Philosophy Resistance Squad by Robert Grant

Philosophy Resistance Squad by Robert Grant. Little Island, 2022. 9781912417308

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2.5

Format: Paperback

Genre: Science fiction

What did you like about the book: Irish writer Robert Grant has written a silly philosophical novel that keeps driving at a noble mission, that of how vital the creation and exploration of knowledge is. Milo Moloney and his friends Sarah-Louise and Katie arrive at a school which, literally, leaves nothing to the imagination. It’s called the Secondary Training Institute for Lifelong Employment. There, students find themselves treated as vessels for facts and violence. They find their class is taught by the school’s principal, Dr. Pummelcrush, and are strapped into classroom desks with metal headbands. Learning disruptions are remedied using neck pincers and more serious infractions with electrodes on the seats. When Milo gives his teacher and the robotic proctors the slip, he finds Ursula Joy, a former philosophy teacher who has been reassigned to work as the school’s gardener. The writing breaks into Socratic dialogue every so often, serving to reimagine basic middle schooler preconceptions about good and evil. Grant is at his strongest parodying the influx of technology and metrics-monitoring that has become the new norm in schools. It is a humorous send-up of our own times, what with the constant barrage of post-COVID-19 “learning loss” solutions we are bombarded with in our email inboxes.

Anything you didn’t like about it?: I’m torn about the violence and the presentation of politics. The book is the softest of sci-fi, but it perhaps requires a large suspension of belief in the parent’s eagerness to send their students to a school this violent. Typically, school stories reflecting English and Irish boarding school life are much harsher. And there is clearly violence in the world that is similar to what Grant shows  in his book. But I was taken aback by the overall contrast to the playful tone. The book comes across as lighthearted, yet Pummelcrush is a torturer. “Roll on the floor, jump up and down, act like a horse. And without hesitation, they did as they were told,” we are told on 104. Later, as Milo attempts to expose his plan on parent’s night, we get “‘Don’t you dare challenge me, woman,'” (139) and “‘Shut up…’Put on the mouth straps before I do something I regret!'” (144). Moreover, Grant is stapling his politics from his sleeve onto this well-trodden plot, as each chapter begins with an epigraph by famous thinkers, including Simone Weill, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Karl Marx. 

To whom would you recommend this book? People who enjoyed soft sci-fi like Blakemore’s Firefly Code or the far superior philosophical novel by Kathleen Lane, Pity Party

Who should buy this book? Someone who is looking for a gateway into the philosophy non-fiction section or another “activist” or “David vs. Goliath” narrative

Where would you shelve it? Fiction, SF if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Skip it unless you’d like to dive into the violence and politics that are swirling about within.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Luke Steere, Wilson Middle School, Natick, MA

Date of review: September 27, 2022

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