“Hello, boys”, he says jovially. “Who's ready to kill some motherfuckers?”
by robert jackson bennett
“Rifles are for people who are going out to do shooting. But a man carrying a pistol—he’s worried about getting shot at.”―
robert jackson bennett, vigilance
Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance is a dark science fiction action parable from an America that has permanently surrendered to gun violence.
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.
It is a terrible and wondrous thing to be so stunned by a story you lose your ability to use words. This story literally stunned me into silence. The only response I could muster for the first day was, “That was fucked.”
“Hello, boys”, he says jovially. “Who’s ready to kill some motherfuckers?”
The control room explodes with whoops and claps. McDean strides in and gets ready to start the show.”
I’ll tell you why. I am from Las Vegas, Nevada. Born and bred. On October 1st of 2017, my hometown was visited by the worst act of mass gun violence in US history. I watched the news in horror as people ran for cover. I searched the videos streaming on youtube with tears streaming down my face looking for people I knew. I looking for my family. Thankfully none of my family and friends were involved in the shooting, but only just. I know lots of people who work in the hotels. On December 11th of 2012, the Clackamas Town Center mall was riddled with holes as a single gunman went in and shot shoppers. At the time of the shooting, I lived 800 feet from the entrance of the mall. My husband was home during the shooting, although he didn’t hear anything and oddly enough I was in Las Vegas at the time. But, I was having lunch in the food court, exactly where the gunman shot people, 1-week prior. I was not directly involved in that shooting, but for a month I saw the masses of flowers and teddy bears laid out on the Clackamas sign. People died 800 feet from my home.
I am an American, and my life has been touched by gun violence if only by proximity to it and that is the point when it comes to this story. Gun violence by proximity. Most of the story is about people watching gun violence take place elsewhere. It is over there, in that mall with people you don’t know. Viewers eyes are glued to the screen, and they wonder what is going to happen. They armchair quarterback what the victims would do or not do. It is chilling and so very real. John McDean’s job in this story is to ask, “how do we get more people watching?” “How do we manage this and cause these scenarios to happen?” We create Fear. America is a nation of Fear. Let’s feed that! He produces scenarios where Americans worst fears are played out for the masses in an engorged “Bread and Circuses” scenario. It is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself like an ouroboros and Bennett created the perfect story around that idea.
Mcdean is disgusting, he is immoral, and not too far from how the media handles these things right now. I have never been disgusted by a character as much as I was with him. In 10 years, maybe 20 who knows perhaps we will have a Running Man by Stephen King or a Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett television show on our hands. Or, maybe books like this will help us wise up and see what we are doing to ourselves. I don’t know, but I can hope. Read this. Read it if you are American, read it if you are not. Just read it. It is worthy of your time and money.
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Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter