On Swift Wings by Brett M. Wiens is both a social commentary and a fantasy book. It is modelled on Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift. Swift’s novel was intended to satirise both human nature and the travellers’ tales literary subgenre of the time (Wikipedia). Mr. Wiens’ novel is an updated version set in current times. Instead of setting out on a ship, our protagonist, Cygnus, started off as a flight attendant on an airplane. His plane encountered a massive storm and went down in the South Pacific Ocean. Cygnus was knocked unconscious and by the time he came to, all of the surviving passengers had already departed. Left on his own he fashioned himself a raft out of the buoyant plane seats and set off into the ocean as the aircraft began to sink. This was just the beginning of Cygnus’ first adventure.
In the course of his adventures, Cygnus came across many lands and a variety of people. It is interesting to note his voyages of discovery were in the reverse order of Gulliver’s. The two unintentional adventurers visited all of the same lands. Cygnus began by meeting the Huhuneem, sentient horses, and the less-evolved, human-like beings called Yahoos. Over the course of many years, Cygnus was rescued and resumed his life only to be stranded in a new and strange land again. He encountered Loogenage and Glubdubdrib; two countries that chose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. The first technologically behind and suffering and the second clearly advanced and at peace. He also came across Laputa and Balnibarbi where some interesting changes had occurred since the time of Gulliver. Giants were encountered on Brobadingog, and Cygnus was the giant on Blafusecho, Sinrovia, and Lilliput. Cygnus’ thoughts and reflections on the different societies are recorded in this book.
The descriptions of the unknown lands were very vivid. I can still picture some of the scenes in my mind very clearly, days after completing the book. The beings that were encountered were also described in detail. The reader is able to feel a sense of each society as a whole, as well as get to know some individuals in that land. The level of detail was both something I really liked and something that felt a bit much on a few occasions. That being said, there were other times when things became more fast-paced and I was very anxious to find out what would happen next.
I truly appreciated the writing style of the book. It has its own unique tone and the author’s use of language was skilled and enjoyable. Having Cygnus be Canadian was a nice touch. The impacts of his nationality, nature, current time period and order of his investigations influenced Cygnus’ responses to the varied situations he found himself in. Even with the excellent quality of writing, there were more than ten errors. They were mostly of the double word or missing a letter variety though and not very serious. Furthermore, while most of the book was in excellent detail and well-executed, there were a few loose ends that could have been tidied up. I would like to know more about what became of the other survivors of some of the calamities that befell Cygnus, especially those on Brobadingog. It would also have been nice to have some more detail about why Cygnus spent so much time on the last Island.
I rate On Swift Wings by Brett M. Wiens 3 out of 4 stars. I would happily give this novel a rating of 4 stars once a final edit clears up the last typos and any unresolved issues. You do not need to have read Gulliver’s Travels to enjoy this book. However, it would help in the appreciation of some of the subtle but valuable differences between the two stories. Overall, for me, this story was a pleasure to read. The fantasy aspects were engaging and kept me wanting to find out what would happen next. The social commentary was done with a clear and thoughtful voice. It was easy to follow. I recommend this book to those that enjoy considering the state of the world, societies and how we all fit together. Readers who relish stories of different people in foreign lands will also appreciate the novel. Those that prefer a fast-paced action story and aren’t interested in details might want to give this one a miss, although you never know, it may surprise them!