Synopsis: The United States. 2030. John McDean executive produces “Vigilance,” a reality game show designed to make sure American citizens stay alert to foreign and domestic threats. Shooters are introduced into a “game environment,” and the survivors get a cash prize.
The TV audience is not the only one that’s watching though, and McDean soon finds out what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera.
“The heart of the matter was that, from the beginning, America had always been a nation of fear..”
As I sit here writing this review, the narrative of the world continues to appear bleak. A cavalcade of grim events litter our news headlines steadily. MAGA-hat-wearing teenage boys protesting a woman’s right to choose at the March for Life rally, then infringing upon the personal space of a 64 year old Native American vet, taunting him while he beat on his drum as part of the Ingenious Peoples March, a separate rally that was coincidentally happening at the same time nearby; a certain R&B artist getting back on the charts after a documentary detailing decades of pedophilia & sexual abuse aired (as I’m about to post this, I learned that he was finally dropped by his label); YouTube allowing an accused rapist on the run from Dutch police to post monetized videos, burying the story again & again; the longest partial government shutdown in US history.. the list of real-life headlines goes on. And on.
Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett is fucked up! Truly. It’s Death Race meets The Hunger Games meets The Purge. But even more chilling is just how eerily relevant to current times it is.
“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.
But sometime at the turn of the century that fear had grown. A lot–in tenor, in intensity, in scope. People became afraid of their own government, their own soldiers, their own neighbors, of companies and technology and schools and churches and other nations. There was just so much to worry about.
So what did you do? You bought a fucking gun.”
Vigilance takes place in 2030 America. The idea came about a few years before, after the 514th mass shooting that year. A video of a school shooter was streamed to social media as it was happening. Advertisers were disgusted at first.. worried that their brands would be ruined because of the sponsorship logos that had been thrown into the video all over the internet. But then they realized that the exposure they were getting was unreal. People couldn’t stop watching. We know this feeling. I’m sure at some point we’ve all been there. I found myself falling into that hole as a teenager during 9/11. I made myself sick watching those horrific scenes over & over on every station. It was all that was shown, even here in Canada. If not on tv, then the internet was producing story after story. It was awful. Yet we continued to watch.
There are people who get off on violence, both figuratively & literally. John McDean is one of them. He is the POS producer that puts on Vigilance, a television show that airs active shooters on network tv, optimizing outrage for ad revenue. It’s insanely popular & makes a lot of cash for those involved by exploiting fear. Viewers bet on what location will get shot up, survivors of the shootings can receive a monetary payout.. along with the “bragging” rights that they participated in a mass shooting.
On the opposite end is Delyna, a bartender who has lost hope in America ever changing. Her father was a police officer that was killed by another officer.. because he was a black man holding a gun. She is done with all the violence & fear & especially with Vigilance.
Vigilance is a harrowing satire on an all-too-familiar America. Robert Jackson Bennett has done a brilliant job showing just how meaningful a story like this is. Things have got to change. There has to be hope that they will. There has to be action. Otherwise.. Vigilance isn’t that far off from happening.
(Much thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a copy!)
**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**