I told myself that once post-grad I would commit myself to reading all of the classics, theory, and textbooks that I faked understanding over the course of my politics degree. However, I bit off more than I could chew and found myself unable to scale the density of academia and importance in most of those works — so I took the coward’s way out and distracted myself with pleasure reading instead.
Alex Branson’s Into the Hills, Young Master tells the first person story (a biographical account first posted in the off-topic section of an Elder Scrolls forum) of a young man who sets out into the world after university to try and form the perfect opinion. In many ways I can relate to the story, if not as sharing a similar drive at academic self improvement as the main character, then at least in fully recognizing the type of guy he is. The titular “Young Master’s” journey identifies a pastoral and romantic longing for a simpler life, with admiration for philosophers and Batman-esque loners thrown into the mix.
You might know a guy like him; one who loves posting on the internet, says he values logic and reason above all things, and might be a bit socially awkward. He recounts with pride that he often took on the role of contrarian conservative during debates in his university classes, a position that is often motivated more by glee in mocking the response and reaction than a noble outcome of debate. He had “viewed liberal coddling as the ultimate weakness, one that should not be suffered by anyone” and had said anything he could to deter or distract from positions and evidence of disagreement.
The writing presents a character that is compelling and incredibly familiar. His unflinching sense of superiority is apparent from his musings that he could “see how most never [felt] the need to have an intelligent thought in their life” or after witnessing a difficult night of interpersonal drama and conflict then coming to the conclusion that “the world can punish you for being logical.” Compelling, and at times sympathetic, his journey of self discovery starts him at a cruel and frustrating foundation, with among his rants the assertion that street drugs justly “fetter out the weak willed” to save “good jobs for good people,” or his opinions on casual sex or racial epithets.
While the story doesn’t present itself as self-deprecating, its self-awareness is apparent under the layers of irony and weird Twitter memes. Progress charts that forward the different acts of the book mark his self-fulfilment in relation to things like talking to girls, stealing valour, and unemployment.
The prose is easy to read, aloof, and incredibly funny, while at the same time speaking on an experience and type that is incredibly prevalent in today’s age. It even features some absurdist derailments outside the main narrative; a chapter near the middle features an excerpt from his fantasy story titled “Grunlak Cares Not: A Novel,” a tried and trope-filled story that may or may not take place in a video game universe. It is then followed by a series of responses suggesting edits in the novel, which include Branson having to vehemently confirm that he has in fact “never jacked off to Blaz’thina” (the trickster fire elf mage) and that his main character is too preoccupied with honour and bloodlust — that “Grunlak will never fuck!”
Along the way we get glimpses into his personality; the hesitation and awkwardness he has with women (he names them after League of Legends characters to protect their identities) which manifests itself in him flirting with and considering Red Pill ideas — that is of course the hyper misogynist view of dating as a game and women as a disposable prize. (His idol in the book is a guy by the name of CasanovaGalt, itself a pretty good joke.) He whines that he “had intended to take full advantage of [his] new, fit body by using it to have sex, with a woman, to completion” but that “honesty, logic, and emotional control” while “noble characteristics” were more like a “mighty hammer” that was ill-suited to “delicately fold flower petals the most apt comparison [he had] come up with in regards to talking to women.”
By the end of the book, although preceded by screeds against identity politics and campus culture, the main character settles his journey near the conclusion that empathy is in fact important, and that he has spent a long time denying himself a lens towards whatever truth is out there. Of course this takes him facing repeated obstacles in his home and love life, as well as a (justified) layoff from a job before he begins to view “hierarchy as the problem, that people in power could abuse those without it” and “leave people like [him] scrambling and begging.”
In short, this is a pleasure read in every sense of the word, even with a character that can both alarm in how real and prevalent his archetype feels and have you wanting to pull your hair out. Twitter needs to write more comedies, and we all need to read more off-topic sections of internet forums.