Short Take: “Sole Survivor,” Zachary Ashford

Rating: 3 out of 5

Zachary Ashford’s novella Sole Survivor introduces us to a bunch of reality show contestants who have to bail out of their plane onto a deserted island. They’re pretty sure they just have to survive a day or three until they’re rescued, but what they don’t know is that this is the show. They’ve been marooned deliberately, and the whole island is riddled with cameras. There’s even an actor hired to take out any straying individuals by tranquilizing them with blow darts while dressed in a supposed “tribal” fashion. Before the actor can even get his start, bizarre carnivorous koala-like creatures start killing the contestants.

The characters start out as such painful stereotypes, and most of them never grow beyond that. Some of them die before they get the chance. There’s the pretty boy, the ex-army badass, the lesbian, the reluctant player, the slut, the one “normal” girl (I bet you already know what trope she’ll fill), and so on. A couple of them get to develop a little bit of depth. There’s one guy who starts out as an asshole, but he rags equally on everyone and he and Robin (the lesbian, who will of course fill another popular trope) get to be friends of a sort. Robin, for her part, turns out to be a bit of a badass. The ex-army guy, Johnny, is on the purely psychotic end of the military stereotype spectrum, and is, of course, a misogynist, bigoted, condescending jackass. I mean sure, that’s good for the action quotient, but it’s so utterly, painfully predictable. Giving a different character martial training and toning down Johnny’s psychosis would have worked together to alleviate some of the feeling of having seen this all before.

The early deaths happen with almost no build-up or momentum and thus are fairly uninteresting. I also would have liked to see a little more survivalism built up before everybody started dying.

Content note for anti-trans and anti-lesbian sentiments spewed by one of the characters. I think it’s safe to say he’s meant to be an asshole and the author himself isn’t trying to espouse those viewpoints, but I know not everyone will want to read that material regardless. Standard horror novel note for some gore, mostly being eaten alive by mutant koalas.

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