HellSans is a dystopian novel about a country controlled by a typeface, HellSans, which gives most people bliss, but those who are allergic to it are persecuted, and where people have personal cyborgs called Inexes. Dr Icho Smith is a scientist working on a cure for the allergy, hidden away in a top secret lab. Jane Ward is CEO of the company who makes the Inexes and is close to the Prime Minister of the country. When Icho and Jane both end up on the run from their respective lives, their paths intersect, but with warring factions in the country, the situation is volatile.
I was drawn to the book by the title, and the typeface concept is certainly unusual. The structure is notable as you are told from the start that you can read the first two parts in any order, before a final third part. I read the book just in the order it came, and it would be interesting to see if it does give a different viewpoint to read part two before part one, as I understand why you could read it in either order, but also I’m not sure if it does have an impact. As with a lot of dystopian sci fi, there’s a lot to start off with that you don’t understand in terms of terminology and how society functions, but you gradually pick up on a fair amount of it (though it doesn’t really go into the history of how society got there, maybe to leave the reader guessing how likely it could be).
The plot is fairly straightforward, with government corruption, the demonisation of people with a chronic illness, and questions around cyborgs, sentience, and privacy. The ending has some interesting philosophical points and a fairly dramatic climax, though the later chapters of the book are a lot faster than earlier ones so it does feel quite quick. The layers of betrayal and hiding the truth are crucial to the book and, without wanting to give anything away, built into the narrative, which brings an additional element to it.
HellSans is a book with a lot to say, with plenty of clever elements (adjusting a sans serif font by adding serifs as activism is a nice touch), and even as someone who doesn’t read much sci fi I found the world-building worked for me, not being too heavy or tedious but giving a decent sense of what was going on. There’s a lot around treatment and cures to think about within it, but within the slightly ridiculous framework of a font that can cause bliss or pain.
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