What’s It About
Five scouts and their scoutmaster are spending a weekend on a deserted island enjoying scout-related shenanigans when a strange man collapses outside their cabin all sick and wasted away. Things go quickly from weird, to upsetting, to get me off this fucking island right the FUCK now! as the scouts discover that the man has been infected with a vicious strain of evil, mutated tapeworm.
Should I Read It?
But come on, I hear you say, its Lord of the Flies meets the Invasion of the Evil Tapeworm and that’s gotta be gory, intestinal fun! And maybe it would have been if Cutter had played up the B-Movie aspect of the plot. Instead we get a straight down the line horror novel, that takes the issue of intestinal tapeworms and genetic experimentation very seriously. And, again, even this might have worked if the fives boys were anything more than just characters that ticked boxes – the jock, the nerd, the sociopath, the misunderstood rebel, the quiet one.
The book is readable – a mix of short narrative chapters, court transcripts, newspaper articles and police interviews – but there’s no fun or scares to be had here.
Crabs a la goo:
There! Skittering along, its exoskeleton glossed in the moonlight. A sand crab. His hand closed over it—its ocean-coldness wept into his flesh—and stuffed it between his lips. He felt it dancing along his tongue with its hairy little legs. He bit down. A gout of salty goo squirted in his mouth. Its pincer snipped the tip of his tongue in a death spasm, bringing the penny-bright taste of blood; he swallowed the twitching bits convulsively, the spiny exoskeleton tearing into the soft tissues of his throat—which felt so thin now, nothing but a fleshy drainpipe, the skin stretched tight as crepe paper over his esophageal tube.
The Troop is the second mutated intestinal tapeworm novel I’ve read in 12 months. The first was Mira Grant’s Hugo nominated Parasite. If I happen to read a third (and please God may this not occur) I’ll be calling tapeworms the new zombies.
Both Grant and Cutter have taken the issue of mutated intestinal tapeworms very seriously, the sort of serious that ranks right up there with global warming, inflation vs deflation and peak oil. Personally, the threat of being possessed or sucked dry by a tapeworm has never pricked my consciousness, but then again I wasn’t that worried about Pay Day loans until Jon Oliver gave the whole industry a shellacking. In all seriousness though, Cutter had this great opportunity of taking the piss out of his own concept. And yet what we get is a whole lot of goo and gore, paper-thin characters and some on the nose finger-pointing at unregulated genetic experimentation.
Cutter tries to fool us into thinking his novel has depth by employing the collage technique made famous by Dos Passos (though according to Cutter he borrowed the idea from Stephen King). So short chapters are mixed together with court transcripts, police interviews and newspaper articles. It makes for a quick read but it can’t hide the novel’s major deficiency, the caricatures pretending to be characters.
The main stars of The Troop fit neatly into five character-types. We have the jock, the nerd, the sociopath, the quiet one and the angry rebel. As a starting point I don’t have a particular problem with this. But if the intent of the novel is to be inspired by or have a dialogue with Lord of the Flies, then these boys needs to change significantly as they face their own mortality. Other than the nerd growing a pair of balls toward the novel’s conclusion, the boys experience fear but very little growth or development. The worst case is Shelley the sociopath who becomes a fully fledged psychopath by the end of the book. But that’s a change I hear you say. Well, yes, but only in the sense that he was headed in that direction anyway. How much more interesting would this have been if the psychopath had been one of the other boys – a character who wasn’t already ear-marked for that role.
Like the novel by M J Carey, The Troop is readable and some of the early scenes with the tapeworm – especially what it does to the scoutmaster – are genuinely icky, but for the most part this a disposable novel with forgettable characters about a subject matter that I hope never gets legs. Geddit!!! Tapeworm!!! Legs!!!