Snap Back to Reality

A couple years ago I did something rather dangerous and reviewed a novel written by an e-friend, Neovictorian’s Sanity. Fortunately, the novel was in fact enjoyable and genuinely interesting. Shortly after publishing Sanity, Neovictorian announced that he was working on a sequel, Reality, and I was, for the first time since high school, looking forward to a new novel by a living author. Amazing! Being swamped by schoolwork and wedding planning kept me from starting and finishing the book until recently, well after its January 2020 release date, but so it goes.

Was it worth the wait? Mostly, yes. The short version of this review is that if you enjoyed Sanity (and yes, you need to read that first), then you’ll also enjoy Reality. If you didn’t, you won’t.

Like SanityReality starts off with a bang:

Sometimes it helps if you don’t have too much imagination.

I’m starting to put pressure on the seatbelt buckle, to snap it into its slot, looking down to find the right angle when in my peripheral vision the reflection off the car hood changes, the orb of the sun cut into by a shadow that shouldn’t be coming from that direction and I let go the buckle and begin to drop right, across the seat and there’s a burst of light and sound over my head and a shower of glass across my back and legs but I ignore it and get down, down, flatten the right side of my face into the leather bench seat.

It still has that new car smell.

I reach with my left hand and pull the passenger door handle toward me, give the door a shove and launch out behind it, pulling on the edge of the seat with my right hand and using knees and chest muscles and everything and anything to get some velocity out the door. There’s another big sound, different because the windshield is already shattered and a gentle rain of safety glass pebbles falls on the back of my head but I don’t care. I make it mostly out, elbows on the asphalt and the rebounding door hits my legs but I just keep pulling and twisting toward the front of the car to get a visual, my legs finally clear and hit the ground. Between the front tires I see a pair of black boots and dark pants 12 or 15 yards away and I squirm to get some clearance for my right hip, get a good grip on the butt of the .45 and another shot comes, the deep throaty boom of a 12-gauge. I smoothly draw, I’ve practiced from this position and every position get a two-hand grip a flash sight picture on the left boot and send one, the sound is enormous in the confined space under the car, a wave of dust and heat bounces off the pavement rushing away from me and when it dissipates a second later I see the legs of the shooter collapsing, a dark figure tumbling toward me and the shotgun clatters and bounces, sliding along the asphalt and the figure’s chest hits the ground right into my sight picture and I send the second one smoothly, pressing the trigger so gently I can feel the perfect location of it, just ahead of the first knuckle.

It’s a solid way to start a novel, immediately drawing us into the action and telling us something about our protagonist in how he handles the situation. We then jump back a year and start on the main story, not returning to this scene until much later. Again like in Sanity, Neovictorian goes back-and-forth chronologically a lot. This is a daredevil’s technique, since it could easily lead to a story that’s impossible to follow, but the author is smart about how he handles it. First, though there is a lot of back-and-forth, the scenes from one chapter to the next tend to be related, and scenes tend to be completed within a handful of chapters of where they begin, so you won’t forget major events and characters due to constant scene changes. Also, the book is fairly short at 193 pages, so there isn’t too much to keep track of.

Another technique to keep the reader oriented is that, when juxtaposed chapters aren’t close chronologically, they are related thematically or in the characters involved. For instance, the book climaxes with the assassination of a notorious wealthy paedophile, and one character involved in the operation is Maureen. Near and among these chapters of the action are snippets of her meeting with Cal some time prior, so we’re essentially meeting and learning about this character while we build toward the climax involving her.

As an aside, some may accuse the book of wish fulfillment because of the nature of that climactic operation, among other things, but we let that pass since it’s fun wish fulfillment and, frankly, not that egregious anyway.

Neovictorian excels at action scenes, but some of the dialogue between Cal and friend colleague Jack are also enjoyable in a “guys being guys” way. The more philosophical discussions are a bit tedious at times, but considering that he lists the insufferable Ayn Rand as an inspiration it’s not too bad at all. The excerpts from the Rehumanist Manifesto and science ficiton story Heights are also fine additions, giving some insight into the philosophy of the characters - and, to some extent, Neovictorian himself. It’s comparable to Mishima Yukio’s use of such excerpts in Runaway Horses.

Now, though I can easily recommend Reality to anyone who enjoyed the prequel, there are a couple problems with it. One of these is due to an operation that begins early in the book to investigate an old German castle. During the op, Cal is seemingly betrayed and taken by his supposed allies to a room for interrogation; he breaks free only to learn that the whole thing was basically an epic prank, bro. It was an exciting episode up until that reveal, and though I suppose it tells us something about these characters, this just being them hazing the new guy means that a huge part of the novel is mostly pointless. I found it so annoying that I actually lost motivation to continue for a while, and went a couple weeks before I picked the novel back up.

The second problem is that this book is, well, lewd.

Yeah, Sanity had its sex scenes and some titillation is par for the course for pulps and their progeny. Not only is there a lot of it here, though, but it’s more explicitly described than needed, enough so that I’d advise anyone struggling with lust to avoid the book as a near occasion of sin.

Setting that aside, what about the themes and message? Sanity was stuffed with Reactionary gang signs and messaging, and the same is true of Reality. Neovictorian continues to wink at the audience here-and-there, though I didn’t notice as many references here. Either he didn’t use quite as many or my power level isn’t high enough to see them.

As for what sort of message we can take, remember that the novelist’s first goal is to write a good novel. It’s more than enough to have a successful work of fiction with a broadly Right-wing flavour, and a novelist should never go full Ayn Rand, or even a quarter Ayn Rand. The simplest takeaway is the necessity of organising with like-minded people, and taking actions that will have a broad effect. For the final operation, for instance, Cal, Jack, and Maureen choose their target not just because he’s a terrible person, but because the effect would be wide-ranging and, critically, they’d be able to control the narrative around the event.

So, if you’re wanting to make the world or at least your part of it a better place, choose your actions carefully. Don’t go out and assassinate someone - if you’re getting the idea of that from a novel you probably aren’t the guy to do it! Rather, consider carefully what your and your friends’ abilities are, whether your action is likely to succeed, and whether you can control the narrative around it (if applicable, say if you’re considering a protest).

There is more going on than that, but I think this should serve well enough as a preview. If you’re interested and aren’t easily scandalised, by all means check out Reality. It’s more hit-and-miss than Sanity, but as far as I’m concerned Neovictorian is still batting 1.000 on his novels, and I’ll certainly buy his third whenever that comes out.