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The Terror of a Future America in Vigilance

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Cover of Vigilance
Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

In his latest novel, Vigilance, Robert Jackson Bennett shows us the plausible terror of an America which has utterly given up preventing gun violence and instead embraced it. In this near future sci-fi story, fear of the other has isolated the U.S.A., allowing countries like China to leapfrog ahead in industry, international influence, and eco-friendly technologies. America has instead been left behind, shackled to fossil fuels, and shaking with the final quivers of a dying economy. And with all of that, comes fear.

The point of being American was that you got to own shit. But when you owned shit, you were afraid someone would take it. But you could be brave, and fight back—if you had a gun.

— Robert J. Bennett, Vigilance

What this has spawned is a pseudo-reality show where a marketing firm selects contestants to be active shooters who are dropped into an urban environment and allowed to run wild. While this goes on, algorithmically generated commentators review the footage and discuss how the victims failed in the necessity to be vigilant, either because they lacked firearms, or didn’t have the training to face off against these cold blooded killers.

Both shooters and unwilling contestants are motivated both by self preservation, as well as the promise of a cash reward. It’s the ultimate expression of a paranoid gun owner’s fantasy of fighting off the bad guy with their personal weapon and Bennett makes short work of this flawed philosophy.

Over the course of the book, Bennett examines the the negative impacts of not only gun violence, but also radical nationalism, targeted advertising, and the politics of fear.

It never fails to amuse McDean: his target demographic, his Ideal Person, absolutely worships the Second World War—and yet, when it comes to genuine, actual Nazis at home, they curiously don’t mind so much.

— Robert J. Bennett, Vigilance

Vigilance pulls no punches and Bennett’s prose speeds along on a wave of fury as he paints a clear picture of the logical endgame of our current “thoughts and prayers” response to mass shootings combined with the rise of nationalism within the U.S.A. over the last few years.

It’s not a subtle book, but rather a much needed polemic of outstanding quality. It’s a cry for sanity in the face of the horrors that are all too quickly becoming the “new normal”. And for that reason alone it should be required reading.