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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-09-09 13:36
Biting political satire
GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. - Jonathan; Dixon, Peter; Chalker, John Swift

I'm sure many of us are familiar with the tale of the sailor from England who after a shipwreck finds himself bound to the beach on an unknown island surrounded by a race of people who are substantially smaller that him.


Gulliver in Chains



Some of you are probably even familiar with the not so recent Jack Black film (which I have seen but can't remember much of it beyond Jack Black heading out in a speed boat from Miami and getting caught in a storm).



Jack Black is Lemuel Gulliver


From a very young age I have always seen this story as a children's book, however it wasn't until I reached university that I discovered that it is actually biting political satire. It is interesting how a book is released in one age and people see it for what it is however as time passes the original intention of the book takes a back seat and the story ends up taking an entirely new meaning. Mind you, the children's tales that we tend to be familiar with are quite watered down to the point that the original meaning has been lost (and most of them only tell the story of Lilliput).


It was quite coincidental that in Bible study were were looking at the book of Revelation, another text whose meaning has completely changed throughout the ages, and I immediately thought of Gulliver's Travels. What was originally supposed to be a book that was designed to provided comfort to persecuted Christians in Asia-minor has suddenly become, in some circles, a detailed description of the end of the Earth.


However, I'm not writing about the book of Revelation, I'm writing about Gulliver's Travels, so I will try to remain focused on the task at hand. The problem with this book is that there is so much in it that simply writing a review on Booklikes cannot do it justice, so I have decided that it will go onto my 'read again at sometime and write a detailed blog post' pile (though the only other book currently on that pile is Plato's Symposium). Anyway, what I will attempt to do is look at each of his journeys individually and make some comments therein.


Before I do that though I probably should say a couple of things about the book as a whole. Okay, it is not the first travel narrative around (the Odyssey pre-dates it by a long shot, and Robinson Crusoe was also written tad earlier – a book that Swift does draw upon in parts), however it does seem be one of those books that has influenced the science-fiction/fantasy genre since. Here we have a traveller heading off into the unknown and discovering societies that are completely alien to our own. At the time much of the world was still unexplored, so Swift creates these undiscovered societies that exist in the unknown corners (most of them being islands in the uncharted ocean). Parts of it even reminded me of Star Trek, where we have the crew of the Enterprise heading off to alien planets and discovering many and varied civilisations thereupon.



Another that I picked up as I was reading some of the commentaries was how it stands apart from Robinson Crusoe. In Dafoe's book we have a story of the individual overcoming his struggles to make a life for himself. However it is suggested that Gulliver is different in that Swift is suggesting that it is not the individual but societies that count. However, as we shall see, none of these societies is worthy to be called some sort of Utopia. Even the Houynhnhnms have a dark side about them. The other thing we see is the slow descent of Gulliver into madness. At first he decides to head off to sea for an adventure, particularly since his business in London failed, however after he returns every time he immediately wants to head off again. In fact it seems as if the time he remains in England becomes ever shorter. When he returns the final time, after being exiled by the Houynhnhms, he becomes a recluse and spends the rest of his life talking to horses.


This descent is also mimicked by the way he lands up in each of these lands. The first time it is due to a freak storm, the second time he is abandoned, the third time he is attacked by pirates, and the forth time his crew mutinies (which is probably not surprising since the crew that he ended up collecting were probably the last people you would want as the crew of your boat).


Gulliver in Lulliput




This is the first realm, and the most well known since most of the productions use this section of the book. Lilliput is probably the closest realm to that of England, and in fact each of the characters represent one of the major figures in English political life at the time. They even have the land of Blefuscu, which is a representation of France. In a way the realm, and in particular the politics, of Lilliput is nothing short of farcical. Swift does not hold back in his criticism of the landscape in which he lives. In a way it is no difference than the world we live in today, and many of us have little respect for our politicians, seeing them as nothing more than a bunch of corrupt clowns.



The people of Lilliput and Blefuscu are at war, and the reason behind the war is one of the most absurd reasons around – they both hold different interpretations of a holy book. While we might laugh at the fact that the Lilliputians and the Belfuscians fight over how an egg should be opened, this is sadly what we see with religion today. Everybody has their own interpretation, and sadly there are people who are willing to go to war with each other over their interpretation. The problem with religion is that followers generally resort to a higher power to support their beliefs, and because it is such a fundamental part of their lives, to challenge such a deeply held belief can cause some quite adverse reactions. It is sort of like confronting somebody on meth – the drug causes them to create this reality that is not necessarily true, and when that reality is challenged, the result can be incredibly violent. Sometimes I wander whether many Christians, especially the violent ones, remember Jesus' saying about turning the other cheek.


Swift also seems to have a problem with imperialism. When the Belfuscians launch an invasion of Lilliput, Gulliver heads out, grabs all of their boats, and brings then to shore, effectively castrating them in one swoop. Upon seeing victory, the Emperor of Lilliput immediately wants to subjugate the Belfuscians, however Gulliver steps in and forbids it. Sure, he may have saved the Lilliputians, however occupying their land is not going to solve any of their problems – it's only going to make it worse. As such the emperor is not happy and finds Gulliver guilty of treason – it seems that kings and emperors are just as blind when it comes to war and politics.


The King of Brobdingnag




One of the things that you will notice about Gullivers travels is that it is a story of contrasts – in fact it is a story of opposites. In Lilliput Gulliver is the big man around town. His towering presence dominates the scene - to the point where he is recruited as a weapon of war. Further, he is uncontrollable by the Lilliputians. The opposite is the case when it comes of Brobdingnag. Here he is tiny. In fact the entire situation has been reversed to where he is the size that the Lilliputians were to him. Also the political situation differs as well – in Brobdingnag there is no political maneuvering, and in fact the king and queen are seen as innocent rulers (innocent in that they have no understanding of the political world – and neither do their subjects).


Being tiny Gulliver is an object of curiosity, and in fact he spends time as being little more than a carnival attraction. The roles have been completely reversed. In Lilliput he was the big man, and even though he couldn't necessarily change the ideas of the Lilliputians, he did have an influence. Now this has all been taken away from him and in effect he is powerless. Sure, he does tell the queen about his homeland, however this is more quaint curiosity than anything else. Furthermore he is at the mercy of the elements, as is seen when he is attacked by a giant rat, and his food is covered with insect slime.


Beauty is another thing that is challenged in this section. This is shown in the scene where he sees the two naked women. While those of us who are normal size may be enticed by such an encounter, to somebody of Gulliver's size all he can see are the blemishes. In fact they are so noticeable he is left horrified. The section also works to humble Gulliver, since after visiting the Lilliputians he has trouble adjusting back in England to the fact that he is the same size as everybody else, where as this idea of being the big man is suddenly taken away from him. In a way he goes from being the big fish in the little pond to the little fish in the big pond.


The flying city of Laputa




Here we come to see Swift's dislike of the modern scientific community. Laputa is a flying city that dominates its regions by flying over and dropping rocks upon them. It seems that two centuries before the Wright Brothers took to the sky Gulliver was speculating on the power of air superiority. Granted, air superiority isn't all that it is made out to be (the Americans seem to be having a lot of trouble bombing ISIS out of existence, and despite having complete control of the air, Hitler was not able to capture Stalingrad), but here Swift is giving a demonstration of its possibilities.


However, it is not the air superiority that he is exploring, but how he views the ridiculousness of scientific enquiry. This is brought out clearly with the guy who has been charged with extracting sunlight from cucumber and the amount of time it would take to actually get any benefit out of it. It sort of reminded me of my method of turning lead into gold through the use of a nuclear reactor.


Swift really didn't like the scientific movement, one that was taking England by storm at the time. These days he would probably fall into the category of the Creation Scientist, the one who is mocked at by the scientific community for their dogmatic belief that humanity was created from clay (though I could argue that that is what evolution is suggesting anyway: it is only giving us a process of how it could have come about). However, scientific research was limited to the upper classes, while many of the middle of lower classes were still satisfied with the explanations given to them by the church.


The thing with the Laputians is that they consider themselves to be wise but through their actions they show themselves to be foolish. In fact as he wanders through their university he cannot help but see some of the stupid experiments that are going on, such as the attempt to mix paints simply through the use of smell (the people doing the research were blind). Mind you, back in those days the scientific movement had come out of what had originally been considered magic – Isaac Newton had a fascination with Alchemy. My belief is that because there was a perception that the scientific movement would challenge the authenticity of the Bible (or one group's interpretation of the Bible) they felt that they needed to relegate it to the realm of the dark arts.


Gulliver farewelling the Houyhnhnms



The land of the Houyhnhnms

While we had a bunch of idiots running around in Laputa, in this place we have a form of idyllic utopia. The Houyhnhnms are actually evolved horses who live in what is effectively an idyllic society. They are wise in their own ways in that they are peaceful and have no understanding of war. One section of this part, were Gulliver is telling them about war, reminded me of a number of other stories where a visitor from an alien planet comes to Earth and is appalled at the fact that we insist on running around and killing each other.



However, the Houyhnhnms are not a perfect race since they subjugate the humans of the region, whom they refer to as yahoos. In fact this is where the term entered the English language (these these days when we hear about Yahoos we automatically think of that internet company have ended up becoming second best to Google). The Yahoos are an uncivilised and barbaric lot, and in a way it seems that the Houyhnhnms want to keep them that way because as long as they remain uneducated they don't pose all that much of a threat.


Gulliver seems to find himself at home here because these creatures live out what was speculated as far back as Plato. We have a communal society that lives at peace, and it is that community that gives them strength. However they are an incredibly racist lot because despite Gulliver being enthralled by their way of life, to them he is nothing more than a sophisticated Yahoo.







Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1378353564
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review 2014-03-16 09:45
Review: Phoenix Island - John Dixon
Phoenix Island - John Dixon

This was a great read, one I finished almost all at one go. It was thoroughly entertaining, an action-packed book with believable characters and conspiracies abound. I can really see why this would be a great adaptation for TV and I eagerly await the sequel!


Some of the plot twists were completely unexpected, and the novel kept me on my toes throughout. It has certain elements quite similar to The Lord of The Flies and it is perhaps one of the best books that I’d recommend to Hunger Games’ fans that won’t read like a replica.


There is of course, no such thing as a perfect book, and I did have an issue with it (emphasis on the singular). However, this is just me being nitpicky and it’s not that prominent as you read.


With well written fight scenes set in an exotic locale and a delicious number of twists and turns along the way, this is an excellent action/adventure book!


*I received a copy of the book via Netgalley. This doesn't affect my opinion of the book.

**Check out my blog for the full review and some awesome extra bits! [LINK]

Source: codenamebookworm.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/phoenix-island-john-dixon
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review 2014-02-20 00:00
Phoenix Island
Phoenix Island - John Dixon Carl is in a lot of trouble. In fact, he’s been in trouble for quite some time, which explains why he has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. The courts have had enough of him and he is being sent to a somewhat secret boot camp island prison called Phoenix Island. He will have to endure there until he turns 18. Carl is also a champion boxer and since he keeps slamming his fists into bullies, and Phoenix Island is run by bullies, I expect Carl will have some trouble there.

Phoenix Island is a mix of tough boot camp, abusive authority figures, really nice kids in the wrong place, and illegal science experiments on humans. Carl, our all-around boyscout, tries to help the weak and gets a few more scars for his efforts. His sidekick, Ross, is always quipping off some reply to the wrong person, which earns him a few more scars. The romantic interest is Octavia, who tries very hard to blend into the background and not draw attention, but things don’t work out that way and she earns a few new scars too.

Eventually, Carl’s physical abilities draw the attention of the Old Man, the guy who runs Phoenix Island. Carl is given a gift, one that enhances his physical prowess. Even more important, the Old Man becomes the caring authority/parental figure in Carl’s life as Carl is given further training in hand-to-hand combat, small arms training, and a taste of the Old Man’s zero tolerance policy for terrorists…….But perhaps the Old Man takes it too far.

I think if I had a lot of angst towards authority figures, I would have enjoyed this book quite a bit more. At first I questioned Carl’s all around good-guy-in-a-bad-situation character, I got use to it and thought he would be an exception. How many kids go through foster homes like crack-laced popcorn and stay boyscouts? But I settled into it. But then we get o the island. Seems like all of the ‘good kids’ are innocent cherubs inadvertently stuck in hell. There’s some bad kids, but they are totally bad, spoiled, rotten – not redeemable. There are definitely black and white (good and evil) characters in this book and not much in between. I count this as the only big flaw for the book because it made things predictable.

That issue aside, I enjoyed this book for the suspense. It was like a mix of The Island and Lord of the Flies. The innocent eventually suspect they are being used for something more (what really goes on in the Chop Shop?) while the baddies start to hold sway (maybe there will be a really exciting hunt?). Still, I kept expecting the innocent to somehow out trick the baddies and win the day. The ending did surprise me. Nice little twist at the end sets it up just right for Book 2.

Narration: Kirby Heyborne did a good job as narrator. He was a believable Carl and he did great bullying voices (and there were lots of bullies). His feminine voices could use a little more work, but each was distinct.
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review 2014-01-28 02:47
Decent action/survival novel
Phoenix Island - John Dixon

John Dixon’s debut novel Phoenix Island is what inspired the television show Intelligence. While I can see that a little in this book, I am having trouble seeing how it inspired a series based on an adult who is a good guy when this was a teen book and the people want to use the chip for bad things. (though the kid is good)

Phoenix Island was packed full of action and suspense right from the very beginning and it never let up. There was something always going on whether you were following Carl or Octavia and you couldn’t help but root for them.


Carl is a fighter and his temper has landed him in trouble everywhere he goes, but he is always trying to help some weaker person. Since he is an orphan and won’t be missed he is sent to Phoenix Island. Carl soon realizes that this is not just a boot camp to straighten out wayward teens, but a place where they are turning kids into killers.

Carl is determined to not make trouble but on the very first day he makes enemies with his drill sergeant and that was the worse thing to do. Drill sergeant Parker is gunning for Carl but he does really good at keeping his temper in check as they go through grueling routines day in and day out, but he has made enemies and will have to watch his back. Parker gives him the one job that turns most of his group against him.

Carl makes a couple friends, Campbell, Ross and Octavia. He really likes Octavia and finds her easy to talk too so when he finds out what this place is really like he wants to find a way to get them off the island. Then Carl’s temper gets the best of him and he gets in a fight that lands him in the sweatbox. He has gained the attention of the man who runs Phoenix Island and is taken to the Chop Shop (med center) to heal and while there he gets a few new inserts in his body. His new body that is filled with chips, but not the master chip at least not yet.


While Carl is with Commander Stark, he trains and feels stronger than ever, but even though he likes being there compared to with the group he still knows what they are trying to turn him into. A killer kid.  Can he get off the island or save his friends?

Carl is a complex character. He is very mature for a sixteen year old but it probably comes from being in the system after his parents died. He is a  natural born fighter, but he has a heart. When others around him are turning to bloodlust and giving in to the routine he is always trying to look out for his friends and those weaker. He is a great  character.


Like I said before the TV show intelligence was based on the concept of the chips from this book, but that is about as far as I would say the similarities are at least to me. I think this book would make an awesome Teen movie and be something different for teens. It is a bit brutal so if that is not your think you might not enjoy this, but I thought it was pretty good.


The only downfall I seen was the ending because I am not sure if there is going to be a sequel or not and it sort of leaves it open for one. I sort of thought I might have had a standalone novel but now I am not sure and I like it when they let me know ahead of time if it’s a series. (update, after the author seen my review he told me there was a sequel to be coming out hopefully towards the end of 2014 called, Devil's Pocket.)


I would recommend this for anyone who likes a good action packed survival type novel.

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review 2014-01-22 06:39
Pretty awesome
Phoenix Island - John Dixon

Actual rating: 3.5

They can shoot me through the bars of this sweatbox or hang me from the flagpole or throw me to the sharks, but they cannot make me cry or beg. I will not show them weakness. I will stay strong. If they kill me, they will remember my strength; I will force them to live with the memory of my strength forever.
And if I live, I will escape from Phoenix Island, and I will tell the world. I will bring these people down.

There is no room for pussies on Phoenix Island.

This book is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies meets Island of Dr. Moreau meets Battle Royale. It's got a bunch of juvenile delinquents, it's got a lot of fighting, a lot of underlying tension that comes with throwing a bunch of kids together. Tthere is a mad scientists doing ungodly things to the human body, battles for survival, duels to the death in a hostile, swampy Florida . This book is not for everyone, I would recommend it to younger men. It is light on the romance, but the existence of romance at all serves to discombobulate me because it truly had no role at all here.

There is a lot of physical violence and a lot of torture. It left me very uncomfortable and in pain for the main character---which surprised me a bit, because I usually love violence and blood and guts. It is the equivalent of seeing your favorite character get beaten to a bloody pulp; you cannot help feeling tormented on their behalf. The violence was spectacularly done, it is bloody, it is painful, and it agonized me as I was reading about it. More than once, I just wanted to jump into the middle of the book and shield the main character from the pain he was experiencing.

The baton crackled, and two needles of energy plunged into Carl’s forearm. Electricity coursed through him and locked his muscles rigid, filling him with sparking, yellow pain. Parker grinned through his anger. “Not bad for the first one.”
The first one...And then the horror of it dawned on him; Parker had no intention of stopping no matter what Carl did. He was going to keep shocking Carl until Carl couldn’t take it anymore.

I wouldn't feel so defensive about the main character if I didn't like him. I absolutely loved Carl. This book does such an amazing job of building up believable, imperfect, sympathetic characters. All of the teenagers in this book are juvenile delinquents, thieves, murderers. The psychological profiles of the kids in this book were spectacularly well done and absolutely believable.

The Summary: Carl is a good kid, who's gotten into one too many fights. Like many juvenile delinquents, it's not entirely his fault, Carl's troubled youth is a matter of circumstance. Some people were born with silver spoons in their mouths, Carl is not one of them. His mother, dead of cancer. His father, a dead policeman. He is an orphan. Nobody cares about him, so Carl cares for others---too much. A champion boxer, Carl has an innate sense of justice that has him beating up bullies, and this last battle is the last straw for him in the juvenile deliquency system. Carl has only one option: Phoenix Island, a juvenile boot camp until he reaches 18, after which his name will be cleared, and he will be free to live out his dream to be a police officer---or a North Carolina jail, to which there will be no escape.

He has no choice, Carl is sent to Phoenix Island with a load of other juvenile delinquents. It soon becomes obvious that they are all orphans.

You are all orphans. Why had they taken only orphans? He thought of the kick he had received, the rough handling of Davis. Here they were, on Phoenix Island, somewhere outside of the United States and its laws.
We’re as dead to the world as our parents, Carl thought. These people can do anything to us.

They are very much outside of US laws. The boot camp is run military-style, but there is an endless routine of beating and torture that would not have been tolerated in an ordinary boot camp. Carl tolerates it just fine. He is in good shape, he just wants to stay under the radar and ride out his time until he is 18 to earn his release, but it is not to be. Amidst the beating, the daily physical and emotional pain, Carl discovers something, a diary that a former inmate has left behind. A diary that hints that there is something more to Phoenix Island than just the boot camp it supposedly is. That Carl's sentence was possibly planned.

That made no sense.
Unless . . .
Odd misgivings warbled through him.
Something weird was going on. Really weird. Bad weird.
The date suggested that whoever wrote this was either psychic or had been planning his placements months in advance...

Nothing comes of his misgivings until the day a particularly sadistic guard decides he wants to play a game of electrocution with Carl's body. Carl is tortured to the point of breaking. Then he snaps. Then all hell breaks loose. Carl thought he was going to die, but that's just the beginning. He meets a strange man; it is yet to be seen whether he is a savior or a madman. Maybe both, depending on the context.

“If Dr. Vispera had been born in London or Detroit, he would no doubt have risen through the ranks of respected physicians and scientists and established himself in more conventional ways. Unfortunately for him—and even less fortunately for his symphony of victims—he was born in place that valued power over science. Sometimes, the only difference between a Nobel Prize winner and a war criminal is geography. Do you understand?”

Like a phoenix, Carl rises, bigger, stronger. Whether his future will be better is yet to be seen.

The Setting: A subtropical, swampy island. Danger lies everywhere. There are bird-eating spiders. There are sharks. There is no escape.

“That jungle will eat you alive. Bad things live out there. Bad, bad things. This fence right here? It’s not to keep you in. It’s to keep them out. You go AWOL here, it’s a death sentence.”

The jungle is even more hostile than the people residing on it.

The Characters: The author does a remarkable job of giving us psychological insights within the minds of the characters in the books. Juvenile delinquents they may be, but simple, they are not. It takes a hard life to create a juvenile offender. It takes a rough upbringing to create a sociopath and a bully, whether adult or child. Teenaged delinquents learn early on to be manipulators, to play the system, to play the people.

Girls like Rice, though, didn’t even think about the outside. They had turned inward, had become truly institutionalized. They didn’t get scared; they got interested. They didn’t look for a way out; they looked for ways to manipulate the system, ways to push buttons. There was no reforming them—and certainly not by shouting.

It offers a tremendous amount of insights into bullies, their enjoyment of inflicting torture.

Decker just kept staring, a terrible amusement playing across his face. It was a cold humor Carl had seen in other bullies. The toughest ones. The ones with real confidence. Counselors and teachers told you bullies were insecure and cowardly, and, sure, some were. But guys like Decker, guys who got that look in their eyes, were neither insecure nor cowardly, and they weren’t just acting out for attention. Guys like Decker were confident and tough and mean to the core, and they hurt people because they liked causing pain.

That is not to say that all of the kids in this book are bad. There are kids who simply were born under a bad sign, the result of a system that failed them. Kids who truly want to do well, but somehow keep ending up in trouble through sheer bad luck. Kids who just want to get better, to start their life over on a clean slate.

Carl is one of the most sympathetic main characters I have encountered in a novel. He is such a good kid, well-meaning at heart, with aspirations to be a future police officer. In a normal family, he might have had a brilliant future. As an orphan, he is shit out of luck. Carl is brave, he stands up for the underdog, he suppresses his pain, he braves things through. He has bad impulses, but he knows better. He feels the urge to do something stupidly brave in the defense of a friend, but he pushes it down, knowing it will get him into trouble, but hating himself for it. He is tortured, he is kind, he is human, and I loved him, for the most part. Carl has such self-awareness.

And all these years, that’s what Carl thought he’d been doing: keeping his promise to his father. Standing up for the weak.
But he’d been fooling himself.
Carl’s historical pattern of self-destruction did point toward a deep personal weakness—all those fights, all those placements, all the trouble he’d gotten himself into here..always a bully, always a victim, always Carl stepping into the middle.
But Carl’s weakness wasn’t his need to help the victims. His weakness was his need to destroy the bullies.
He’d been fighting not out of love but hatred.

Which brings me to where Carl lost my sympathy. And it is so predictable.

The Romance: Yep. Carl pretty much had my eye rolling into the back of my head when he falls into insta-love with the beautiful girl, the sad-looking girl, with gray eyes and a fucking white streak in her hair.She looked frightened and stunned and exhausted, yet still beautiful, with sad-looking eyes the color of wet gravel and long hair as dark as his mother’s had been, though a patch of pure white marked her bangs. White hair. And her, what? Sixteen?For fuck's sakes, give me a fucking break. It is a correctional facitity. A military-style boot camp where kids are duking it out to the death. And you still have the fucking time to make googly eyes at each other and hang out with each other when you are constantly being fucking monitored?

The hints of absolute unnecessary romance and how that insta-love preyed on Carl's mind and make stupid decisions decreased my enjoyment in this book.

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