Roadkill by Joseph D’Lacey – review

Joseph-D-Lacey-Roadkill-211x300Roadkill is touted by the publisher, This Is Horror, as a chapbook. It’s sold as such and there are a limited 125 signed hard copies available. I was sent an ecopy to review, but I’m not sure if it will be made available as an ebook in the future. However, in any format this is actually a short story. With a chapbook, you expect something of at least novelette length, preferably novella (maybe 10,000 words or more) This story is more like the setup of something bigger.

And it’s not a horror story, though it is dark future sci-fi of a sort and that’s good. It’s told entirely from the point of view of one driver in a two car race through a blasted dystopian future. They’re on a race stretch called the Final Five, set up with all kinds of obstacles to interrupt their incredibly high speed, custom race cars. The worldbuilding, especially in such a constrained story, is excellent up to a point. But, of course, I wanted to know more. D’Lacey is a great writer and this story is visceral and powerful. The racers are trying to gain social standing by winning the race, but every second they’re risking their lives. The intensity of their situation is carried well throughout the story. But only in the car.

And where the worldbuilding was excellent, but lacking depth and therefore reader immersion, the characters were similarly lacking. There’s only one real character that we’re close to, in the driver’s seat with him while he races. We know that he wants to graduate to a better standing, but we don’t know why. I wanted to know more about who he was, what the new standing would mean for him should he win. I also wanted to know more about the world – why it was this way, why racing had become such a symbol of achievement and so on. Every aspect of this story was both excellent and frustratingly incomplete. The moments inside the car were tight and increasingly intense, but everything outside it was nebulous and unformed. This made it hard to really engage with the story, as none of the stakes were properly explained.

The story is excellently written and it’s well worth a read, but it’s not enough. This is a good short story, but it could have been an outstanding novella. Here’s hoping D’Lacey expands on this story or this world in future work.

The chapbook is available here.