Thursday, 17 July 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Throwback

When I started reading this book I was expecting something like Cannibals. Some people stumble across a bunch of cannibalistic cave-dwelling savages in the the remote Scottish highlands, violence ensues. Instead I got something quite different, a piece of survivalist horror kind of like Night of the Living Dead.

An unknown virus (possibly a Russian viral bomb, it's never really explained) has swept across most of the Western world, turning the vast majority of the population into cavemen (or "throwbacks"). They grow lots of hair, become squat and muscular and lose all capacity for reason. Like rugby players. They also become obsessed with sex, chasing down any woman unfortunate enough to cross their path. Also like rugby players. Even the animals aren't safe: Dogs turn into mutant wolves and geese turn into, I don't know, cave-geese. Crazy stuff. The survivors manage to force the cavemen into the forest, where they form small tribes and start building primitive huts, hunting and fishing (I really think that this kind of stuff is learned behaviour, but the books suggests it's instinctual).

Most of the book is spent with Jon and Jackie Quinn, a married couple who own a small organic farm in Shrewsbury. Jackie was separated from Jon when the virus hit, and quickly succumbs to it's effects in the opening chapters. Jon, meanwhile, survives it's effects and is shacked up with the promiscuous Sylvia, all the while pining for his lost wife. The book skips between these two characters, detailing Jackie's attempt to fit in with her new caveman brethren while clinging to what little remains of her humanity, and Jon's attempts to keep himself alive in a world that's turned wild.

Jackie ends up going by the more caveman-friendly moniker Jac, and pretty soon she's shacked up with the tribe's alpha male, Kuz. She's one of those super-hot cavewomen, like Rachel Welch in One Million Years B.C., so she's hot property. Unfortunately for Jac, much like in real life, the alpha male is a huge asshole, so Jac escapes along with a human prisoner of theirs named Phil. Will she end up finding her way back to Jon? Can their love bridge the gap of a few million years of evolution and the serious need of a Lady Bic?

The book also follows a few other characters, including Sylvia's husband Eric, who still longs for her despite his metamorphosis. Eventually he tracks her down and busts into their cottage, they immediately start fucking on the kitchen floor. He nearly concusses her on a table leg and it's all over in about ten seconds before he runs away. Doesn't sound very romantic if you ask me, but it's enough to convince her to run away and live the life of the wild with him.

In most books of this type, you don't really care about the monsters because, well, they're monsters, but here the menace is much more human. Several chapters are written from their point of view and much attempt is made to humanise them. Most of the time they are scared, fleeing in terror at the sight of modern technology but when they get angry they are merciless and brutal. There is a chapter where a bunch of soldiers get ambushed by some cavemen and some of them are quite conflicted about shooting them. The remaining authorities try to flush them out of the cities and send them into the countryside, but that only creates more trouble when it's discovered they probably won't survive the harsh British winter. It probably isn't explored as much as I would like, but it's an interesting dilemma.

The book is also scattered with chapters about a callous scientist named Professor Reitze, who captures the cavemen and performs cruel experiments on them to try and find a cure. He injects them with experimental chemicals that make their eyeballs swell up and burst and liquified brains to pour from their fractured skulls (don't read chapter 14 if you've just eaten is what I'm saying). At first he rationalises his cruelty to himself, figuring that by performing these experiments he is trying to save civilisation, but by the end of the book he's gone completely off the rails, torturing them for fun and relieving stress by heading out to the woods and hunting them for sport. While doing so he curses them out with some hilariously profane insults including "pig-fucks", "fuck bastards" and "shitfuckers". Throughout the book there are many mentions of him smoking Camels, the cigarette of choice for sociopathic scientists everywhere.

This one was pretty good. An interesting survival horror story broken up with Smith's trademark sex scenes every couple of dozen of pages. Most of the book was pretty meandering, just trying to tell the stories of both sides through the eyes of a few different characters. There isn't a strong narrative and it's pretty bleak in tone, but this is one of Smith's better ones.

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