the Little Red Reviewer

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

Posted on: February 26, 2019

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Jan 31 2019

where I got it: purchased new












My reaction to this book was not subtle.



Like most of his recent work, Vigilance isn’t about what it’s about.  This is not a story about a waitress with a bar full of privileged idiots.  This is not a story about a reality TV executive producer who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.  This is not a story about guns. The story and the characters are just the oil glistening on the surface.


Although never explicitly mentioned, This is a story about the psychology of fear, and how easy it would be for a media company to make a killing by monetizing fear. This is a story about info-tainment, and how media and advertisers view consumers.


Remember when the pharma companies literally came in their pants with how much money they made off of Viagra? (and in related news)   In Vigilance, it’s the media and marketing companies that are making a fortune off keeping the viewing public in a constant state of flight or flight, a constant state of heightened anxiety, a peak moment when we are least likely to make rational decisions.  And speaking of Viagra, there is the whole “ideal customer” aspect of the book, which either shouldn’t be funny but is, or should be laugh out loud but isn’t. . .  i’m still not sure which.


Ever been to a reality TV show watching party?  It’s fun to watch Survivor with your friends, it’s fun to watch The Bachelor with your friends, it’s fun to watch the Oscar’s Red Carpet show with your friends. We do it because it’s fun. We do it beause we want to see who gets voted off the island, who does or says something idiotic, we do it because we want to talk to our friends about what everyone is wearing. It’s fun to check the feeds online while watching, so that you can feel like the whole world is at your watching party.  It’s fun, right?


We enjoy unscripted reality tv because it’s unscripted. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. And deep down, we’d love to be on that show. Reality TV can be a safe place to be the hero of  your own story, to get positive attention, to have people clap for you.


(there’s a Come on Down! You’re the next contestant on! Joke in here somewhere, right?)


Vigilance is America’s new favorite reality TV show.  Episodes only run every few months, the contestants and the location is kept a secret until the moment the episode begins.  As soon as the online rumors begin of an imminent episode of Vigilance, the social media streams can’t seem to talk about anything but the possible locations for the upcoming episode.

In this near-future America, because of things, nearly everyone has an open carry license. Better safe than dead, and you never know when you’ll need to protect yourself from a threat.  No pistol on your hip? What kind of shitty parent doesn’t protect their kids? No protection? Are you asking to be shot?


Will the next episode of Vigilance be in a shopping mall?  An amusement park? A county fairground? A beachside resort?


The producer is bored of shopping malls, but the public seems to love them.  I remember some video game where I got to kill zombies in a shopping mall. We like malls. We feel safe there.


Here’s how the tv show Vigilance works:   Contestants are culled from the darkest most violent corners of the interwebs. Each contestant can spend a limited number of points on different weapons and/or body armor.  They are then let loose in a public place. The public, who is in that place, has no idea they’ve been locked in with killers until the screaming starts. Winners are anyone who walks out alive. Prizes are in the millions of dollars.  Advertising is carefully planned to engage the target audience.


Any building you walk into at anytime could be a location for Vigilance, and the episode could start any moment.  Don’t you want the chance to walk away with a few million dollars? All you need is a gun.  The cost of admission is constant vigilance. Vigilance is Running Man meets The Purge.


As the executive producer has his social media machine spun up to make sure every influencer is talking about Vigilance and their brand partners (you have influencers in your  social media feeds, even if you don’t think you do), the people who love the show don’t even realize they aren’t the target audience. The people being gunned down in the episode that’s happening right now? Not the target audience, not the “ideal customer”.


Although it may be entertaining,  TV in general isn’t about entertaining you.  Reality TV isn’t about the rose ceremony, or what a particular Kardashian has on her salad.  It is about brand placement, advertising, the resort franchise the show is filmed at, and that you (yes you!) can afford that lipstick to be just as amazing as your favorite K sister.  Television is about selling ad space, it’s about convincing you to spend money.  The TV show you’re enjoying is just the icing.


Underneath the characters and the plot and the raw power, this book is about the design behind reality tv, it’s a pop-up class on the connection between target audiences and advertising sales, it’s a Cory Doctorow-esque take down of the trust we put in social media, and it’s about what happens when a society is pushed towards a constant state of fight or flight.


Bennett’s Vigilance is a case study on the psychology of fear and how easy it is to control the fearful, how easy it is to nearly hypnotize a fearful public.   This book is a conversation starter. Read it, be part of the conversation.


At novella length, you can easily read this in one afternoon. I don’t recommend reading it right before bed. I do recommend having a unicorn chaser handy afterwards.  Novella is the perfect length, as I don’t know if I could handle many hundreds of pages of this kind of intensity, and holy shit is this book intense!


Will this be your first Robert Jackson Bennett?  Welcome! I promise his other books aren’t as fucked up as this one.


9 Responses to "Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett"

Great review! I’ve seen others rave about it but your review has such great extra detail. Thank you for this! Just makes me want to buy it more.


thanks! i like writing in depth reviews, talking about the stuff underneath the story. I hope I didn’t spoil anything for you.

oh, for what it’s worth, my local bookstore had a hard time ordering a print copy of this, the supply warehouse was out of stock for like a week after the book released. So don’t freak if you order a print copy and it takes a while to come in!

Liked by 1 person

This sounds right up my street – great review, thanks!


if you get a chance to read this novella, i’d love to hear your thoughts!


This sounds like exactly the sort of book I shouldn’t read because it will tap into all the things that upset me, particularly if it’s as psychological as it sounds. This is such a vivid and excellent review, thank you!


it was a super freaky book to read. I wanted to put it down, beacuse it was absolutely disturbing, but I couldn’t, because it was so compelling! Reading this book was like watching a slo-mo train wreck.


Oh my goodness …
Yes, yes, yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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