Reviews in the Machine: The Island, by Michael Bray (2015)
In The Island, by Michael Bray, we see a society in which reality television has become a performance platform for violence and death. The island itself is a man-made land mass on which a competition has been resurrected to air for the first time as a television series. Contestants are set loose on the island and only one can survive to the end. Their prize? Whatever it is they desire. All they have to do is make it from one side of the island to the other.
Oh, and they have to make it through an island packed full of dinosaurs.
The main character of the story, Chase Riley, decides to take part in the newly revamped show in order to save his daughter who is suffering from terminal cancer. Against the wishes of his wife, he enters into the show, hoping that a victory will bring in the money they lacked, in order to get their daughter the treatment she needs.
Putting all my honesty down on the table, I have to admit that I was a little dubious of the concept of this book going into it. My concern was that this was going to just end up feeling like a modern reimagining of The Running Man, but with dinosaurs as an artificial attempt to add an extra element to an already successful story. Still, I was also intrigued by the idea and was willing to give it a go.
I’m glad to say that my reservations were unfounded. I think this book is a good reminder that, regardless of the specific concept, effective writing and characters that can be related to will carry a lot of weight, even if the story has some familiar ring to it.
To start off, I think that the strongest element to this book is that of the characters. It’s really easy when you have multiple characters to have trouble keeping track of everyone and they all start to blend together. Despite that challenge, I thought Bray did a really good job making sure everyone was distinct and easy to tell apart from each other. Despite the fact that some of the characters were fairly archetype-ish, I found myself interested in them and engaged in their part of the story.
I also really liked how he explored the dynamic between the characters within the context of the game itself. More specifically, the notion of people who are on one hand contestants but also still feel the urge to help each other. How do you work with and against each other at the same time? How do you deal with the fact that you might care for someone’s well-being while at the same time realizing that you may be put in a position where you might have to take that person’s life?
I found the pacing of the book to be great. I thought the story moved along at a nice clip and once things really got going, they don’t stop until the book ends. Bray did a great job creating a story that is engaging and that held my interest throughout.
As it is probably to be expected in a story of this type, things are not necessarily as they seem. The twists in the story are well done and are used effectively in order to move things along. There were a few points towards the end of the book where I felt like the twists were starting to stretch the limits of credibility, slightly. However, this did not prevent my ability to enjoy them and I was able to shut that part of my brain up and just watch the book unfold.
If I had one critical comment about the book, it would be that at times I thought the writing style got in the way of the flow of the narrative, somewhat. There seem to be quite a few moments where the writing is a bit dense in terms of the paragraphs being very long. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this practice, but I think it can make scenes less effective when there is a lot of action going on. I think it has a tendency to slow down the reader and bring down the immediacy of the narrative. In my opinion, some of the scenes could have been more powerful and effective if some of the longer paragraphs had been broken up. This is just a personal issue of my own and it’s a minor one. It didn’t interfere with my enjoyment, nor did it necessarily make the book any less engaging.
In all, I thought that in a culture that has become rife with dystopian literature, The Island does a pretty good job keeping its head above the water and not feeling like ground that is being re-treaded one too many times. It is a book I enjoyed and would highly recommend.