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Slashvivor! (2017)
Written by Stephen Kozeniewski
and Stevie Kopas
Reviewed by P.J. Griffin

Obviously I'm a horror fanatic, but I'm also a shameless fan of reality television. It’s because of this that I've always been delighted by works that combine the two worlds. For example, I've always loved movies like Series 7: The Contenders, 2003's Slashers, Herschell Gordon Lewis's The Uh-Oh Show, etc. Since I'm also a book lover, I'm thrilled with how more and more horror novels are allowing themselves to get down and dirty with the same fun, roller coaster style of some of the cult exploitation films out there. Because of all this, I was quite intrigued by Stephen Kozeniewski & Stevie Kopas' Slashvivor! I'll explain why.

Slashvivor! takes place in an alternate time-line, in which a Soviet attack has left the United States a decimated wasteland. This zone is known as the Geiger Lands. In this world, mutation and murder are just an expected part of everyday life. The hottest thing in the world of reality television in this dystopia is Try Not to Die! In it, contestants are chosen and thrown into what can best be described as a living hell. Pitted against a diverse and brutal array of slashers and contraptions, the players face death around every turn. To the audience it's all good sport, but for those unfortunate ones caged off and thrown in, it's anything but a good time.

The book tells the story of an especially memorable episode, primarily how it's experienced by a new contestant. Dawn is a spry young woman just trying to survive the harsh reality that is the Geiger Lands, but soon she finds herself taken against her will and forced to be a new hopeful in the craze that is Try Not to Die! Some contestants are fans, grateful and honored to participate. Dawn, however, has a far more negative view of the situation. She's appalled by the show and has no interest in becoming another dismembered body, slashed apart for the entertainment of a bloodthirsty audience. Nonetheless, whether she wants to or not, Dawn becomes tangled in the horror that she has been forced into. Dawn is presented as a relatively likable and grounded character; she isn't righteous or hot-headed, she just wants to mind her own and survive.

Right away I liked the little details, like how when in safe zones, players are able to see what is going on elsewhere in the arena. Another example is the merchandise the producers sell to fans promoting the show and little inside references to what's happened in a moment's notice. These little touches of how the show works drew me in and I had a good sense of how something of the sort came from the rough shape the area is in.

As part of her journey, Dawn starts off interacting with several other contestants. They are a varied bunch and things get kicked into high gear fairly quickly, making it clear that anyone can go at any time. Through Dawn mostly, we follow the stories of a few different players and after a while, the slashers become just as personable as the others. We also are given a look at what's going on behind the cameras. The face of the game is a hapless man named Mark, but the high-end producer, the person pulling at the strings, the Queen, is a woman named Marisol Martinez. Above all, anyone involved in the game sees her as their main enemy. Not all the slashers are happy to be there and even they want their turn at getting to her, but the drive of power reigns supreme, and Marisol will stop at nothing to keep her own personal world spinning.

The layout of Try Not to Die! is massive and the book goes into great detail to paint a clear picture. Colorful contraptions such as the Girl Splitter and the Wheel of Dismemberment face the players and everything is soaked in graphic detail. The slashers are impressively unique, varying from massive giants of pure killing power to an assassin-level little girl having fun carving up her victims. There is cannibalism, a killer clown, and zero room for repetition.

The book is completely aware of what makes the concept fun and takes full advantage. The bloody chaos comes complete with commercials peddling the various products of the Geiger Lands as well as rich descriptions of the TNTD! fans. The moments of eager spectators desperately trying to be chosen for involvement and the gleeful way they view severed heads as souvenir foul balls makes the culture and social importance of the game unmistakable. When the book begins, the show has been going on for a while and has become a staple of the Geiger Lands. Because of this, the reader is thrown headfirst into the adrenaline-fueled mayhem that unfolds throughout the pages.

One thing that stuck with me was how, after a while, the different levels of characters begin to blur. What starts off as a group of average Joes facing off against murderous lunatics becomes an array of interesting characters focusing their rage against the high-ups controlling everything. The slashers who have been there for a while have a calmer insanity to them, having had the chance to get used to the violence and bedlam. However, I found myself not only drawn to the slashers, but eventually seeing them as equally compelling and emotionally diverse as the other characters.


Everything in the book is organized very well. While the Try Not to Die! spectacle is as complex as it is treacherous, the story itself finds more footing in the interaction between those involved. It all moves at a brisk pace, but never to the point where it blows by anything too quickly. Information about the characters comes out at just the right time, everyone has their place, but as the novel progresses we get to know more and more about their state of mind and the reasoning behind it.

The gore and bloodshed isn't constant, but it makes the splatter moments count. No one is safe in this game, not even the cameramen, which means that players, slashers, and crew alike meet their end in a variety of fun and inventive ways. Limbs are torn, heads are bounced around and human sludge hits the floor. The book is as gleeful about describing the nastier moments as much as the audience does, and I love that. While there are certainly characters to root for and against for many reasons, there is no real line divide of “good vs bad”. Marisol is by far the main antagonist, but the rest are characters merely trying to survive in a world gone mad. Whether a slasher or a contestant, the apocalyptic feel of the scenario comes across in every move they make.

At no point during reading the novel did Slashvivor! drag or weigh itself down for me. There are moments where things settle and simmer for a bit, but only to work through the plot points, increase the reader's understanding of a character or something of that nature. No page is wasted and the more exciting moments balance themselves well with the exposition and story flow. It isn't as full-blown shock or exploitation based as I was expecting, but I wasn't disappointed at all as the book does what it does very well and just naturally puts more emphasis on the exciting than the depraved. That isn't to say there aren't some wonderfully gore-tastic moments, as there is plenty of the red stuff flowing throughout the book's length.

I don't want to give away any more as once the scenario is laid down, Slashvivor! is a ticking time bomb of the chaotic and unexpected. To say any more would be to do the book a disservice. I was genuinely surprised by several aspects and I wouldn't want to rob the reader of the same experience. What I will say is that Slashvivor! is straight up a good time read. It's a fast-paced blast from start to finish that wonderfully lays down the world it's created without getting too bogged down by its own concept. It stays true to what it is and while I won't spoil the ending, certainly, I will say that it's all quite satisfying and comes full circle.

The book reminded me of what I love about more extreme cult novels as well as reality-based horror films, especially Slashers. But at the same time, Slashvivor! is a project all its own. Rather than a retread, it stands as a book that went its own way and while it pays homage to some beloved horror concepts, it remains original. Honestly, what more could I ask for?

P.J. Griffin, HMS

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