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A literary landmark in the war on woke


Hell Isn’t Other People – It’s You! by Simon Rowat, independently published, £9.99 

A FAMILY are on the run from mysterious human-alien hybrids, the Callers, in a post-internet world where the presence of aliens is rumoured rather than reported. These hybrids hide their alien gifts, except to intimidate their targets.

The internet’s crash and the alien rumours are surely connected – but how? Why is this family central?

Simon Rowat has delivered a comic sci-fi mystery novel, a Gothic horror, a Christian allegory and an anti-woke satire in a mix of styles. I was reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, Philip K Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth, and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Rowat’s woke world takes a direction I would not have imagined. The internet has crashed. I would think the woke would be undermined, having lost their online echo chambers, censorship and surveillance. But in Rowat’s novel, internet influencers become real-world influencers.

In many ways, this woke world is more frightening as the woke take their bullying and influencing to local communities.

New-fashioned followers become old-fashioned cultists, partying with their favourite influencer in his mansion, living in the housing and frequenting the public spaces he provides.

The narrative opportunities are old-fashioned in that the protagonists must coincide in the real-world. Influence is by posters, leaflets, protests and lectures. Few cars are on the streets. The only air travel is by influencers. Police and politicians are absent. The news media are not trusted.

Meanwhile, gamers get their fix on a local intranet, hundreds at a time. The anti-woke take refuge in an abandoned shopping mall, claiming to be artists and security guards. They pretend to be sculpting a Tower of Babylon, but are actually trying to re-establish an internet with the virtues but not the vices.

In the absence of the internet, the thought-policing becomes intimate. A mantra goes around about ‘nurturing amity and defeating animus’. The last thing anyone wants is to be put on the ‘Register of Animus Recalcitrants’. Recalcitrants become the targets of ‘hating in the name of justice’.

Most of the action takes place in a hospital and a university, where any misplaced word to an individual could be misinterpreted as an insult to a group. A doctor accuses a friendly nurse of ableism for telling a patient on crutches to hop. A professor is dragged on stage to atone for using the words ‘bingo’ and ‘jackpot’ in front of a student who retrospectively claims to be a gambling addict.

The spaces are patrolled by self-appointed woke soldiers, such that white or male students walk with their heads down, and take the ‘long cut’ (indicated by white arrows on the walls), lest they be misinterpreted as exercising their privilege.

Yet the heroes increasingly turn wokeism to their advantage. When one of the children, cloistered from developments while on the run, tells the woke doctor that he seems to be speaking a different language, he apologises for offending her with his speech. She interlopes on an amity circle, which ‘hates the very idea of exclusion’. In the university, her brother pretends a fear of sharp objects in order to refuse a pin atoning for his whiteness.

Christianity is unfashionable in the backstory, but re-emerges in opposition to wokeism. The heroine recalls a cross that her daughter threw away. The heroine had justified it as a reminder ‘that some ideas create cohesion’. Her daughter replies: ‘it’s a stinking poo that blinds us!’ Yet the same daughter asks for a candle for comfort in the woke hospital.

A later female character lights candles on the sidewalk, which provokes militants to complain about ‘how exclusionary your religious symbols are’. She explains she is lighting them for friends, but the militants consider that exclusionary too.

The Callers might be interpreted as angels. They are observed only as satellites. Their dominant message is a desire to help, but they do not explain themselves or warn of unintended consequences.

The style starts conventional but becomes increasingly colloquial and playful. The colloquialism is sometimes foul-mouthed, so be prepared for that, but these characters have a lot to deal with.

The dialogue mixes stress with comic word play. In the midst of a crisis, the heroine tells one child to stop pushing the other child’s buttons, and tells the other child to stop having so many buttons.

The dialogue is outweighed by self-talk, which is unconventional these days. It’s risky: attention spans have shortened. But Rowat writes self-talk with realistic pace and egocentrism. Therein, he inserts double entendres, such as one character’s concern to be a good host to a mysterious character, and another character’s worry that they are hosts to a parasite.

Rowat wields entertaining metaphors too. For instance, a garish wallpaper ‘takes a scalpel to the retina’. A super-dog growls ‘as if gurgling wet cement at the back of the throat and blaming us for having given it the indigestion’.

Initially, only the heroine speaks in the first person. Soon a mysterious voice appears, also in the first person, speaking from earth’s orbit, commenting for our benefit on what can be seen below. This character is not just an interesting additional voice: he eventually has another go on earth, fundamental to the resolution – but I don’t want to give away too much.

Eventually, all the heroes are telling their stories in the first person. It’s an interesting way to draw us in.

In style and substance, this is an unforgettable novel, and testimony again to the intellectual and artistic superiority of anti-woke literature.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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