Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Have you ever watched Survivor and thought to yourself it would be a hell of lot more fun if the contestants were torn apart by savage beasts? Well, Brian Keene certainly has. In Castaways, the reality survival show gets the horror treatment in a novel that will keep you smiling throughout the read.
The creatures for this horror romp are the elusive cryptids, a mix of ape and man dwelling on an island in the South Pacific. These creatures set upon the cast and crew of Castaways, a Survivor-like game show where contestants compete in games and vote each other off the island. The goal for the cryptids is simple: eat the men and breed with the women. To this end, they have sharp claws and a virility that would make a teenage boy jealous.
All the Survivor character tropes are explored here. You have the bimbo who manipulates men, the hick that curses up a storm, the token black woman, the gregarious gay male, and the uptight British prick, among others. Rest assured that most, but not all, are going to die in spectacular fashion.
Excited? Well, hold on. There is a lot of front matter in this book. After all, Keene is copying the Survivor show. So expect a great deal of dialogue about alliances, the competition, the weather, what the contestants will do with their winnings… etc. Hang with it. The buildup is necessary to form an emotional attachment with the characters which pays off when they are later brutalized.
Castaways is not as violent as some of Keene’s other works, but the scenes are quite vivid. These include the rape sequence(s) which is well executed. The act of rape is portrayed as leaving emotional and physical scars on the victim for whom there is no recovery. To this end, Keene is actually able to transform a character the reader will initially hate into someone to be pitied, before the end finally comes.
Now obviously not all of the violence in Castaways is sexual in nature; nor are the cryptids the only ones to get in on the killing. By the end, there will be a large body count. I like to think if I was surrounded by dozens of bloodthirsty monkey creatures, I too would begin to spout heavy metal lyrics and get down to the killing.
There are also some cosmic horror elements here. These additions are largely inconsequential and neither add or detract from the narrative. Given Keene’s other works, the nod to H. P. Lovecraft was not unexpected.
Overall, it is hard not to like Castaways. Although the action is all but non-existent in the opening chapters, a blow against the narrative, it ends up delivering. Keene does a great job growing the characters and then tearing them to shreds.