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RebelFire 1.0: Out of the Gray Zone, by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman

Pro-freedom fiction seems to be blossoming these days, despite still being mostly snubbed by the big publishing houses. Even better, as more writers enter the field, different audiences are targeted for their message. RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone, by pro-freedom stalwarts Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman, is aimed at communicating the ideas of freedom to a youthful audience.

Jeremy is stuck in a world he apparently grudgingly tolerates, until the powers that be remove all traces of his favorite band, RebelFire, from it. With chips in people, equipment, and pretty much everything, it's easy for CentGov to do so -- as well as ensure people remain docile through personalized drugging. It's a just-around-the-corner future that we're slowly sliding into, and Wolfe and Zelman make that plain while not belaboring it. (Most of the "we're almost there now" stuff is saved for an Afterword, which may dilute its reach, but spares the story from getting too preachy or pedantic.) So Jeremy, in a fit of teenage pique, decides to find RebelFire, harboring hopes of "lightmaking" with them. RebelFire 1.0 is clearly the first installment of a series of adventures focusing on Jeremy and other rebels, and how they find each other and make their ways in the shadows of the all-seeing CentGov world.

All together, RebelFire 1.0 is a competent story. The lack of privacy, and the ways by which the rebels and other societal dropouts manage to steal some measure of it back, is spot on. To me, however, Jeremy seems to have a bit of Forrest Gump about him, as he stumbles and lucks his way out of tight situations, particularly in the first part of the book. Relying on such plot devices can unwittingly reinforce the idea that one can muddle through without thinking -- and that's an idea that doesn't need reinforcing these days. The character who ultimately gets Jeremy to his destination is pure deux et machina -- which isn't to say he's uninteresting. I expect we'll see more of him if the series continues, but here he simply pops in, does his bit, and off he goes, again reinforcing the importance of luck over preparedness and effort. While I can see the bastardized adoption of faux as presented in RebelFire, other foreign words seem to be simply, inexplicably dropped in. That works in the Firefly series, from which the idea was probably lifted, but Firefly isn't a near-future story. Every time I came across chinga or geseki they pulled me out of the story, something an author shouldn't want to happen, much less enable.

Having read several reviews of RebelFire 1.0 prior to reading the book, perhaps my expectations were raised too high by their nearly-uniform high praise. Or, perhaps my having read This Perfect Day just before receiving RebelFire 1.0 served as an example of this sort of dystopia wrought more vividly. Or, since the book is targeted at younger audiences, maybe it just didn't grab me. I suspect all three explanations contribute; however, my unscientific, limited research suggests that perhaps RebelFire 1.0 isn't grabbing its intended audience tightly either. My three teenage stepsons serve as good indicators of what attracts young minds' attention; when The Black Arrow arrived at our house, I had to reclaim it from them after opening the package and leaving the book in the kitchen. Even after inviting them to read RebelFire 1.0, only one expressed interest -- and it's apparently still in his stack of books to read (the latest Harry Potter book isn't a factor here). Thus, I think that Wolfe and Zelman didn't quite succeed in creating a story that's reaching the youth market in the way they'd hoped. With fast-paced Japanese anime and various video games gobbling young people's attention, a dead-tree book needs to really speak to them to successfully compete. RebelFire 1.0 doesn't quite make it; even to me, it has a whiff of "older folks trying too hard to be hip" about it, and I'm probably of the same generation as both Wolfe and Zelman.

All that said, RebelFire 1.0 is still quite worth reading. Along with Mallcity 14 and The Black Arrow, it provides important foresight and ideas for we who wish to hold off that ugly, brave new world that's breathing down our necks. Adults and teens alike will find good ideas, humor, and hope in RebelFire 1.0. The individualistic nature of the "rebellion" is especially compelling for me, as I think that's ultimately the key to creating a more free society. Transitioning from nonfiction to fiction is very difficult; Wolfe and Zelman's first effort show some rough edges, but there's also a lot of promise in RebelFire 1.0. I know I'm not alone in wanting to see where the story goes -- and I imagine that sales of RebelFire 1.0 will determine whether a 2.0 is ever written. It ought to be written.

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More by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman: The State vs. the People; Innocents Betrayed.