Friday, August 28, 2015

Islands Are for Experiments

Review: The Annihilation of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski

John Darnton set his community of replacement clones on a remote island in The Experiment. The later movie The Island doesn't credit the Darnton novel, but has an eerily-similar setting. Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park has dinosaurs reborn on an island to isolate them from the rest of the globe; Plum Island near New York City is a real-life experimental station for anthrax and rinderpest, known to fiction-readers from Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs as "Anthrax Island."

So when I began reading the first book in my Foreverland Boxed set, Annihilation, I caught the vibe right away. Something ungood is going on. The boys on this island, recently joined by Danny Boy, are kept focused on pleasure: playing video games and sports, eating plenty of healthy delicious food, enjoying an easy bonhomie (underlain by hints of bullying) from their comrades, and ducking the obsessive (if mostly hands-off) interest of their elderly sponsors. 

Periodically, though, the boys undergo ritualistic torture to free their minds for "Foreverland," where undisciplined revelry is expected, and the boys can acquire any superpower their imagination can conceive. These boys would gladly go to Foreverland without it; why is the torture necessary? Who is the red-haired girl living only in Foreverland? Who are the sponsors, and why is each paired with a boy in such a creepy and unwholesome way? 

And what is the sinister gray fog that seems to form the boundary of Foreverland? 

In showing the boys' encouragement to focus on pleasure and undisciplined power, this story reminded me strongly of another fictional island you may remember. Pinocchio is lured to the Land of Toys by the promise of endless fun in the Italian novel; the Disney film renamed it Pleasure Island, making its island nature more obvious. I recall being appalled as a child by the vicious naughtiness of the boys who chose to become beasts of burden on Pleasure Island, and caught that allusion to a Lord of the Flies degeneracy of young boys unleashed from any adult discipline in Bertauski's Annihilation.

A later Italian film would rename Pinocchio's island yet again: Fun Forever Land