Americans’ addictions to guns, sports, and TV converge in a grim near future in this darkly satirical novel.
Having completed his extraplanetary Divine Cities trilogy, Bennett (Foundryside, 2018, etc.) steers into territory that’s more Stephen King than Isaac Asimov. The year is 2030, and John McDean is making ratings gold of a reality TV show in which shooters wreak havoc on civilian populations, with the survivors—never many—winning fat purses. McDean, cynical, is just right for the job as executive producer; no one is safe as long as the money flows. Told that shooting up a skating rink isn’t making the numbers, McDean growls, “I thought it was middle school game night!” And never mind the shopping mall, which has been done again and again. McDean is constantly on the search for the Platonic viewer, the Ideal Person, the John Waynes of the world who turn out to be “a far cry from what service has been for two decades now, all technicians huddled around tiny glowing screens as they pilot incomprehensibly lethal robots through the stratosphere.” The ordinary Joes and Janes who make up the audience for Vigilance are scared to death, armed to the teeth, jumpy and jittery, and ready to accept the show’s promise that mayhem is about to descend upon them at any moment. So it does, to the disgust of Delyna, who works in a gritty urban bar and is about the only character in the story who recoils whenever the show is on. As a result, she’s about the only one with a level head, which comes in handy when, as McDean learns, the whole show turns out to be a nicely calculated way to bring a divided, stupid, retrogressive America to its knees without any outsider’s ever having to fire a shot. The satire is barn-door broad, the shots scattered, but Bennett has the trend lines just right, and even if his targets are sometimes too obvious, he can write up a storm.
Turn off the tube and read a book—this book in particular, which promises trouble if you don’t.