Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Culled

by Simon Spurrier


Soldier X is living in a post-Apocalyptic world, where civilisation has gone to the dogs following the Blight. An airborne, utterly lethal virus struck down everyone bar the lucky few who turned out to have a natural immunity to it.

I'm going to call him Soldier X in this review, because throughout the book he doesn't give his name, and is referred to variously as "the Stranger", "soldier", and "I" (when he's talking about himself), and it's infuriating. The author could have at least given him a proper name. The main character is one of those hard-as-titanium special ops types who gives out information on a need-to-know basis only. When we first meet him he's digging bullets out of his own flesh and travelling in a stolen 737 with an unqualified pilot.

Soldier X has to rendezvous somewhere in America, following a brief transmission that lit up his top-secret underground bunker. But this is no mere road trip. The anarchic world after the Cull is filled with Clergy, hot-headed religious fanatics who hold power with guns and terror. The Clergy demand a tithe from all the tribes they rule: not the usual tenth of your crop of wheat or potatoes, but a tribute of children, all of whom are marched off and taken away in lorries and planes, never to be seen by their parents again.

The Culled is written by a regular contributor to the comic 2000 AD, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that this is an unadulterated feast of nastiness. The main character is an assassin who clearly enjoys his work. The body-count is huge, and the gore profuse. Spurrier describes it all so vividly you almost feel you have to wash the blood and brains off your clothes afterwards.

This novel is saved from being too grim and depressing by Soldier X's cynical and blackly humorous commentary. No matter who is trying to kill him, or how likely they are to succeed, his outlook remains the same. He's joined in his travels by Nate, an ex-Clergy member with a certain untrustworthy air about him, and an Iroquois who goes by the name of Hiawatha.

Hiawatha, a.k.a. Rick, is a doped-up young man who has visions of Thunderbirds and auras and all sorts of mystical mumbo-jumbo. He's as confused as Soldier X is clear-headed, and they make unlikely allies in his quest to find whatever it is he's looking for.

There's one discrepancy in the story: at the beginning the main character talks about the deaths of 59 billion people, 93% of the world's population. At the moment there are something over 6 billion, so this figure would put the story in the far future, or at least at the very end of the 21st century. But background details suggest that this is set in the near future, not more than 20 years ahead. For one thing, there's no mention of any technological advancements we don't already know about, when the main character talks about the time just before the Cull. So as well as having to imagine a name for the central character, readers are left guessing when all the action is taking place.

In spite of these annoyances, The Culled is good reading if you have the stomach for it. It's slick, horrific, a festival of guns 'n' gore with hints of Mad Max and The Running Man. This will appeal to fans of ultra-violent action, intensely visual scenes and mean, fast-talking antiheroes.

Book Details

Year: 2006

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
    Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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Review © Ros Jackson