reviews from the archive – HellSans by Ever Dundas

Publisher: Angry Robot

Release: October 11, 2022

Categories: Dystopia, Suspense, Science-Fiction, Social Commentary, Political Overtones

The Premise: The government has designed a typeface that appears everywhere and fills the People with euphoric bliss. It’s called HellSans and it keeps people under a kind of control. Those that are allergic to it fall apart in horrific ways if untreated and secured from the typeface. They are also considered scum and kept separate from “normal” society. These slums are terrible in their own rights but are made worse by regular raids. There’s also the Company, which manufactures a variety of helpful machines that connect with their owners and direct them to the best lifestyle. As you may have guessed, these conveniences are also a form of control governed by others playing the People like puppets. HellSans tells the story of two women in different roles of power in this presented dystopia. One is the CEO of the Company, Jane Ward. The other is an incredible scientist looking to develop a cure for the allergy, Dr. Icho Smith. The story is divided into three parts, the first two being interchangeable; you can either read Jane’s side first or Icho’s. Either way, they will meet for Part Three and its terrifying finale.

The Review: HellSans is unlike anything I’ve ever read. That alone warrants its recommendation, especially if you’re new to dystopian fiction—this would be a great starting point. Throughout, HellSans will anger and horrify you with the way it treats deviants and society at large. The control and surveillance of the Government over its people is sickening and all too plausible. Right from the start, you’re thrust into this world with little explanation, which is appropriate in some sense—both Icho and Jane are quickly thrown into chaos at the start of their stories, placing the reader in a similar disposition of trying to “catch up” and figure out their next move. This also means the suspense is present from an early point; it only increases as the story moves along. By the final fifty or so pages, I was glued to the book. The finale moved at a breakneck speed, leaving me breathless and hyper-focused. This story is clever, grotesque, terrifying, unique, and fearless. Even with its drawbacks, I couldn’t help but walk away from it thinking goddamn.

Drawbacks: The “Prologues” at the start of Part 1 and Part 2 are actually previews of pages that follow and are therefor pointless. // Jane Ward’s character is especially difficult to like. She is often a vile human being without compassion for others. She’s mean and stubborn and, more often that not, a bitch. Seeing as she is a lead character in this story, it can be a struggle following her story at times without growing increasingly angry. // The love story between Jane and Icho feels like a forced design. The attraction between both women does not seem natural. Jane is not nice to Icho, so why does Icho like her? And why does Jane like Icho but treat her so poorly? It isn’t until the finale that Jane’s character softens, and you can sense her love for Icho more clearly. // The designs of the Inex and other bots was confusing for quite some time before we were shed more light on how they looked and operated. I read Icho’s section first, and I don’t remember ever getting a clear representation of what the bot looked like, and therefor I could not picture it for the life of me. This was frustrating. It wasn’t until Jane’s section that we had some descriptions provided; but even then, I still struggled to picture the things for the entire duration of the novel.

Highlights: The suspense becomes palpable in the third section of this novel. The final fifty pages are especially exciting. // HellSans is deeply engaging and thought-provoking. // The world Dundas has crafted is often uncomfortably plausible and scary. // Though this is dystopian science-fiction at heart, it could easily be classified as a brand of horror, as well. // The writing draws you into the room with its characters and makes you an on-set spectator. // HellSans is the kind of novel to make you think and keep you thinking long after the ride is complete.

Verdict: 4/5

Published by Aiden Merchant

Aiden Merchant is the author more than forty stories, including those found within SICKNESS IS IN SEASON, HORRIFIC HOLIDAYS, and DOCUMENTING DREADFUL EXISTENCES. He is also the author of the crime-fic novella CROSSING RED, and the lead editor and publisher of BLACKBERRY BLOOD (an anthology edited alongside Julia C. Lewis), MILK TEETH (a novella by Andrew Post), and RISE ABOVE (a community sampler). His alter ego, Wesley Winters, leans more toward the extreme and absurd. His debut horror series is appropriately titled FUCKED, and will debut in 2023 with ARTIFACT OF THE EYE and later FEED THE SKY.

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