by Ian Beck
Cover Artist: Paul Young
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781599900407
Date: 29 September 2009 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The year is 2050. After the great financial apocalypse, Buckland Corporation built a sky dome, hundreds of feet tall, over London. The city was converted into a theme park designated as Pastworld. Wealthy visitors known as Gawkers travel there to watch its citizens live in the recreated Victorian squalor of the 1800s. It is a primitive world where visitors hope to satisfy their perverse, morbid curiosities by witnessing hangings, amputations and brutal murders, especially murders committed by the Fantom.
The Fantom is a mysterious, black caped figure who disembowels and dismembers his victims. He escapes his pursuers by leaping from tall buildings. He controls the ragged men, an army of street beggars and thieves. He searches for a young girl named Eve who, until recently, believed she was actually living in Victorian London, unaware of a modern world existing outside the domed city. A young visitor, Caleb Brown, is framed by one of the ragged men for murder. With the help of Eve and her circus friends, he tries to escape the hangman's noose as well as escape the clutches of the Fantom.
Dorothy traveled to the Land of Oz, experienced numerous adventures, some of them heartwarming and some of them horrifying, and eventually said, "There's no place like home." When will people learn that happiness can be experienced at home with family and friends? Dreams of traveling to other worlds, whether they exist in the past or the future, can turn into nightmares. This idea has been expressed before in Michael Crichton's Westworld and Richard T. Heffron's Futureworld where lifelike androids provide entertainment for wealthy patrons; unfortunately, something goes amiss in these theme parks and there are horrifying consequences.
Ian Beck's superb science fiction horror novel Pastworld is a youth-oriented version of Westworld and Futureworld. The central characters are young people, Eve, Caleb, Jago and Bible J, who are all approximately seventeen. They are trapped in Victorian London, victims of a simulated, artificial world controlled by computers. Because Pastworld is covered by a dome, I had fond memories of the classic Logan's Run, which also involves trapped citizens who endeavor to escape a city of domes.
Pastworld is one of the most bizarre, intriguing novels I've read for young adults. Though it is primarily a science fiction horror novel, it has strong elements of mystery and romance. Fast paced and gripping, it raises a lot of moral and ethical questions concerning what vacationers deem as entertainment. Is it moral to keep humans trapped in a world without the modern, technological advances of transportation, education and medicine? Pastworld reminds me of a zoo where visitors goggle and stare at the misfortunes of others. Similarly, many people today enjoy traveling to third world countries where they satisfy a morbid curiosity by watching the suffering of the impoverished.
I grew up enjoying the Hammer horror films that were popular in the sixties and seventies, especially the ones with Gothic settings of foggy London during the 1800s. Frankenstein, Dracula, Jack the Ripper, and other supernatural creatures haunted these films. Therefore, I was compelled to read Pastworld. In a way, I am as guilty as the wealthy visitors who pay to visit this theme park. One of the characters, the Fantom, especially intrigued me since he was dismembering his victims like Jack the Ripper. Other mysterious characters of interest were the beautiful, tightrope walking Eve, the thieving street urchin Bible J, and Caleb Brown, the wealthy young lad who is framed for murder and whose father has been abducted by the Fantom. Who (or what) is the Fantom? That is the mysterious question that compelled me to keep reading.
Pastworld is highly recommended reading for all science fiction horror fans ages thirteen and above. With its many hidden dangers, Pastworld is one theme park I do not wish to visit. I'm quite happy living in the year 2009. I'll find happiness with my friends and relatives in the present. Perhaps I'll visit Walt Disney World. At least I don't have to worry about the exhibits eating me (Jurassic Park), shooting me in a gunfight (Westworld) or replacing me with an android (Futureworld).