Short & Sweet: FantasticLand is a horror novel that requires no paranormal element to be terrifying; it is a story of how a single spark can ignite an inferno of uncontrolled evil within the perfect conditions. This will stick with you long after you’ve closed the book.
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 scene of horror. 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.
Published: October 2016
Hoo boy, where do I start.
First and foremost – FantasticLand is authentic. That’s what made this novel work so damn well, and it requires no suspension of disbelief. From the very first page, Mike Brockoven pulls you in without permission, and expertly weaves each person’s view into an overarching storyline that will answer some questions, but give rise to others. The interview-type storytelling works phenomenally for this, and elevates an otherwise basic horror story to a chilling level.
Each interview is singular, and told only once in a rough chronological order of events. Previously interviewed characters make a reappearance in other’s recollection. You wait with baited breath, knowing with every turn of the page that things are going to get much, much worse – and just like that, we are tipped over the cliff of no return, and shit gets real, fast.
The shock of all this continues, wave after wave, until I had to walk away from the sheer intensity of this book. The horror of it is both instant and slow, and the imagery creeps into the recesses of your mind after you’ve put the book down. It will make you second guess your neighbor, your friend, your boss. Truly, its what isn’t spoken about that makes your mind run wild:
“Then you’d go to the next location and it would be out-and-out looting and every man for himself. No, I don’t want to talk about the three nursing homes that made the news. Not at all.”
We never do find out about those three nursing homes. But do we really need to know? Do we even want to?
The violence is not glossed over, but told plainly and vividly in the personality of each interviewee – and each one has a particular, but subtle, voice. This is not a slaughterhouse, but the narration of young men and women cornered and pressed into a fight or flight situation. It is an accumulation of very stupid, but very human, decisions.
Speaking of decisions – they all were legitimate. Often, I would get frustrated and ask, Why aren’t you swimming? Why aren’t you hiding here? Why isn’t anyone going there? and you find out in subsequent interviews that yes, those routes were tried, with disastrous results.
The “tribes” are almost comical when viewed with an outside lens, like pristine Disney characters parading through a creepy haunted house. But then tidbits like this will dot across the page:
…When Carlos stumbled back into the park, The Pirates got him.
and the smile dies on your lips as you steadily begin to realize the horror of what that means.
The only drawback to FantasticLand is Mike Brockoven’s attempts to illustrate the consequences of social media addiction, and it falls absolutely flat in that regard. It seems almost awkward at times; pitted against the stark violence and fear, and chalking it up to lack of WiFi and digital entertainment. I would implore that this is more a narration on the human need for leadership in a time of trial, no matter how morally sound or twisted the leader may be – and how things can go poorly very quick in a literal life or death situation, when the hope of outside assistance has died away and fear becomes the primary driving force.
At the end of the day, even after you close FantasticLand and return to the real world, it will creep up on you; flashes of memory when cooking, or cleaning, or talking with a neighbor who lives far too close. This is one I won’t forget any time soon, and worthy of every single star awarded.