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  • Writer's pictureRJ Smith

Dissident Reviews #4: Sanity by Neovictorian

I wasn’t planning on uploading my next review for a while. Then I opened Sanity by Neovictorian and realised I had stumbled upon something special.


Cal Adler is a young man with the world at his feet. Having skipped a grade in high school and graduated valedictorian, a gilded path from the Ivy League to Silicon Valley or Wall Street is laid out before him.

But none of it interests Cal. “What I really want to do is go to Mars!” he confides in an eccentric teacher one day. Happily for Adler, his teacher is a member of a mysterious organisation which aims to colonize outer-space, or if that is impossible, to make earth as habitable as possible in the face of pervasive insanity. Cal is drawn into parallel worlds within parallel worlds. Streams of alternate realities begin to collide, leaving him to wonder how it all fits together.

Cal’s work with the shadowy group he calls the Outfit is thrown off course by the sudden killing of his best friend by an Islamic terrorist in a mall in San Jose, which unfolds near the beginning of the book. The shooter has links to hostile elements among American academia, sending Cal with his band of mavericks on a quest from the Nevadan desert to the ice caps of Alaska to neutralise the threat.


This book is difficult to classify. The influence of science fiction is unmistakable, but the fact that this is not a work of pure sci-fi is in my opinion one of the novel’s great strengths. We have the sense of possibility—of what if?—of the genre, without entering a world unrecognisable to our own. In the best tradition of the New Wave of the 1960s, Neovictorian’s book is set in the next five minutes.

Sanity is breathless, primal, decadent. The author mixes souls, planets and sands from the Mojave Desert into a synthetic future cocktail injected straight into the mainline.

the sounds die and disappear, first the wind, then the car that just passed my house, the tiniest whisper of the city, my heartbeat that sounds like wind in my ears, the sound of my cells burning fuel.

If someone recommended a book to me that is non-linear, written in a sprawling, meandering style that counts electronic jihad and space travel among its themes, I would tell them I’m not interested. Yet Neovictorian’s book, which has all these elements, had me captivated from beginning to end. Sanity has style, skill and subversion. Imagination and humour. What more could you want?


One of the touching ironies of the book is the fact that a work of this quality is (whether or not by choice) self-published, yet another reminder of the sorry state of contemporary publishing. Neovictorian’s skill in rendering this ambitious and electrifying work in many ways resembles the scientific prowess of his novel’s hero. Some men—despite their abilities—are condemned to the backwaters, side-lined by the cosy intellectual stupor that characterises declining empires.

But there is a hopeful element here too. Just as Cal and his comrades forever arm themselves against systems ruled by insanity, like saplings springing through a cold gravel road, so too new life appears in the moribund world of fiction. Eventually, sanity prevails. Sanity is the proof.

About Dissident Reviews:

In this series, I plan to review—in a spirit of objectivity and constructive criticism—“dissident” works, by which I mean works establishment publishing houses would overlook for ideological reasons. My motivations for doing so are to:

  • discover works from outside the mainstream, which I consider politicised and uninteresting;

  • network with like-minded writers;

  • promote work I consider good and offer what I hope will be useful critiques for that I think could be better; and

  • promote my own work.

About me:

I am an Australian writer living in France. I am in the process of publishing a three-novel series—the first of which is available here—and have had non-fiction published in Quadrant and Quillette magazines and The Australian newspaper.

Authors are welcome to use quotes from these reviews (with attribution). If you would like me to review your book please get in touch via my Twitter page.



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