SICK BASTARDS - aka Nice Try

Sick Bastards - Matt Shaw

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 4
bombs: 3
bondage: 4
blasphemy: 4
Stars: 2
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

This book has all the right elements to make me a fan: zombies, nuclear holocaust, explicit taboo sex and cannibalism. Unfortunately, all this goodness is narrated through a pathetically emo protagonist. At just a few pages in I was hoping someone would smack this guy around for a bit, a few more pages and I was hoping that he'd meet a grisly demise. Against my better judgment I didn't put this down at 10%, but stuck it out until 49%. I wish I'd had and saved myself several minutes of my life that I'll never get back. What's magical about 49%? Nothing; it's where I was when I put my reader down and fell asleep. The next day when I opened my reader and found the rest of this story staring at me, I just couldn't bear to keep reading.

This book is set in a recently post-holocaust modern industrialized nation. I'm thinking it's England, but I can't remember the specific details that lead me to this conclusion. But the holocaust doesn't make sense - a certain number of the population became fast moving, dull witted zombies (aka "Romeros") and the other portion of the survivors got an odd sort of amnesia where they can't remember their own or anyone else's name nor any emotional relationships. Otherwise, the amnesiacs remember how to operate things and what their life was like before the war. At no point is any sort of attempt at reasoning or an exploration of how this came to be ever discussed.

Inside this setting that defies explanation are a set of characters - or more correctly, caricatures - that feel like the cast of an Edward Lee Apalachia story, but boiled down until the bones are soft and rubbery. Big Daddy Killer, Momma the Passive Incestous Harlot, Manipulative Incestous Sexpot Little Sister, and the aforementioned Useless Emo Big Brother. I really didn't care about these characters, there just wasn't enough going on with them for me to engage with them. This negatively effects the explicit sex, too - because the characters are so flat the sex scenes read as "mechanical" and "uninspired".

With a setting and characters like I've described, you're probably expecting the plot to be substandard. Dear reader, you would be entirely correct. Typical plot device: despite being trapped inside a house that's completely boarded up from the inside and pains taken to hide any evidence of occupation, every few days an amnesiac knocks on the door asking for help. But at no point do the Romeros show up anywhere near the house. WTF? The plot was like this distant galaxy hurling the occasional gamma burst into the character's lives; things just sort of randomly happened, everybody reacted to it according to their proscribed (painfully boring) roles and then the next chapter started. Yawn.

I don't know if this book is trying to be allegorical and my need for the setting and plot to relate to each other and make sense and for the characters to be more developed is entirely missing the point, or if this is supposed to be a more literal story that got published before it was fully developed. I feel like this book landed in a deep, steep valley between the two types of stories and can't find it's way up either side.

The writing isn't great; it's serviceable and didn't have any glaring typos but it the language was painfully plain. Not sparse; sparse belies an economy that's seeking eloquence through brevity. This writing just uses a small vocabulary and simple sentence structures. Granted, our MC is dimwit but the world is full of great books with lively, vibrant prose coming from the POV of characters who are less-than-geniuses. I expect the stories I read to use more language than the piles of emails I send and receive every day at work.