Publicity for John Dixon’s new Phoenix Island points out the novel is the alleged inspiration and apparent prequel for the CBS hit, Intelligence. However, fans of producer Michael Seitzman’s espionage-oriented drama are going to see few parallels.
For one matter, television’s United States Cyber Command super-agent Gabriel Vaughn (played by Josh Holloway) has a microchip implanted in his brain that allows him to access the global information grid. In Phoenix Island, the main character, Carl Freeman, doesn’t get his chip implant until the final pages and it has nothing to do with high-tech access, but rather good old-fashioned pumped-up physical abilities. Those chips are the only devices that are any obvious commonality between the TV drama and the novel.
The setting of Phoenix Island, likewise, is far from high-tech. The island is a remote prison camp for convicted teenagers who are all, strangely, orphans who wouldn’t be missed if anything should happen to them. With echoes of Lord of the Flies and Scared Straight, repressive prison guards brutalize newcomers who are told there’s no hope of escape as the forests surrounding the camp are full of vicious boars and the sea beyond is home to sharks. The drill sergeants are one source of torment, but so too are most of the other inmates fighting each other for supremacy and power.
Clearly, “Freeman” is a charactonym as, from the moment Carl arrives at the encampment, the guards, especially the excessively violent Parker, pointedly repeat their goal is to quash all individuality. Parker wants to accomplish all this “before the old man arrives.” “The old man” turns out to be Commander Stark, a megalomaniac with a specific agenda in mind for Carl.
Phoenix Island has been described as being acceptable as a YA story, and that easily makes sense. The novel is something of a parable with Freeman being the archetypical individualist who refuses to bend or break other than to aid the few friends he makes. It’s clear the novel is the first of a series as the surprising ending sets us up for the next step in Stark’s plans which, unlikely as it seems, might also set the stage for what we see in Intelligence.
So forget about Gabriel Vaughn should you pick up a copy of the very readable Phoenix Island. It’s a fast-paced read on its own terms, gritty, grim, sometimes unrelenting, but always with an underlying theme of hope. Odds are, you’ll want to see what happens next in the duels brewed up in Phoenix Island. I’m curious to see what the sequel to the prequel will be.