Pickle Pie: A Cyberpink Story Book Review
Content Warning: This review discusses potentially triggering topics including slavery, sex work, and rape.
Pickle Pie: A Cyberpink Story is a cyberpunk gladiator sports novella set in a future Greece where the old gods are alive and well. Pickle, or Patty Roo, is a jugger athlete, part of Cyberpink. Cyberpink combines gladiator fighting with a capture the flag similar to some PvP arena battles in MMO games. Hector Troy is an armorer. He is also Patty’s reluctant owner.
All Cyberpink athletes are in “debt bondage” and are “indentured servants.” In practice, they are all slaves. This is the most troubling aspect at the root of all the other problematic aspects of Pickle Pie. As slaves, the women, all Cyberpink athletes are women, must do whatever their owners, almost invariably men, want. This includes sexual favors.
The owners also want to make money off their slaves. As athletes, the primary way of earning money is by playing the sport. They can make money with sponsorships and merchandising like any athlete. Unlike other athletes, they also make money as sex workers. They run the gambit of selling erotica starring the slaves, to sex toys modeled after them, to straight-up prostitution.
Enter Hector Troy. Hector is a simple businessperson. He creates high tech armor for anyone willing to pay. When one of his long-time clients, and oldest friends, is killed, Hector is left his contract for Patty Roo, a Cyberpink athlete. Knowing nothing of the world he is getting himself into, Hector is horrified to learn of the many ways the slave owners treat these women.
Enter the “good slave owner story.” As an American, I am well aware of the ways some have tried to define slavery as “good for the enslaved,” and it isn’t the system’s fault there are bad slave owners. Hector’s white knight character feels a lot like this story. With the help of his lecherous hacker friend Tony, Hector is determined to save these poor slaves. However, he doesn’t attempt to fix the system. He doesn’t try to free any of the women, nor does he try to punish the “bad slave owners.” Instead, Hector profits off the slave he owns. His way of saving them is to own them himself, because he’s a “good slave owner” so they are better off with him.
Enter Patty Roo, AKA Pickle. She is unconscious and severely injured when she is taken to Hector’s house for care. Initially hesitant, to say the least, to find herself in the house of a strange man, she quickly realizes she is in no danger. Patty quickly starts to “realize her luck” at having a “good owner” and starts to help him with his armory business without being asked. She helps Hector with getting delinquent accounts paid up as well as simply cleaning up his storefront. Patty makes herself invaluable to Hector as not just a cash cow but also a business assistant. When money is tight, she even volunteers to put her body on the line and compete in an underground jugger tournament.
What kind of world is it that a slave is so grateful for having a “good owner” that she will go out of her way to ingratiate herself to him? She’s so happy that he meets the minimum requirements to be a decent human being, except for the whole owning a slave thing, that she’s willing to put her life on the line for him. This might be less problematic but for the characterization of Hector. He is portrayed as a paragon of virtue because he doesn’t want to rape a bunch of slaves. Maybe in this world that would make him a kind of saint, but without further context of “this whole thing is messed up” it can normalize rape culture. Specifically, it plays into the belief that a nice guy is owed something for simply living up to the bare minimum required of decent humans.
Despite being deeply problematic so far, it is still an engaging story. George Saoulidis does a respectable job developing his main characters. The sport he invents is as exciting as it is horrible. Scantily clad women beating the crap out of each other for the crowd’s enjoyment, even making sure it is described as a “family friendly” event, is wonderfully dystopian. Short chapters, only 3-6 pages each, lend the story a quick pace that offers the reader the opportunity to enjoy the story in bite-size chunks while at the same time making it hard to put down.
Saoulidis’s brevity is both a strength and a weakness in Pickle Pie. As mentioned, it keeps the story running along. He tends to spend time on what is essential and does not waste time on details unimportant to the story. However, Saoulidis also wastes the opportunity to develop more characters. Except for Patty and Hector, the characters remain undeveloped and rather flat. If he were to develop some of the villainous slave owners more, it would emphasize the world’s dystopia. By putting this world into context and highlighting the evil entrenched in society, Saoulidis could negate the story’s problematic nature. The disturbing elements would cease to be problems and simply more features of the hell these people are forced to endure. With little editing, it could even become a satire of our current affluent culture.
The Greek elements, while subtle and unnecessary to the plot, are a nice touch. Perhaps future installments in the series will expand on the influence of the gods. I want to read more about the nature of the gods’ impact on events. Some Greek slang is included but the meaning of these words can be inferred through contextual clues, so it does not pull you out of the story. Pickle Pie is the first novella in what Saoulidis intends to become a series. The dystopia painted by Saoulidis was an enjoyable and cringe-tastic journey. Pickle Pie is the beginning of what could be a great series. However, like the Cyberpink athletes, there is also the potential of just turning into a sick erotic fantasy world. I hope Saoulidis does not go this route as the world has exciting potential as a dystopia.