FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven will naturally be compared to Lord Of The Flies, and there are some similarities. Bockoven’s novel, though, is more nuanced and complex, and, honestly, far more frightening.
To get my one gripe out of the way right off the bat, this story demanded a significant investment from me in terms of willing suspension of disbelief because of my background. I’ve done physical security and facilities maintenance most of my adult life, and I know too much about how such systems operate in the real world to buy some of the premises of the novel.
That having been said, I will go on to say that the author did a very good job of negotiating the terms of the novel in the first sections. He lays out the rules right off the bat. You have to be willing to accept that the characters were cut off from all civilization for an extended period without being able to either leave the area or contact the outside world.
Give him that, though, and he takes you on one hell of a ride.
The novel is presented as a series of interviews, and the conceit works very well. I listened to the audiobook version, which is what I linked to above, and the two voice actors, Luke Daniels and Angela Dawe, did an outstanding job of giving the characters unique voices–but that’s because the written voice of each character was very distinct.
The story is deceptively simple. FantasticLand is a theme park in Florida–not one based on an existing park. The very first interview is with the historian who wrote the definitive history of FantasticLand and its founder, Johnny Fresno. The park has it’s own feel, which Bockoven maintains consistently through the book.
A hurricane is predicted to hit the Florida coast in the general area of the amusement park and the park management decides to employ a skeleton crew to remain on site during the hurricane to protect the property. The hurricane ends up being far more damaging than anyone expected, and the park is cut off by flooding, leaving the employees stranded with food and water, but without power or any way to contact the outside world.
What follows is a breakdown of society and a descent into savagery, but what elevates this story to something more than a simple survival tale is the way it is told. A series of eyewitness accounts, without independent corroboration, becomes a kind of jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces match up–yielding some fine ah-ha! moments when one interview explains a mystery laid out in an earlier one–but large sections are missing. Sometimes events are described in different ways by different witnesses, without having any clear way of telling which version of events–if any–is the accurate one.
In addition, the witnesses are very real characters–not caricatures or stereotypes. Bockoven has the rare gift of writing from very different perspectives, without judging and without setting up straw men. With one very notable exception, the survivors of the events in the park are not separated into good guys and bad guys–no one is entirely innocent, and all of them present a case for their actions being justified.
All in all, a very thought-provoking novel that asks some very hard questions and refuses to give any easy answers. Highly recommended.