"Stranded" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Unnerving
Written by Renee Miller
2018, 126 pages, Fiction
Released on October 16th, 2018
The Jack Londonesque White Fang style cover does not do justice to this chilling (in more ways than one) novella, as the creature which inhabits these pages is significantly nastier than the skinny looking wolf gracing the front. There is certainly a survivalist element to Stranded and if the legendary adventurer London was indeed Renee Miller’s original inspiration, then she brings 21st century game elements to this page-turning tale of a reality show which goes horribly wrong.
There’s an age-old literary fact which is worth repeating here: never judge a book by its cover. Ashamedly, I would have been guilty of not following my own sage advice with Stranded if not for the recommendation of Michael Patrick Hicks. This author is also an outstanding reviewer who often gives great tips and it was his nod which prompted me to pick up this gripping and blood-drenched novella.
A television producer, Victor, has created a new survival show called Stranded and in the hunt for viewer ratings decides to set the programme in a location as remote as possible. This was originally supposed to be Canada, but after their request to film in the original spot is declined, it is shifted elsewhere; much further north and well inside the Arctic Circle. Stupidly, and running short of time, they fail to scout the location adequately and the terrain is rough, dangerous and not exactly the ideal spot to film a television show.
The show has six contestants, three of each sex, whom are paired off just before they arrive at the island. The winning couple will share $500,000 after surviving a month and a number of group challenges on the island. The producers hope there will be some romance to spice up the television ratings, with cameras filming everything within their basic survival shacks. However, nobody truly realises how cold it will be and the possibility of romance under eight layers of clothes and frozen lips is pretty remote! We’re sketchily introduced to the six contestants, all of which have their own issues ranging from corrupt policeman to sex addict. None of the bunch are particularly likeable, but the island is so brutally inhospitable you cannot help but feel sorry for a couple of them as they realise what they are up against.
Before arriving on the island, the location was kept secret and the poor suckers naively dreamed of being filmed on a Caribbean island and so this barren landscape was a genuine shock to their systems. The author’s descriptions of the level of cold is put across exceptionally well, man, I felt cold just reading it! The six contestants scavenging for wood on an island with no trees might not have made the most exciting reality television show, but it is riveting to read.
The cover implies this novella has wolves, it does not, something bigger probably ate them! Instead it has a really cool beast inspired from indigenous folklore, which is a vicious crossbreed between a wendigo and the snow-beast in Dan Simmon’s The Terror. The creature does not mess around and appears not long after the intruders arrive and quickly terrorises the contestants and crew monitoring them. At a brief 126 pages, it hits the ground running, it’s lean and very mean, with a quickly mounting body count.
Renee Miller never lets us forget that the end product of Stranded is supposed to be a ten-part television show and so money and greed is never far away. Even after being made aware of the first couple of deaths, the producers carry on filming and avoid the dire warnings, thinking that in the end a tragedy will only make the show a bigger hit. This adds an extra level of spice to the novella, as everyone is not on the same side and have their own agenda. There is even a very clever plot twist halfway through which I did not see coming, which makes survival even trickier.
If you’re a fan of artic or survival horror, Stranded is a simply but superbly written pulpy addition to the genre which you will read in a couple of sittings, possibly one. The blood-letting is over-the-top, the action is unrelenting, and the chance of survival is minimal. It also has an outstanding monster which would use Big Foot as a tooth-pick. If old-timer Jack London read Stranded, he would turn tail and head for the Caribbean. After revisiting this novella to write this review, I have the overwhelming need to turn to turn the central heating up! Outstanding fun.