“Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’.
We, their sons, are more worthless than they;
so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.”
Book III of Odes, Horace
circa 20 BC
Pretentiousness aside, the point is that adults have been complaining about Kids These Days for thousands of years. If one were to believe these centuries upon centuries of whining, the history of humanity is nothing but the slow and steady decline of Natural Human Goodness as every generation descends to a new nadir of stupidity and materialism. The dizzying advances in technology and changes in the cultural landscape over the past few decades means Millennials and Gen-Z have been hit particularly hard by their elder’s fear and scorn. It’s not enough that they killed Applebees, you can hear them whisper. Kids These Days, with their Instagrams and their Facebooks. They’ve been utterly ruined by those phones to the point where surely it’s only a small jump from Tumblr to murder.
BEHIND THE PEN
Mike Bockoven lives in Grand Island, Nebraska with his wife, two kids, and a weiner dog named Sherlock. FantasticLand was his first novel, followed in 2018 by the werewolf novel Pack. He describes his books as “nasty little thriller/horror novels.”
When asked if there was a message in his novels he wants readers to grasp, Bockoven said, “It’s that people are capable of terrible things and there’s a lot less protecting you from that evil than you think there is.”
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
It was all over the news when it happened. Hurricane Sadie left nearly four hundred FantasticLand employees, most of them under 25, stranded in that flooded theme park with plenty of food and water but no power, no phones, and no communication with the outside world. They should have been fine.
But when the National Guard came to rescue them a month later, it was clear that they were not fine. The heads on spikes were a bit of a clue. Something made the employees lose their minds, split into tribes, and fall upon each other with murderous abandon. This book, a compilation of interviews with the traumatized survivors, is the closest we will ever come to seeing the full picture of what really happened that month at FantasticLand.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
The screaming started as soon as HOWLers entered the FantasticLand gates. Not horrified screaming, mind you. They were screams of pure, distilled frustration.
The most obvious source of frustration was how the book made it clear that mere suspension of disbelief was not going to cut it. Like a hapless character in its own story, FantasticLand required disbelief to be hung from the neck until dead. Everything was unbelievable: how quickly the employees turned to murder, the sheer number of deadly items the park had on grounds in the name of “authenticity”, even the phrases characters used to describe their experience. The way characters acted wasn’t how actual young adults would act in a given situation—it was how someone of a certain stereotypical older mindset thinks they would act. “I have started just writing “ok boomer” in my Kindle notes every time he is especially off base,” said @Mantis Shrimp. @frylock added, “I’m waiting for the teens to start eating Tide Pods or something.”
Which brings us to HOWLer’s biggest beef with FantasticLand. “I feel like this book is trying to send a profound message. I don’t know what that message is and I can’t really say I’m enjoying it, but I get the sense the author is using it as a vehicle to dispense ‘wisdom’,” said @QueensEnglish. Everyone immediately pointed to the message Bockoven had dropped with all the subtlety of a roller coaster to the face: Kids These Days And Their Phones. It was brought up so much that the discussion channel ended up containing the word “phone” 63 times and the phrase “phones are bad” 9 times. And what’s worse, it didn’t come off as satirical. It came off as sincere. HOWLers weren’t sure whether to roll their eyes or wonder if Bockoven’s kids knew he thought so little of their entire generation.
Even the formatting of the book did not escape unscathed. As @Chris O’Halloran put it, “There’s no reason to sleep on paragraph breaks, people! We eat in bites, not by unhinging our jaws like friggin pythons.” Others had so much trouble following the timeline of events that @Gully ended up writing a 700+ word timeline to help everyone place events in their proper order.
Despite the thorough thrashing HOWLers gave it, FantasticLand was not without its bright spots. The interview format was agreed to be a fun way to tell the story, with several members comparing it to World War Z. One interview in particular was agreed to be genuinely scary and left readers wishing the rest of the novel followed that story thread. And finally, despite all of its flaws, people thought the book was pretty fun. In the end, @Mantis Shrimp summed it up best: “It’s compulsively readable, and it really does resemble a theme park. If you let yourself just get into it, you’ll have a good time screaming when the roller coaster drops. But you also notice all the cheesy decorations and the way the animatronics move in a stilted manner because they aren’t as new as they’re pretending to be.”
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- If you like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, you’ll like this book. This book is best enjoyed with friends so you have someone to commiserate with. At a certain point I started to enjoy disliking it…I don’t know what that says about me…
- I’d watch the warthogs movie. The rest sucks.
- From straight hype to waste pipe, Bockoven knows how to get your hopes up before taking a dump all over them. The first few chapters will summon your nostalgia of falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes—which is exhilarating if you’re like me—but then the story devolves into ridiculous events retold by unbelievable (if not preachy) characters. I DNFed around the 60% mark.
- One character in the book colorfully exclaimed “fuck you for pissing on my dream.” I like to imagine Mike Bockoven muttering the same after reading my thoughts about his book.
- I didn’t like this book. Fun premise, but the prose was very poor. I think this guy could write a good book at some point, but this isn’t it.
- This book promises to take you to Disneyland and then brings you to the dentist. Instead of having fun you are left disappointed, uncomfortable and in pain. Mike is out of touch and beats you in the head with boomer propaganda at every opportunity, for one of the worst literary experiences you could have.
- The shitty americanized version of Battle Royale.
- A case of the sum being less than its parts. While the premise was interesting and some individual chapters were good as a whole it just isn’t written. There are plotholes galore and an author that allows his own personal axe to grind to overpower realistic characterisation.
- Interesting format, fun premise, one or two cool set pieces. Everything else was a fucking dumpster fire. The author hates young people and doesn’t understand them whatsoever.
- Oh dear, where do I start? It was fun, and the audiobook narrators were great. But like 90% of this book is completely nonsensical and includes way too much preaching about how teens resort to murder without their phones. Has Bockoven ever met a teen? Another human? No? Well I guess that explains it. Also, weird low key sexism. And to think we could have chosen Shirley Jackson. *Sigh.*
- About what you’d expect from a third rate Disney World operated by people who hold disdain and contempt for their youthful staff and customers: a few nice thrills if you can get past the misogyny, racism, and general hatred for anyone born after 1990.
- Theme park horror? Check.
Warring tribes? Check.
Survival horror? Check.
Do you like reading books to make fun of them? Do you seek out the intentionally bad to torture yourself? Are you secretly one of Douglas Adams’ Electric Monks and are so good at suspension of disbelief that you are capable of holding up to 16 entirely different and contradictory ideas simultaneously? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you might enjoy the ride this book offers. Otherwise, we cannot in good conscience recommend a trip to FantasticLand.