Necro Publications, 328 pages
Horror, in my opinion, takes itself too seriously.
In the non-stop, adrenaline-pounding quest to put readers on edge, the genre often fails to move beyond its time-honored tropes around death and has too easily become a dumping ground for a collective unconscious obsessed with trashy plots, shitty characters, and mindless carnage. We all know that terrorizing ghosts, vampire serial killers, and flesh-eating zombies aren’t real, right? Yet we flock to horror as if it offers us genuine escape, when in fact everyday life provides even the average, half-comatose citizen an endless supply of frighteningly real drama.
Toxic environments. New diseases. Over-population. Scarce resources. Explosive poverty. The destruction of our planet through our own unflinching and unreflective economic activities, and devices, seems to place us on a hell-bent course we dare not alter, only amplify, thanks in part to ever-evolving technology and a social media infrastructure that has slithered into our hands, hearts and minds — not to save us from ourselves — but to expedite our demise through an endless buzz of annoying voices clamoring for our attention with an addictive swipe.
Falsehoods and distractions have begun to erode our capacity to even approach our own extinction critically. It’s the stuff of genuine horror, all right, and that’s why the truth about how stupid our world is, is why I was so glad to read Lucy Leitner’s Outrage Level 10. In the tradition of Voltaire, Celine, Twain, and Vonnegut, Leitner’s satirical horror story thoughtfully explores a human condition fraught with violence, but also fortified with truckloads of humor, as it traces the folly of people: specifically, The People — the perpetually judgmental, partially informed, over-reactive mob of the future.
Letiner’s second novel is set mid-century after The People’s Revolution has won, heralding a golden age for civilization in which silly wars for profit have ceased and the human lifespan has been extended through science. Social justice is no longer a pipe dream, but a realization achieved through omnivices (phones) and an app called Chatter (Twitter on steroids) that allows The People to act in real time as witnesses, judge, and jury against any citizen whose missteps leads to enough outrage that warrants a trial and sentence to the mysterious Maze, to which many are banished but from which none return.
In other words, society has traded the bureaucracy of law enforcement and the legal system for a nationalized gossip chain through which justice is swiftly served. This triumph of social networking, however, has unraveled into a failed experiment in social engineering, or so claim society’s few remaining loud-mouthed outcasts. Enter Alex Malone, a former hockey star for the Pittsburg Penguins whose game-time brawling and off-the-rink drinking and drugging has inflicted enough brain damage to force him, after hockey has been outlawed, to become society’s lowest form of life, a cop. And while organ transplants have transformed countless geriatrics into bionic Olympians in this near-future paradise, mastering the decay of the human brain has been less successful.
Luckily for Malone, the pounding headaches that have set him on a suicidal track are reversed after he is administered an experimental drug that not only alleviates his mental agony, but improves his cognition and provides him with new memories. Unfortunately, they are not his own. These vivid hallucinatory ‘recollections’ of murders he’s sure he’s never committed sets Malone in pursuit of those responsible, leading him to the top of the social hierarchy and into the heart of the Revolution and its perpetuators.
Some on the Left will view this book as a triumph of their egalitarian ideals. Some on the Right will argue it is a repudiation of political correctness and cancel culture. I’d say Leitner is an equal-opportunity dissenter, providing room in her story for a racist bar patron to get the beating he deserves, while making sure The Biden Natural Aging Center plays an amusing part in the plot, too.
Outrage Level 10 is not about whether or not you should eat avocado toast for breakfast. It is a little about whether or not you should broadcast to the world that you are eating avocado toast for breakfast. It is a lot about the long-term implications of the end of privacy and the power of social media to dominate our lives in an unprecedented way.
A funny and important novel.
Ryan Hyatt, March 13, 2021