Top critical review
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EXTREME!ly obvious beta.
on 4 January 2016
I'm at a bit of a loss to explain the glowing feedback for Sick B*astards, especially as most of the reviews are written with far more flair than the book itself. The blurb proclaims this to be extreme, and while the subject matter covered is hardcore stuff, the execution cripples it. In the wrong hands, horror becomes kind of clownish, and it's telling that I often pictured parody hack Garth Merenghi narrating the story. Now before you think I’m being overly harsh, bear in mind that you’re being asked to invest real life money and your own valuable time into something that smacks of being knocked out over a couple of evenings by a hormonal, overly-ambitious teenager trying to shock his English lit. teacher. Also bear in mind that this is a published release, on a major, international platform, which has clearly never been anywhere near a second draft, let alone any sort of critical editing.
This becomes obvious immediately - the writing is amateurish. The exposition is clunky, filled (stuffed) with needless (pointless) parentheses (plus lots of brackets and such) and the grammar is often bewildering, hopping around between the past and present tense within the same sentence for no discernible reason. There’s virtually no attempt at scene-setting description whatsoever, apart from the odd bit of primer-level stuff like “pretty girl” and “big house”. In this day and age, there's simply no excuse for unleashing a vocabulary so limited upon the paying public. Virtually every page is chock-a-block with such literary howlers as "Was this the look that Father looked at me with...?" Compounding this, the dialogue is unnatural, often sounding like the stuff ’blurted out’ in a Boy's Own adventure novel from decades ago. One memorably bad scene involves the protagonist considering suicide in the family toilet, only for the melodrama to be interrupted by his father, who barges in, yelling “I hope you haven’t stunk it out!” I actually burst out laughing at this point, and that’s why I’ve given the book two stars, because at least I got a good chuckle, however unintended, out of it.
So, okay, the actual writing style is a bust. This wouldn't be such an issue if the narrative went anywhere, but sadly, it doesn't. The book is way too long – there’s enough material here for a decent short story, but if you’ve read the sample section, you’ve read 90% of the book. The characters eat some people, they have sex with each other. They do it all again. And again. There’s no real build-up, plot-wise, to this situation by the way – they start running low on food and suddenly devolve into murderous, incestuous cannibals the moment they meet another person. The protagonist spends half the book trying to escape from the family house, only to almost immediately turn around and spend the second half trying to get back there, all for fairly nebulous reasons, before stumbling onto the not-exactly-well-hidden plot twist by complete accident. The narrative flow and pacing are all over the place: the few interesting parts of the story (The mystery of the disaster that caused the set-up, and the feral creatures hunting the family) are barely touched upon until the very end, leading to flashback chapter after filler chapter of boring sex and violence. In a final insult, once you've trudged your way through to the denouement, it makes very little sense and is comically far-fetched.
This book is an unfortunate example of the potential pitfalls inherent in self-publishing, and of why print authors and publishing houses employ editors to actually check submissions. Any decent editor would have sent this straight back to their client awash in red pen, with a letter telling them that the whole thing needed a major re-write before they could even consider releasing it.
I wasn't really that keen on it, in case that wasn't clear.