, tv, radio and cellular transmissions. Commerce, transportation, law enforcement, schools, hospitals and emergency response were brought to a halt, blackouts, arson and bombings created looting and chaos in the streets, news and media outlets had no voice and martial law was slow to enact. One by one the nations of Earth were torn down and recreated in their people’s image. The richest, most stable countries emerged relatively unscathed but still suffered casualties in the millions along with significant loss of infrastructure. All global cooperation and communication was ceased, eventually cutting off each continent and leaving each to fend for themselves in forced isolationism.
Oceans act as natural barriers leaving each with guarded shores and some strife with civil war. Those countries that have adopted a theocracy or some sort of automated judicial system see modest success, while those with border skirmishes or racial tensions are perpetually at war with themselves. They are the rogue states, the last remaining divided continents struggling to establish stability and tearing themselves apart in the process. Instead of coming to the aid of those citizens caught in the middle, for the states that enjoy stability it’s a waiting game with huge stakes, each chaotic state receiving military assistance from the thriving ones as each wishes to occupy the warring continents as they fall, pitting them against each other.
Within the state of Newmerica, instead of an army there is the police force, a voluntary but pervasively encouraged vocation that means to be everywhere all the time. It is omnipresent but so seamlessly integrated that although crime still exists it is rather like garbage cans on the sidewalk (they still have sidewalks at least) and the people that empty them, an unavoidable routine of urban living that is repeated every day. Only the violent offenders get sentenced to the harshest penalties and the visceral evidence of their crimes are cleaned up rapidly by an arm of the police. These offenses are not publicized and witness recounting is discouraged after mandatory testimony.
Since these manmade beings are morally and ethically unblemished, although their sentencing is always swiftly carried out they themselves are genetically incapable of pride or hubris and so do not abuse or get drunk on their power. They do not have ulterior motives or even basic needs to speak of so are not to be swayed or corrupted. They exist only to act as arbiters and to pass judgement, and exactly how their inner circle of handlers operate makes up the bulk of the second half of the book.
Soul Towers, Mendez’s breakout post-fantasy smash, was said to be inspired in part by her love of surgical history, so it’s no surprise her latest is not for the squeamish; although only just a bit gorier than usual, this time out the devil’s not in the details but in the big picture. The brutal justice system with its cold, unfeeling judges representing any “human” ideal or paradigm is troubling enough, but it’s what happens behind bars that will really make you shudder. The ease with which the right combination of attacks could deal a crippling blow to the world as some of us know it is chilling, but not as disturbing as the world it subsequently shaped. The Pure is not for the mentally or socially squeamish. It’s a bleak look at an all too plausible future, not just for this or any one country but for the world itself.