The print and broadcast media went through their adolescence during a time when the bi-polar world of Cold War dominated the Great Game between world powers. As a result, the espionage genre, which prior to WWII delved into the rich complexities of the Great Game, came to be dominated by the Battle of the Iron Curtain. When the Soviet system imploded on itself, the genre lost its tentpole conflict. The clear-cut fight between Capitalist Pigs and Communist Dogs has faded away, aside from nostalgic period pieces, until the new order (slash disorder?) of Globalists versus Nationalists settles more comfortably into the minds of men. Which leaves us in a historically brief time of great uncertainty where storytellers have resorted to an eclectic mix of stories driven by runaway capitalist billionaires or shadowy Deep State conspiracies.
One such storyteller goes by the nom-du-noir-guerre Neovictorian, and he answers the call by crafting a tale of daring men of action engaged in a shadowy civil war between rival factions of a benevolent Deep Non-State. Sanity follows the career of Cal Anders as agents of the conspiracy scout, then recruit, then actively use him as a pawn in their own great game. “Follows” might not be the right word, though, because the narrative takes a decidedly non-chronological path. The opening scene, in which our hero and an acquaintance, unarmed, stop the sort of ‘workplace shooting’ that we aren’t supposed to discuss in clear and certain terms. From there, Neovictorian takes us backwards and forwards in the life of Cal, always building the suspense and only slowly peeling back the layers of the mysteries at the heart of Cal’s world. The final reveal, the big climax, in which the reader finally learns what Cal deduced long, long ago, arrives not with the noise and thunder of a fight scene or bomb detonating. Instead, the tension of how Cal reacts to his final test pays off with the slow and sensual reveal of the last few moments of an exotic dancer’s last scrap of attire fluttering to the stage floor.
That restraint runs like a thread throughout the entire novel. Neovictorian places a great deal of faith in the reader’s ability to follow not just the erratic timeline, but also his long and convoluted sentences which meander through scenes in a way that feels both natural and immediate. Told from the first person perspective, it often drops into a visceral stream-of-consciousness that sweeps the reader along, establishes Cal’s intellectual bona-fides, and allows a rare peek into the mindset of a natural Alpha.
In a refreshing change of pace from the usual Gamma wish fulfillment, most of the characters in Sanity are Alpha men. They are born leaders, the kind of guy that other men naturally follow and towards which women instinctively gravitate. Told from the internal point-of-view, it makes for a fascinating glimpse into another world for those of us not granted the blessings (and curses!) of Alphahood. Instead of a story filled with moments of doubt and struggle against an internal weakness, what we get is a story filled with moments of sincere confidence and struggle against external threats. Cal is stronger, smarter, and better than most men, and he knows it. When a threat arises, he instantly analyzes and acts to neutralize it. His easy grace under pressure presents scenes that are inspiring in a way that seldom graces the pages of novels in these days of near-slavish devotion to the Hero’s Journey.
More impressive still is the way Neovictorian’s wordcraft implements a tersely sprawling style of wordcraft that comes off as a considerably less pretentious version of Thomas Pynchon. If you enjoy with Nick Cole’s dream-like first-person narratives, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to stop trying to force yourself to understand every beat and every nuance of Neovictorian’s prose. It’s much like listening to a symphony piece where focusing on the individual instruments ruins the experience. Unclench, and just let the rhythm of the piece will flow over you, and the current of Sanity will sweep you along the path of mystery and action to a satisfying conclusion.
If this is a taste of the future of the espionage genre, you can pour me another glass any time.