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.
You will find Hidden Boundaries and other works by C. S. McClellan at Smashwords.