Survival Op: The Fear in the Wilderness by Scott Allen

Author Scott Allen asked me to review his book and even went to the trouble of mailing it to me from the USA at his own expense. I usually say no to review requests, but the cover art and theme of the story appealed to me. My confidence that I was in for a good read was further bolstered by the many positive reviews of the book I found online and by the fact that Allen is an English teacher. Sadly, the novel didn’t live up to expectations. My problems with it began in the very first sentence:

It was the same type of dark, dreary night as when I was delivered here in this dreadful prison of the wilderness.

For authors, the opening line is your crucial moment to hook a reader’s attention. The last thing you want to do is blow it on a comment about the weather. In fact, starting a book with a line about the weather is generally regarded as a cardinal sin of writing fiction. However, I could forgive it here, if not for the dreadful grammatical error that made me read the sentence several times, to make sure I understood it before I moved on. It should read “I was delivered here to this dreadful prison,” not “in this dreadful prison.” To say that you were delivered in a wilderness really means that someone gave birth to you there!

Unfortunately, this grammatical misstep was not an exception, but the shape of things to come. However, I thought, “Okay, the book is far from polished, but let’s ignore that fact and hope the story is good.”

The protagonist is Marcus, a homeless thirteen-year-old boy who is kidnapped by a criminal organisation called Survival Op. Marcus is part of a scientific experiment to enchance the human body’s survival ability. As part of the research, the organisation implants a microchip in Marcus designed to monitor the chemical changes in the body during stress. Then they release him onto an island wilderness and begin to hunt him. Marcus is soon joined by a girl called Lynn, and together they learn to survive.

That all sounds okay as the basis for a story. But big problems arise in its execution. For instance, Marcus and Lynn start a fire just inside the entrance to a cave in order to burn out all the snakes that live there so that they can make it their home. The plans works. However, a couple of chapters later, the duo enters the cave, only to discover an S-bend leading to an expansive cavern at the back of which are several holes. So why didn’t the snakes simply move further into the cave? Okay, it could be argued they died from oxygen depletion, that is, until our heroes decide to build a fire at the back of the cave, under one of the holes. Lo and behold, the smoke escapes up this convenient air-hole (or should that be plot-hole?).

Marcus and Lynn’s relationship isn’t believable. One minute they’ll be sharing a joke, and the next minute Marcus is inexplicably angry. Furthermore, the dialogue is written as if two robots are communicating:

“I cannot believe they would die to rescue us,” Lynn said as she leaned her head back on the cave wall. “Who would die for someone they do not even know?”

“Ms. Wayne told me that it does not matter how special or awesome something is that a person does, it is the reason why that person does that thing,” I said.

The author sometimes uses inappropriate words. Marcus constantly calls Lynn “punk” (a term I’ve only ever heard referring to males). Fish swimming through the water are referred to as “figures” (a term I’ve only ever heard reffering to humans).

The story meanders through fairly predictable territory. The main surprises were those of incredulity. The reader is literally slapped across the face with Marcus’s instant transformation from ordinary boy into experienced survivalist and killing machine. He does survival tricks that no young teenager would know, instantly knows how to handle captured weapons, kills without mercy or conscience.

On a descriptive level, one of the most disappointing moments was when Marcus finally comes face-to-face with a fearsome beast that has been skulking in the wilderness. It is described as ten-feet-tall, black, with bright yellow eyes. That’s all the reader is given. We never know whether it’s hairy, scaly, whether it moves on two legs or four.

As a result of this review experience, I’ve actually changed my submission guidelines on the blog. I read for pleasure, and I would rather avoid having to read bad books altogether. But right now, my personal commitment to review everything I consume compels me to write this painful one.

Survival Op is just another title in a sea of poorly conceived, sloppily written, non-edited, novels that gives self-publishing a bad name. Sorry, Scott, I wanted it to be different, but I have to tell it like it is.

5 thoughts on “Survival Op: The Fear in the Wilderness by Scott Allen

  1. D. Wayne says:

    This review seems more like an attack rather than a review. I commend Scott Allen for writing the book. The book is the most popular book in our middle school. We have 15 copies and none hit the shelf because we have a waiting list of students waiting to check it out. The kids absolutely love it and isn’t that what it is all about?

  2. Darryl Sloan says:

    This is going to sound like I’m just trying to get a rise out of you, but I honestly believe this: Kids are easier to please than adults. They haven’t experienced all the cliches before; they don’t have enough life experience to see the plot holes; their grasp of grammar and punctuation hasn’t matured.

    I’ve written two novels for young adults myself. I see it as my responsibility to write so well that my books trancend the genre, so that they can be enjoyed by adults, too. That means I never take the easy way out. I won’t allow my characters to make silly decisions that kids would blindly accept. I won’t tolerate plot holes, even though I know kids won’t spot them. I won’t tolerate bad grammar from myself, even though I know kids won’t notice it.

    That is what it’s all about. My review of Survival Op was not meant to seem aggressive, only honest. If it’s over-long, that’s because I believe in qualifying every point of criticism I make, which I think I did fairly.

    I always read for pleasure, and I genuinely wanted to enjoy Survival Op. I hate that it didn’t measure up, especially because Scott Allen sent me a free book from the USA at his own expense.

  3. jordan says:

    I read the book and i absolutly loved it.I noticed one coment said”kids are eaiser to please than adults.they haven’t experienced all the cliches before”.i also noticed it say “when i write stories i dont have people make silly decisons a kid would blindly accept…….well i beg to differ some kids are like like that not all of them are.i am only 14 years old and do i sound like a stupid kid who would blindly accept something? well any ways to give mr. scott allen a confidence boster i aboslutly love your book it is by far the best book i have ever read and that is the truth.

  4. Tyler says:

    I love his book the way he uses imagery to just captivate the reader.And to just make you want more.I think he is a great man and a talented writer.And as the review you wrote I have one thing to ask you.How many books have you wrote that never hit shelves at a school because they are so good?How many kids are waiting in line to read your book?And further more not only do I think he is a great writer but a GREAT teacher as well.Who trys to help all of us kids to be our best at whatever we do.

  5. jordan says:

    yes i commented a few days ago i have to agree with tyler i have to say scott allen is a wonderful teacher he isnt like most teachers he goes out of his way to make sure you get every little bit of knowledge you need to know.i love his writing i hated reading untill i read his book but now i love to read.I cant wait till his second book hits the shelves.Mr.Allen has so many kids wanting to read the manuscript.The book has not even been published yet.Now how man books have you written the arnt even published and people still want to read them?

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