Author: Mike Bockoven
Publisher: Sky Horse Publishing
Publication Date: October 11th 2016
Comment: All opinions are my own and in no way influenced by being left alone in a theme park during a hurricane with sadistic sociopaths.
Since the 1970s, FantasticLand has been the theme park where “Fun is Guaranteed!” But when a hurricane ravages the Florida coast and isolates the park, the employees find it anything but fun. Five weeks later, the authorities who rescue the survivors encounter a horror scene. Photos soon emerge online of heads on spikes outside of rides and viscera and human bones littering the gift shops, breaking records for hits, views, likes, clicks, and shares. How could a group of survivors, mostly teenagers, commit such terrible acts?
Presented as a fact-finding investigation and a series of first-person interviews, FantasticLand pieces together the grisly series of events. Park policy was that the mostly college-aged employees surrender their electronic devices to preserve the authenticity of the FantasticLand experience. Cut off from the world and left on their own, the teenagers soon form rival tribes who viciously compete for food, medicine, social dominance, and even human flesh. This new social network divides the ravaged dreamland into territories ruled by the Pirates, the ShopGirls, the Freaks, and the Mole People. If meticulously curated online personas can replace private identities, what takes over when those constructs are lost?
FantasticLand is a modern take on Lord of the Flies meets Battle Royale that probes the consequences of a social civilization built online.
If you have read any Max Brooks work such as World War Z or Devolution, you have some kind of idea of the concept of the format. Bockoven tells the tale through interviews given after the fact in oral history shorts that weave a tale of horrific events unfolding throughout the park.
I started to listen because I was in a reading slump and it was free on Audible so I put it on and within moments I was drawn in by Luke Daniel’s voice and his steady way of revealing horrors that have you missing your mouth with your fork and accidentally stabbing yourself in the face (this actually happened. Do not read this book and eat at the same time.)
I am a huge lover of disaster movies, whether it’s End of the World, SHTF, Zombie apocalypse or plane crashes; isolated people doing their very best to survive fascinates me and I’m willing to give it a go.
This book was excellent and I have so many opinions on what happened and why that I’m still buzzing about it. Usually, after a day or so, I calm down about a book and can review it rationally but my brain is still going over and over this.
I loved it.
I have OPINIONS.
Spoiler alert in effect.
One of the main criticisms in the reviews seems to be that this all happened far too fast. The first murder was within hours of the hurricane and a lot of people reading thought that this went beyond plausible. I honestly do believe that this is possible. Maybe not to the most violent extent but kids going crazy within hours? Absolutely yes.
Firstly, this takes place in Florida in America and… well all you have to do is put “Florida news” into google and you get stuff like “Florida Man accused of getting Alligator to drink beer” and “Florida Cops confuse doughnut crumbs for meth and arrest man.” Florida is wild, dude and I believe everything that happens there.
Secondly, American schools.
High school is basically kids trying to find their tribe. Whether it’s jocks, geeks, losers, popular kids, chess club or whatever, any teen will immediately try to find a place to belong. So the kids forming little tribes like Shopgirls, Deadpools and Pirates is completely plausible- hell, it’s to be expected.
Also, any school activity promotes conflict between students. Football teams, clubs, and academics all involve some sort of rivalry and competition. You are constantly told that your school is better than theirs, your team is number one and you have to act fast and push hard to be on top. It’s not until you get into the adult world of work that teamwork and cooperation between departments and businesses become more of a part of daily life.
I want to point to the current situation of school students in America. With the constant threat of gun violence, kids are given active shooter drills regularly. That kind of constant vigilance leads to heightened adrenaline and a flight or fight impulse that is rarely turned off. They are taught that when there is violence you either hide or fight because if you don’t then you might die.
And, sadly, after the events in Uvalde, they are also taught that there might not be anyone coming to help them.
So take that mentality of “We need to fight to save ourselves” and “It’s us or them” and suddenly the idea that things might escalate like this is far more reasonable.
Some reviews have pointed to the constant repetition of the idea that the violence happened because the kids were so bored without their phones. They insist that this is overly simplistic and almost insulting to the current generation. (The generation who eat Tidepods and auto asphyxiate themselves because it might get more likes). While I can understand that; I don’t think that the fact that they were bored without their phones led to the situation, I do think that the sudden cutting off from everyone that they know could have had an impact.
This generation is online and in constant contact with everyone from early on. They are hyper-socialised in a way that no generation has ever been before. With smartphones and wifi there never needs to be a time when teens are not connected and the sudden disruption of that connection and their support system can be jarring.
But perhaps this all could and would have been avoided if not for the actions of two men.
Sam Garliek and Brock Hockney.
Sam Garliek was supposed to be in charge. However, his attitude and actions immediately following the blackout in the tunnel planted the notion that he wasn’t to be trusted. Kids aren’t stupid. If the rumour was that he had killed a girl after she questioned him, well, they have the example of George Floyd to know that those in power will abuse that power. Of course, they wouldn’t take him seriously. He’d killed someone who disagreed with him and their adrenaline, already raised from the hurricane, starts pumping. This was shown by the dumbass who thought he was Batman and climbed the pole. With all of that adrenaline and youthful stupidity, it was a frat boy stunt waiting to happen.
And then he fell and we come to the next culprit.
Brock Hockney was already off-kilter, his brother had died in the tunnels gasping for breath and Brock had realised that people could die- people could kill- and there were no repercussions to anything.
His actions with the stanchion could be counted as a blessing to stop that kid suffering but could also be the first salvo of a deranged mind checking to see if anyone would stop him.
No one did.
He was large, he was violent and possibly sociopathic in the true term of the word. He incited them to violence, he took the idea of a Pirate taking what a pirate wants to the next level. He started the violence against the Shopgirls and the Deadpools and it was his cutting off the hands of Tom which began the chain of rivalry that culminated in the rest of the events. He even cannonballed (see what I did there?) the Council of Peace which could have had the effect of calming the situation. It was his thirst for power that led to things being as bad as they were.
If he hadn’t maybe the different tribes would have stayed in their sections, trusting in each other and waited the storm out together peacefully. Instead, the violence kept escalating with the “You scratch my back and I’ll stick a knife in yours” mentality.
Fear, little sleep, isolation from family, constantly being wet and cold and knowing that there might not be anyone coming to help you, now knowing what is going on in the wider world and some sociopath and his friends threatening violence all make for this kind of disaster.
So yes, I can see it.
I honestly could write a whole essay about this book but that would give me A-level flashbacks and I’m not doing that.
I think this story was brilliant and I know it’s going to stay with me for a long time. Genuinely horrifying and chilling. If you get a chance to listen to the audio version then I highly recommend that.