Friday, October 30, 2015

Booknote: Castaways

Brian Keene, Castaways. Portland, OR: Deadite Press, 2011. ISBN: 9781936383931. 

Genre: Horror
Subgenre: subhuman cannibals, survival, reality shows.
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

A big reason this book caught my eye was the premise: a bunch of folks in an island participating in a reality show in the style of Survivor. Only the island is inhabited by subhuman cannibal monsters. Horror ensues. For me, the book had pluses and minuses; it was a book I wanted to like more, but in the end, I liked it more than just OK.

One reason I picked it up, as I mentioned, is the premise. I hate reality shows like Survivor. So here I'll admit to a bit of gruesome pleasure at the idea of those smarmy contestants being horrified and having to do more than play silly games and vote each other off an island. In that sense, Keene delivers as he does put the contestants through horror and hell. Much of the thrill is to see who dies and who might survive. On the other hand, once Keene establishes the sympathetic characters, you the reader can sort of predict who survives. Once you figure it out, the novel does lose some of its suspense. All you end up doing is confirming who survives.

This is a horror book, and it is horror of the violent variety. Yet, and this may sound mean, I think the volume could have ramped up the horror violence some more. In the end, it feels like yet another story of inbred subhuman cannibals in the edges of civilization. Horrifying, yes, but if you have read books or seen films in the genre, such as The Hills Have Eyes or even Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you know then what to expect. This novel is right in line with that kind of tale, so for readers advisors in the genre, this is an appeal factor to note.

I also mention that the more horrific elements could have been ramped up more because I expected more. The author of the horror RA book I read mentioned Keene's novel, and she built it up quite a bit. So my expectations were high since I also picked up the novel based on that recommendation. In the end, I like it, but it was not a big deal.

The edition of the book I read also includes an author's note, which you can view as a sort of author's commentary. In the note, the author explains how the novel started as a short story in tribute to Richard Laymon's work. Laymon is a horror writer, particularly known in the splatterpunk subgenre of horror. Laymon is known for subhuman creature stories too, especially the "Beast House" series. Keene does make me curious, and I may seek out Laymon's work down the road. On a side note, even though the article I linked about splatterpunk states the movement mostly declined at the end of the 1990s, I wonder if newer horror works, like the Saw films, show a new interest in that style; films like Saw have been labeled as "torture porn" and seen as part of the splatter film genre.

In the end, I like Keene's book, and I will take a chance on other Keene novels down the road.

3 out of 5 stars.

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In the back of the edition I read, Deadite Press, the book's publisher, advertises other titles by Keene and other writers. I jotted down some of the titles that sounded interesting to me and may seek out down the road.

  • Brian Keene, Urban Gothic
  • Brian Keene, A Gathering of Crows (this one features an ex-Amish magus. Just for that I  am curious). 
  • Brian Keene, Tequila's Sunrise (a dark fantasy. An Aztec boy enters a mythical labyrinth as the Spanish conquistadors are moving in). 
  • Wrath James White, Population Zero (environmentalism, drugs, and a tale of a guy obsessed with overpopulation). 
  • Carlton Mellick III, Apeshit (this is a parody of B-horror movies. This, by the way, is the author who wrote ClownFellas,which I recently read and enjoyed). 
  • Robert Deveraux, Baby's First Book of Seriously Fucked-Up Shit (I think the title says it all). 
  • Robert Deveraux, Slaughterhouse High
  • Edward Lee, The Haunter of the Threshold (Lovecraftian, and a bit more).
  • Edward Lee, Carnal Surgery (this is a short fiction collection).

In addition, the author does have his own website (
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The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

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