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Not on Fire, but Burning

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,435 ratings  ·  250 reviews
Twenty-year-old Skyler saw the incident out her window: Some sort of metalic object hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge just before it collapsed and a mushroom cloud lifted above the city. Like everyone, she ran, but she couldn't outrun the radiation, with her last thoughts being of her beloved baby brother, Dorian, safe in her distant family home.

Flash forward to a
ebook, 275 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Melville House (first published September 22nd 2015)
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Laura Mature teens and up. Maybe 14 at the very lowest end, but the language is strong and the themes are very strong. There's a lot of hate language (think…moreMature teens and up. Maybe 14 at the very lowest end, but the language is strong and the themes are very strong. There's a lot of hate language (think "Gran Torino" style), and I think it requires a certain level of critical thinking to understand the context of the story.(less)

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Average rating 3.40  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,435 ratings  ·  250 reviews

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Aug 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015, arc
I'm not quite sure how to even begin describing this book. I don't think any blurb or short description would do the complexity and depth of this story justice. And on top of that, I had such an interesting and unique experience reading this book, I'm finding it hard to rate. Because it's not a 5 star book in my opinion. It's not perfect; it is confounding and unclear at times (but also for good reason, if that makes sense); you're left with so many questions and yet the irresolution feels ...more
Joachim Stoop
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I cannot rate this. Today I would give it 3,76. Maybe tomorrow 3,36. The day after 4,22. Maybe in a parallel universe I would rate it 1,41 or 4,99. Who knows?

From page one I was constantly balancing between finding it intriguing and fatiguing. Waiting for a tipping point for better or worse that just never came.

I really don't regret reading it. But I think it could have been a definite 5-star book. So what went wrong?

Did you ever have the experience of cooking a homemade pasta sauce, which
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Usually I appreciate speculative fiction and imagining alternative worlds but, in "Not on Fire, but Burning," these aspects actually overcomplicate what could have been a simple, powerful story about young people trying to navigate racism, terrorism, and loss. Worse, the elements of many-worlds theory that gets incorporated into the plot (with most of the action taking place in an alternate future that's familiar but has branched from a slightly different present from our own) seem to undermine ...more
Timothy Urges
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not on Fire, but Burning is one the greatest novels I have read. Thought-provoking and different.

On 8-11, something crashes into the Golden Gate Bridge that changes history and a nation. Xenophobia takes hold and Muslims are locked away in reservations behind electrified fences. People live in fear of another attack, never knowing what caused the catastrophe. Karim is adopted from a reservation after the gates reopen, leading to events that ripple through other's lives and time.

Oct 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Intriguing, but in the end it didn't really work for me. Not quite enough substance to go along with the shifting story-lines, and an incredibly dark story.
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
An unusually told story of 9/11 ramped to an extreme with parallel universe elements.

The story starts in a prologue with Skyler Wakefield in San Francisco babysitting a child when a nuclear blast detonates directly over the Golden Gate bridge. Skyler tries to save both herself and the child but eventually succumbs to exposure to radiation. We then jump to the main story of Dorian Wakefield and his family years later. Dorian is convinced he had an older sister named Skyler, but noone in the
switterbug (Betsey)
Nov 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
There’s a whiff here of the post 9/11 novel. An attack. Islamophobia. Hatred. Fear of the future, and hardliners taking positions. But Hrbek, perhaps inspired by that genre of books, created a more unconventional novel—part speculative fiction, part dystopia, thriller, particles of sci-fi, cautionary tale, family drama, and part scrutiny of social bias. It’s an ambitious novel that alternates between characters, and in different realms of time—or networks of time, while also occurring in a ...more
Britta Böhler
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Greg Hrbek is not the first author trying to fictionalize 9/11 and its aftermath (just a few examples: Falling Man, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Submission, and also not the first to do so by choosing science fiction (The Mirage).

Still, Hrbek's novel is, in a way, one of its kind.

The book is set in the future (2038), in an alternate reality, where 9/11 didn't happened. But there was a similar attack, albeit in a different year, on a (slightly) different day and targeting a different city.
Michelle Morrell
In the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, a young boy remembers his sister killed in the attack, but he is the only one who does.

In this timeline, people of the Muslim faith are rounded up into camps where hardship and tragedy are the norm. One man, adopting an orphan from there, brings him home to suburbia, sparking a series of events that may or may not lead to tragedy.

This is quite an unusual book. At times I was befuddled, at time crystal clear, as is often the case with
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An impressively ambitious concept, executed poorly.

I should have loved everything about this novel—speculative dystopian fiction, sociopolitical commentary, mindbending timeline, quickly shifting points of view—it's even set in San Francisco. It should have been, and I really expected it to be, right up my alley.

But I didn't really like it. The characters weren't developed enough to care about. The point of view shifted so quickly and so often that I didn't find myself immersed in the story—I
Oct 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
This is a hard book to rate. Essentially I think it is best described as a work of experimental fiction. The author switches between first and third person throughout to give the narrative a more multi-dimensional feel.

While there were some really powerful ideas about prejudices based on race, religion, and ethnicity, the actual impact of the story was somewhat lessened by the way it was told. Along with the switching of perspectives, there was a tendency for the narrative to drift to the point
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"What they're doing down there is mourning. As millions of people across the infinitude of the grid shall always be mourning, coping with every imaginable variation of loss. Every loss deserves a telling."

8-11 was the day that changed everything. Twenty-year-old Skylar was watching from her apartment window when she noticed the object falling from the sky. Before she could reach the young boy she was babysitting, the night's sky was illuminated by the brilliant flash of the mass impacting the
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Hrbek sets Not on Fire, but Burning in an alternate reality in which 9/11 did not happen but a similar attack is perpetrated in San Francisco in another year. From its first page, this novel has a gripping squeeze on your heart and your mind. The fears it exposes are so visceral and relevant that you are almost standing in the room with Skyler as she witnesses the 9/11 style attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. And then you are somewhere else.

The strength of this novel for me was in the
Lark Benobi
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Hrbek employs a decidedly linear art form (the novel) to tell a fractal story, or stories rather, of a handful of characters who become dimly aware of their existence in one strand of the Multiverse, and aware as well of some of the infinite decision points and possibilities and outcomes that are happening to their other selves, in other strands of reality. It's a very ballsy book in that it begins with a character and outcome that are both highly dramatic, and charged with pathos...and yet this ...more
Sep 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I wanted to like this book much more than I did. The idea was brilliant. The execution flawed.

For one, my expectations were extremely high after reading the brilliant, fast-paced beginning with Skylar. Those expectations fell with each new chapter and never picked up again.

One problem was that there were too many narrators. I never got the chance to care about any of them one way or the other. Every time I started to enjoy Karim or Dorian or the guy who adopted Karim - I can't even recall his
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have used the word 'poetic' to describe many books this year. Perhaps I've overused it. But I was mistaken in all other uses, and I rescind them all only to apply that amount of descriptive focus to this novel.


On 8-11, something falls from the sky; Skyler watches it and closes her eyes as it lands. As she wanders the city, looking for shelter, her final thoughts are of her baby brother, Dorian, safe at her family home, miles away.

Now a pre-teen, Dorian lives in a world filled with
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! It is a cautionary tale that reminds us all that we can make a huge impact on the rising conflict between people. The conflict depicted in the book is with Muslims but it also serves as a metaphor for the prejudice we have against those not like us. I enjoyed the way in which Hrbek gives us possible paths throughout the book to illustrate that we make choices everyday that lead to different outcomes which can dramatically effect the future. Although the story can seem bleak at ...more
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2015
This book was more basic than Taylor Swift Instagramming a pumpkin spice latte. Ooooh, parallel universes? Suburban ennui? Give this guy a McArthur Genius and a Pulitzer right now. If you want a book with something worthwhile to say (or even if you don't) skip this and read the only great "post-9/11" book that's been written (so far): Amy Waldman's brilliant and unnerving "The Submission" from 2011 (not to be confused with the bigoted shart of the same name that Houellebecq pinched off earlier ...more
Sep 28, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-read-soon
From one of the genius booksellers at the marvelous Word Books:

There is a catastrophic event over San Francisco Bay. No one has taken the blame. In one of the most interesting styles I have ever read, Hrbek tells the story of a young man coming to terms with the loss of his sister and the strange world events happening all around him. For any post-apocalyptic fan this one really sparkles. It's one that takes us into the future to make us dwell on the present.

Yes. Give it.
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a read! This was sad, scary, provocative and hopeful, all at once. And despite being set in the future, the headlines from this week and last indicate it could not be more timely. I could not decide at the half-way point whether I loved this book or hated it. Having finished it, I decided I loved it. Five stars. Looking forward to the book club discussion this week.
Tom Lee
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
The first 3/4 of this book rated a solid 3 stars, but the final quarter really surprised and impressed me. Had the the earlier parts of the book been stronger, I would have given it a 5. I don't want to give anything away. I'll just say that I was very surprised by this book, in a good way.
Joshua Buhs
Avoiding one pitfall, it slips into another--without, to be fair, ever sacrificing its narrative drive.

Greg Hrbek's "Not on Fire, But Burning," starts in San Francisco, where college student Skyler Wakefield is watching the child of a (presumably) very rich family--when some thing (meteor, bomb, UFO?) brings down the Golden Gate, an act that is meant to be a stand-in for the terrorism of 9-11. (It happens on 8-11, the twin towers of the bridge are mentioned). Skyler struggles through a city on
Darren Cormier
Jun 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I've been trying to write this review for a couple of weeks now. I'm still unsure how to feel about this book. The fact that I've been thinking about it this long shows it definitely has had an impact. But I also still don't think I fully understand what he was trying to do or say.

Skyler is a 20 year old babysitting someone when a mysterious object hits the Golden Gate Bridge causing a nuclear explosion and massive radiation fallout. Fast-forward about 12 years: Dorian is a high school student
David Dinaburg
May 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Have you seen Blade Runner? I suppose, this being a book review website, it would be apropos to ask about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but I haven’t read it so I don’t know if it is late nineteen-nineties standard fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire versus HBO Game of Thrones mini-turned-series different from the source material, or the first season of NBC's The Office, a shot-for-shot remake of the BBC one.

Regardless of how much it veers from PKD’s goofy yet oddly endearing title, it
On the one hand we have a story of terrorism, racism, paranoia and loss. But at the center of these themes and overarching the book are CHOICES. "Not on Fire, but Burning" looks at choices. And boy did it leave an impression on me.
Whether potential readers will enjoy this novel depends on two factors imho: 1) Will you like the style? 2) Can you flow with the speculative fiction element used in here? For me, an easy and sky-high yes, but that might not be the case with everybody since both
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well that was terrifying! Not only is the attack and the state of our country in 2038 eerily realistic but with the political climate of our nation it is not hard to imagine our country taking this frightening path. This was an interesting book to read. Not what I was expecting and a little scattered in the plot but I'll give it 4 stars since I'm still thinking about it two days later.
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Gripping and different. This book is a whirlwind!
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads. Once I started it, I could not put it down. I became so wrapped up in the momentum of this story, tense through many pages, tense to see how it would end. I loved both the time-space speculative nature of this book and the main narrative arc. It is unflinching and brilliant.

At first I found the writer's style a little jumpy and confusing. The lack of transitions, the bursts of short sentences, and the constant shifting of 1st, 2ond, and 3rd
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
(On mobile)

3.5 stars

A super compelling read that presents a near-future America in a light both hopeful and realistic. We finally did something about climate change, it seems, but the War on Islam rages on.

Hbrek's ever-changing voice is what makes the book most compelling (and fatiguing, until you get used to it). I particularly liked the dips into second person to point at You, to make you a guilty a party to these characters' misdeeds. Then, also, there's the diverse cast of characters and
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Greg Hrbek's "Not on Fire, but Burning" was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and an NPR Best Book of 2015. His first novel, "The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly," won the James Jones First Novel Award. His short stories have appeared in Harper's Magazine, Tin House, and The Best American Short Stories anthology. A first collection of stories, "Destroy All Monsters," was awarded the 2010 ...more
“It's the same way people have always felt. Since the days we lived in caves and feared the violence of nature and then dreamed up the idea of gods and feared their anger and then joined together in groups and came to fear each other.” 2 likes
“For a moment, you won't be certain what you've done. What you've done is this: You have done the best you could. On the darkest of pathways, you have managed to stay true to the better angel of your nature.” 2 likes
More quotes…