Like everyone else she knows, Mallory is an orphan of the corporate war. As a child, she lost her parents, her home, and her entire building in an airstrike. As an adult, she lives in a cramped hotel room with eight other people, all of them working multiple jobs to try to afford water and make ends meet. And the job she’s best at is streaming a popular VR war game. The best part of the game isn’t killing enemy combatants, though—it’s catching in-game glimpses of SpecOps operatives, celebrity supersoldiers grown and owned by Stellaxis, the corporation that runs the America she lives in.
Until a chance encounter with a SpecOps operative in the game leads Mal to a horrifying discovery: the real-life operatives weren’t created by Stellaxis. They were kids, just like her, who lost everything in the war, and were stolen and augmented and tortured into becoming supersoldiers. The world worships them, but the world believes a lie.
The company controls every part of their lives, and defying them puts everything at risk—her water ration, her livelihood, her connectivity, her friends, her life—but she can’t just sit on the knowledge. She has to do something—even if doing something will bring the wrath of the most powerful company in the world down upon her.
Nicole Kornher-Stace lives in New Paltz, NY, with her family. Her two most recent books are the adult SF cyberpunk dystopian thriller FIREBREAK (Simon & Schuster/Gallery/Saga, 2021) and her middle-grade debut JILLIAN VS. PARASITE PLANET (Tachyon, 2021). Her other books include the Andre Norton Award finalist ARCHIVIST WASP (Small Beer Press/Big Mouth House, 2015) and its sequel LATCHKEY (Mythic Delirium, 2018), which are about a far-future postapocalyptic ghosthunter, the ghost of a near-future supersoldier, and their adventures in the underworld.
You can find her on Twitter @wirewalking, where she is probably semicoherently yelling about board games, video games, hiking, aromantic representation, good books she's read recently, or her cat.
For tons of book extras, deleted scenes, and subscriber exclusives, check out her Patreon, which is single-tier pay-what-you-want for all access to everything.
Not a review! There are a few questions that have been coming up repeatedly from early readers and interested readers via Twitter, email, etc. and I thought collecting them here (with their answers) might be helpful, so here we go!
1. "I don't play video games! Will I be totally lost?" While yes, it's a book about a gamer, it's also a book about a gamer as written by a person who a.) has a lot of experience explaining games to nongamers, and b.) is a big big fan of when a story starts off as one thing and then goes totally sideways as soon as you think you know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Plus I'm hearing from non-gamer early readers that the in-game parts of the book weren't confusing to them, at least for long (whew). Above all it's about a gamer who Gets In Over Her Head and realizes that the game is just the start of her problems.
2. "Is it really similar to Ready Player One?" Yes and no? It's about a massively popular VR game, but the similarities pretty much end there. Rather than one lone male hero, it's about a pair of women gamers working together to get shit done. And I don't want to spoil anything so let's just say Mal's motives and relationship to the corporation that controls the IP she loves are...a bit different than Wade's are in RPO. Oh, and there's no 80s references. Sorry. I'd be better at 90s references anyway. (There aren't any of those either.)
3. "I heard the protagonist was aromantic and asexual, is that true?" Yup! For that matter, so am I. A caveat here though that I prefer implicit representation that shows itself organically in the text, so Mal doesn't at any point say out loud that she's aro/ace, or feel the need to explain it to other characters, and other characters never put her in the position to do so--but her aro/aceness is fully present in her actions and motives and desires in a pretty major plot-point kind of way.
4. "Is this the third Archivist Wasp book you mentioned working on?" Nope! That's a work-in-progress over on my Patreon. Firebreak is 100% a standalone, though another thing I'm a big big fan of is when authors include Easter eggs for longtime readers, and if you are such a reader, I hope you find some to your liking here.
5. "Where does it do you the most good for me to preorder from?" I mean, I sometimes hear that Amazon sales are the most important ones for some reason, but a.) I don't know if that's true and b.) I don't really care. Indie bookstores forever. <3 All preorders are great and extremely necessary for a book's success, but if I can help do a tiny bit to keep your favorite local indie bookstore alive and kicking, I'd love if you went there first. (And because money sucks right now, remember you can always have your library preorder for you!)
6. "Is this another zero-romance book about ride-or-die friendships?" If it has my name on the cover the answer's always gonna be yes. I'm committed to putting as many books as I can out into the world that treat platonic relationships with all the weight and gravity and significance usually reserved for romance. This one centers two strong friendships as well as a hopeless (or is it??) platonic crush, which is something I've never seen in any piece of fiction anywhere and always wanted to. So I did what I always do when I want to read something and can't find it. I went ahead and wrote it myself.
8. "Is it adult or YA?" Honestly I'm a terrible person to ask. It's being marketed as adult, but I'm told it has YA crossover (here for instance), and the protagonist is about 20. That said, I thought my YA debut Archivist Wasp was adult, if I thought about marketing labels at all, but I was told otherwise in no uncertain terms, so here we are. There is a lot of cursing in Firebreak, but no sex or graphic violence, if that helps.
9. "I heard you mention in an interview somewhere that this book is connected to your earlier books, is that true?" It suuure is. It's also absolutely a standalone, though, and you absolutely don't need to have read anything else of mine in order to understand this one. There'll just be other layers for you to (hopefully) appreciate, whichever order you read them in. I like puzzles. I had fun making this one. :)
10. "I don't understand Mal's fixation with 22? If she's not romantically/sexually interested in him? What does she want from him?" This one has confused a lot of people, which honestly I knew would happen when I wrote it. It was really important to me to write an inexplicable platonic crush, because I'd always wanted to see one in a piece of fiction and never did. We're used to seeing romantic insta-love in books, or romantic/sexual interest that isn't necessarily intellectually understood by the character experiencing it, but I wanted to write that same intensity of obsession totally removed from any kind of romantic/sexual motivation. If romantic love doesn't have to make intellectual "sense," then platonic love shouldn't either.
Thanks so much for your interest in Firebreak and I very much hope you enjoy. And if you have any questions I didn't cover here, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. :)
Holy- You need to read this book It's the anti-capitalist story that Ready Player One wishes it was. Read my full review HERE. ❤ Check below for a preview!
Action packed, anti-capitalist, compelling, well written, easy to follow, emotional, and tense.
Oh man, where do I begin? I really loved this book. When I opened it, I thought “man this is kind of long, I didn’t realize!” And then literally this book doesn’t slow down at any point. It is packed with amazing content. This is going to be a hard review, because it’s packed with so many different amazing things that I don’t know how well I can narrow it down! This book is easy to follow and fast paced, but delightfully anti-capitalist in a way that Ready Player One wishes it was. But not in any of the ways you anticipate it to be.
Firebreak follows Mal, who lives with her 7 roommates in an old hotel room, living by the rules of the mega corporation, Stellaxis, amidst a corporate war stalemate. Mal and her best friend Jessa are mildly successful at streaming the wildly popular war VR game modeled after the real corporate war — the war that the corporations have monetized. Everything changes for Mal and Jessa when they get contacted by a mysterious sponsor who tells them that the super human celebrities, that everyone knows Stellaxis grew in a lab, are not lab experiments at all. They’re real war orphans, just like Mal and Jessa. Keep reading...
*I received a free copy of this book from the author and am leaving this review voluntarily*
I teach an apocalyptic worldbuilding class. In it, we discuss the ways the world might devolve, and the implications for the setting of a story. These include climate degradation, nuclear fallout, corporate hegemony, totalitarianism, constant civil war, and, more recently, a technocracy that uses surveillance technology to enforce class hierarchies.
Nicole Kornher-Stace took every single one of these elements, threw them in a blender, and made a surprisingly decent smoothie. Despite the oversized ambitions, the worldbuilding largely stays consistent and isn’t overtly distracting to the main plot lines.
The book still suffers, however, from undercooking other elements. The chapters alternate between action-packed and the two main characters reviewing said action, painstakingly giving us info-drops and over-explanations that we don’t need. Often, the plot is carried forward by convenience, and the women are inexplicably lucky at the most fortunate times.
Hilariously, this comes across as a YA novel except that the author stirred about 150 “fucks” into the mix. We don’t even get any creative swearing. It was like someone told her, hey, you have a half hour to turn this from PG13 to R, so she panicked and wrote “fuck” as much as she could.
My main frustration with this book comes from the MC, the 1st-person narrator who brings us along for this ride. She in an introvert, defensive, and ethical, both generous to strangers and annoying as shit to the people she is close to. Typically, I love a good asshole character much more than a savior. We enjoy these types of characters (Sherlock, Dr. House, Marcella, etc) because their brilliance and wit earn their prickliness. Mal doesn’t impress me at all in those regards. She also shows no character growth, as learning more information does not qualify as actually maturing or adapting.
Written as a standalone book set in the precursor world laid out in Kornher-Stace's amazing book, Archivist Wasp, Firebreak gives us a story set in the long before-time to that.
There is a lot to unpack in the story, which includes elements of corporate hegemony, economic freedom, the role of social media, and the realer than real online world. I loved, loved, loved, the relationships here. Friendship, trust, and platonic love are all part of the package and are brought to life to in all their various forms. The fact that Mal doesn't necessarily "do people" is presented as just another variation among human personality types, rather than as a trait that needs to be overcome in order for her to do what she needs to.
The worldbuilding is interesting, and not completely beyond the realm of the possible. The slow takeover of the key human requirements for life by for-profit corporations, and what that means for the everyday person (ie. 99% of us) is something that really doesn't require too much suspension of disbelief (which really should be a warning in and of itself). The role of social media in perpetuating the status quo or as a tool for politicization and social change is similarly something we can quite easily fit into our current world view. Firebreak takes these almost familiar themes and weaves them into a fast paced and engaging story. That's what I'm always looking for.
Although there is an interesting connection between Firebreak and Archivist Wasp, the stories also stand separate from each other and can be read in any order or each standing alone.
Corporations rule the world and the citizens are kept under their control in a distopian future full of water rationing and bombings. But everyone seems to have access to all the video games and social media they want. Mallory and her friend Jessa discover that the supersoldier operatives in a war game weren’t created in a lab as the players have been told, instead they are actually the adult versions of orphans stolen as children. Mallory believes that by exposing this lie she can bring down the corporations.
I can’t relate to the idea of playing war games, and I know nothing about gaming in general. The beginning of this book was written in a gaming language that I do not speak and don’t particularly want to learn. Although I ignored most of the game, I did manage to follow the plot, which was really pretty simple. Neither the world building nor the character development was strong. My favorite characters were the operatives and I don’t think the book actually needed Mallory. The operatives seemed capable of handling things themselves. This book was just ok for me, but then I don’t think that I am the intended audience.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Opening on a not-too-distant future, Firebreak follows Mallory, AKA Nycorix when she’s online, a gamer who has recently turned to streaming in the hopes of making some extra money to afford the basic necessities of life. Following the corporate war, distribution of all resources has come under the control of the mega-companies, including access to technology, food, and even water, which is particularly scarce. Mal lives in a hotel room with eight other young adults who were also orphaned during the war, one of them being Jessa, her best friend. Together, the two women play a massively multiplayer online war game called BestLife, where they stream themselves killing enemy combatants. But one of the most profitable activities—not to mention a surefire way to gain a ton of subscribers—is to catch a glimpse of the various SpecOps agents who are in game, celebrity super-soldiers created and owned by the corporation Stellaxis.
One day, Mal and Jessa receive an offer of sponsorship out of nowhere, from a mysterious benefactor who wants them to gather as much information as they can on these super-soldiers. In doing so though, Mal discovers a horrifying truth—the SpecOps operatives they see in game are actually real-life people, kids who lost everything into the war and forcibly recruited to work for Stellaxis via torture and the use of augments. At first, Mal and Jessa reluctant to believe any of it, but then their sponsor abruptly disappears, confirming their suspicions of a much deeper and diabolical conspiracy. The plot thickens as they encounter two of the super-soldiers in real life, further propelling the two friends down a path of danger and uncertainty. Mal wants to do the right thing and expose Stellaxis, but what can she do when the enemy is an all-powerful entity that has full control of everything in her life?
It pains me to say this, because my geeky gamer heart loved the MMO aspects of Firebreak, but the truth is, the gaming element was probably the only thing that was done well. Everything else felt a bit half-baked and shoddily executed. To its credit, the book did start out on the right foot, kicking things off with a dynamic sequence in its introduction which featured a flurry of action and gaming terms. I felt like I was with my people when it came to Mal and Jess—two kickass female gamers who knew their stuff and were driven to win.
But pretty soon, the cracks began to show. It first began with my opinion with of Mal, which swiftly plummeted as I got to know her better through her interactions with Jessa and their roommates. Now, I’m all for an anti-social and introverted protagonist and believe they can make for very interesting character studies if written well. But Mal’s personality was off-putting almost from the beginning, unnecessarily snide with her comments and just all around bad-tempered and irritable, often taking her troubles out on others. She’s also not the most competent, and half the time she doesn’t even know what she’s doing. My next point of criticism might seem strange, since I’ve read books that are much worse when it comes to this, but man, after a while, I got so sick of the characters’ endless cussing. It’s one thing if it’s done creatively or adds to the dialogue, but here it just felt like bad writing and made everyone come off as juvenile and dim-witted. Plus, this story already had a vague YA vibe, and ironically, the swearing made things feel even more puerile.
Fortunately, that’s probably the worse of it. The other aspects of the book were pretty good, if a little underdeveloped, as I’d mentioned before. For instance, I think the concept of real-life super-soldiers being kidnapped as children and forced to become in-game SpecOps characters is an intriguing one, though a lot of questions remain, since the narrative fails to provide the clearest explanations. The dystopic setting was also well-imagined, but again we have crucial details lacking, as historical events like the corporate war and its consequences on society are painted with a broad brush, leaving readers to puzzle out the logic of some of these effects by themselves.
Still, despite its flaws, Firebreak was quite honestly a fun book. Had we gotten a more palatable protagonist, I’m even positive I would have given this novel a higher rating. In the end though, a satisfying reading experience for me always begins with the characters, and being put off by Mal probably affected my enjoyment. That said, I think I’m in the minority when it comes to my feelings. Not all readers will have the problems I had with the main character, and ultimately, Firebreak may provide a great read for fans of dystopian world-building and sci-fi action stories about gaming.
This was an honestly fun, if not brilliant, near-future dystopia where corporations have fully consumed one another to the point where every necessity of life, especially expensive water, is now under the company store.
Sound familiar? Well, yes, it does rather resemble our world. And the more of an oligarchy this novel becomes, with the burdens and the problems of maintaining life and sanity, the more it looks like ours.
And the story, after the all-powerful clamp down on even the smallest voices that might expose an injustice -- such as the little issue of sweeping up lost children to turn them into gaming superstars in the equivalent of a never-ending war, pretending that they are mere digital avatars, and controlling all related narratives -- the novel quickly becomes one that graduates from a cyberpunk corporate greed novel to become a full riot of rebellion. In one way or another, the core is also familiar, I'm sure. Many a YA novel has this little quirk.
So what did I think of it, overall?
It started out really well and I was quite invested. The developments later had their moments, but never quite lived up to the overall solid opening. I think I will be interested in seeing where this will go. There were simply a few areas where I lost interest in the second half, but it wasn't bad. I tend to enjoy novels like this. Gamers, cyberpunk, and rebellion.
war, manufactured state violence, corporate controlled false resource scarcity, technology like video games and social media, & state regulated faces of resistance and celebrity- all meaningfully and realistically explored in a thrilling and suspenseful and action packed dystopian universe ! I enjoyed this so muchhhhhhh loved the characters and dynamics and lack of romantic plot line in favor of a richly political and cerebral exploration of a well crafted city and protagonist
***Note: I received a copy curtesy of Netgalley and Gallery Books / Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.
Although I liked and felt very interested about the synopsis, I wasn't impressed with the worldbuilding and character development. The best parts about this novel were the MMO chapters and the operatives, their story the interesting one, even though their origin was quite clear from the start and not some big reveal. The rest of it is just okish, with a strong YA vibe, despite the constant swearing.
This was such a good mash up of the stuff you like from dystopias. Or at least, that I like. A hard world that's a bit on-the-nose social commentary, a big what if that stays through, solid friendship and a revolution! With mecha giants and video games!
I really liked that friendship was a big part of this, and that we don't get a sense of this being "easy" for anyone. Not sure I'll read the next one because I'm not sure how it could add, but one of the most balanced and interesting dystopias I've read in awhile.
I still consider Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp one of the best YA fantasies of the past several years, and its sequel, Latchkey, did not disappoint. So imagine my delight when I received an advance copy of her latest stand-alone novel for adults (old or young), Fiirebreak. And to my even greater delight, Firebreak proved to be as satisfying and thought provoking as its predecessors. There’s no question that Kornher-Stace is a writerly force to be reckoned with, and she deserves a much wider audience.
Kornher-Stace is a master of “in medias res”: Archivist Wasp opens with its protagonist fighting for her life, and Firebreak immerses us immediately in a game-world where RL players in a virtual battle-field struggle for points and, more importantly, followers and sponsors, who will pay the fighters not just in boosts and equipment but in RL commodities like water. Mallory (Mal), the gamer, lives in an all-too possible dystopian near-future, where two global corporations battle for territory and control not just of the media but of life-supporting commodities like food and water.
After Mal and her partner have a close encounter in the game-world, they are approached by a potential sponsor, who enlists them to investigate a secret she believes she has discovered. This secret threatens to blow the corporation that controls the city where they live wide open, and the central conflict concerns Mal and her friends responding to it. To say more would be spoilerish, but suffice it to say that the novel asks how far one would go to defend against moral … not just injustice, but _wrongness__.
This novel is about taking a stand, even when the odds seem to be totally not in your favour. One thing I really enjoyed is that we see the way one character’s actions inspires and invigorates broader acts of protest. Mal is a flawed protagonist, not some effortless “chosen one,” and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she is forced almost despite herself to overcome her social awkwardness to become a leader. The parallels with our own world, with events and protests everywhere, but perhaps especially in the US in 2020, give this novel an immediacy and a sense of urgency that will stay with the reader long afterwards.
This novel is thought-provoking but also action-packed, un-put-downable, and just plain fabulous. It will be released next year: watch for it!!
I am grateful to Nicole Kornher-Stace for providing me with an ARC.
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
I loved the book archivist wasp by the author and was excited to read her newest. While on the balance, I have to say that I liked it, I generally loved the first half of the story better than the second half.
I really did love the ideas of corporations at war and how water rights played an issue in this book. I loved how the corporations used the war in VR games and especially how the supersoldiers were used inside the game. I loved the main character, Mal, and her relationship with her roommate. I also loved those soldier superstars and their relationship with each other.
The problem for me is that the book is set into several sections. I really enjoyed the set-up in parts one and two. Once the truth is out, I found it to be not very interesting and the mechanism for saving the world to be lackluster too. There were parts of part three that I did enjoy. But once the showdown with corporate begins in earnest, it felt a bit drawn out and seriously unrealistic. I know that be super vague but further details lead to spoilers and I do think that many readers will love how everything plays out. There were just plot points in here that are generally not to be taste. I wanted the VR game to have more importance and impact. At least the ending did redeem the middle part a bit for me.
I have no regrets reading this one and will continue to read the author's work. I need to get the sequel to the first book in the Wasp Saga and she is apparently writing a third in that world. Plus I have another Nicole Kornher-Stace book lined up later in the year. Arrr!
This is a SF about dystopic corporate future, were people play online shooters and pay almost half of their income for drinking water. I read is as a Buddy read for June 2021 at SFF Hot from Printers: New Releases group.
The story starts with the protagonist, Mallory (Mal, in-game name Nycorix) playing massive multiplayer online game BestLife, which is mainly a shooter (unlike most well-known MMOs, from Ultima and WoW to Eve Online, where a broad variety of things to do beyond killing others are present) that has a hyper-realistic graphics and in-game spaces in line with the real world. The goal that Mal is trying to achieve at the moment is to kill a thousand NPCs to get to another level. At that moment she spots a SpecOps agent, who is based on its real life counterpart – a superpowered killing machine, the ultimate weapon of the corp that controls almost everything Mal has/uses. the corporation’s name is Stellaxis. Getting a SpecOps agent as your in-game assistant / side-kick / weapon is one of the rewards within the game allowing laying waste almost everything. Mal is helped by her friend Jessa, who is more a public person, unlike Mal, who is introverted and has problems with people touching her (not groping, but like giving a hand to get over an obstacle).
Mal and Jessa stream their gameplay and get tips for that. They also do gig-jobs, like babysitting or walking dogs. And they really need money, for the whole USA is now controlled by just two corps, Stellaxis and Greenleaf which war with each other. Stellaxis sells a lot of stuff, but the most important is drinking water – the company has a monopoly of gathering /purification /sale and hits violators of its IP hard.
Mal is asked to meet her new mysterious sponsor, who offers to pay in water if she tries to get more info about SpecOps agents, for the sponsor thinks that the agents aren’t bioforms created by corps, but stolen kids. Mal doubts it, but water is water, plus she has a platonic crush for one of the agents.
I don’t like the story. It is intended as just another ‘evil corps eat your kids’ anti-capitalist critique, which could be interested as a short story but not a novel, where say snow lays on streets but no one picks to melt it in hand and drink, as if any entity may stop 99% of population doing it. The action parts are well done, but I’m not interested in those.
This fucking book!! I AM SUFFERING AFTER THE ENDING 😩😩
Somewhere in the far future, two mega corporations rule over the supercity New Liberty (Picture: Capitalism run rampant). Mallory doesn't want for much: enough water to keep her kidneys from failing, more time/money to dedicate to the virtual game BestLife, not having to work multiple jobs alongside her 8 other roommates so they can afford their room.
Mal loves being able to play BestLife and catching glimpses of the celebrity SecOps NPCs which are based off Stellaxis's SecOps operatives. But when Mal is pulled into a conspiracy theory, she finds out the SecOps operatives weren't created by Stellaxis, but are children stolen from the war and augmented into the perfect super soldier.
This is another example of why I love sci-fi. The worldbuilding, the social commentary, the characters. All of it worked seamlessly to pull my into this world and I never wanted to leave the story. I don't think I'd actually want to live in New Liberty though because it is a bit depressing and terrifying to imagine.
Mal was an easy character to relate to. I really loved that throughout the whole story she's still her introverted self and she doesn't have to change that about herself to be a hero. The other thing I loved was her friendship with Jessa. It was just the best. Mal is also aroace, though the word is never used. There was sort of a vague statement about how her crush on 22 isn't of the romantic kind.
I loved getting to know the operatives a bit. I wish we got to know more about them. I also wish the ending wasn't so open ended because I AM SUFFERING FOR IT. Regardless, I loved this book so much.
I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Firebreak was an interesting book to dive into. I was definitely getting Ready Player One vibes from it but also something a bit different at the same time. Now while this had some interesting and mysterious parts to it, I'll admit that I was bored for most of this book. It just felt like not a lot was happening and I was missing information during certain situations and stuff. I also really wanted more background information about certain characters too.
In it, you will meet Mallory... who was okay. To me at least. In the beginning, I was honestly really excited to get to know her. She was an orphan and lives with eight others in a hotel room. They all work numerous jobs to save enough money to keep their room and other stuff to survive. One of her jobs was streaming a popular virtual reality war game.
This game along kept this a page turner for most of this book. It just happened to get boring to read about in certain parts. I feel like I kept getting bored because I wasn't connecting to the main character, Mal, at all. I did like some of the characters but I wasn't fully invested in them at the same time. Which disappoints me because I was really excited to dive into this book.
In the end, it was a quick book to devour but things started to become a bit predictable towards the end.
Some aspects of this book are solidly four or five stars--the intense scenes are *really* intense, the world building and its direct themes are intriguing, and the set up provides a fantastic way to incorporate video gaming while still allowing the tension to be based soundly in reality. But overall there was a lot that just felt flat to me. Some of the plot doesn't quite add up and there were a bunch of areas where I thought it was leading up to something really interesting and then took a sharp turn into bland.
The ending also didn't cut it for me. I'm a huge fan of open-ended and tragic endings when they're actually satisfying (which they absolutely can be, when done well!), but this one just left me feeling like I'd been chewed up and spit back out again and no one even thought to give me a lollipop for my trouble. I'm sure someone liked it, but it made me feel like I'd just wasted six hours of my life.
Also, despite being an asexual myself, I wouldn't have known the MC as ace unless I'd seen it marked as such on lists... which is /fine/, technically, I don't think the main character's sexual attraction (or lack there of) needs to be focused on in every book, but it's a weird choice when asexuality is so tragically underrepresented. I've only gotten to read a handful of books with asexual characters (most of them indie) and it would have been nice to get to see myself actively portrayed instead of passively passed off.
Book provided via Netgalley for review This is not exactly what I was expecting but it was still quite good! I didn't know much about this going in and I hadn't read anything else by this author but I had a pretty good time with this.
I wanted to read this when I saw it on Netgalley because it seemed to be about issues with monopolies and technology that I've been concerned with. The cover did make me think this was going to be more about technology than it was. Mostly, this was about the issues of powerful corporations and viewing people only as customers. There's an element of future tech, but that's not really the main thread, so don't go in expecting that. I did like this exploration of issues with massive and powerful corporations and the power they may hold. While I think the problem was probably made as massive as possible for illustrative purposes but I don't think it was ever unrealistic, especially given the power some corporations already have. When I first started reading and saw there was a gaming element, I was a bit worried that this would be more of a Ready Player One type book, which doesn't really interest me so I'm glad this book didn't go in that direction.
Outside the themes of the book, I did enjoy the plot. There were a few times it felt a bit meandering. Every part of this book has necessary information that furthers the plot but something about some plot points felt a bit drawn out to me. There were several times where I was surprised there was so much left in the book because it felt like the story was wrapping up. Generally the pacing was fine and the plot moved along really well, there were just a few points where it felt a little overly slow. The ending was also a bit abrupt to me. I think it fit well into the tone of the book so I definitely don't think it was a bad ending, I just personally like to have more of a conclusion than we got here.
I think part of the reason it might have felt a bit slow was because there wasn't too much character development. I did enjoy Mal as a main character and I liked how her actions were used to illustrate what kind of person she was. I also really enjoyed her friend, Jessa. Jessa was the character I felt like we got to know best and I enjoyed her characterization as well as her relationship to Mal. I did want a little bit more development from the SecOp characters and I would have liked to see more introspective character development for Mal. I think having us find out about her from her actions is a good way to show, not tell, and it does work well here. I think I just wanted to learn a bit more about Mals background and daily life before the events of the of this book.
This was a great first book by this author and I'm definitely interested in reading more. Even though this was a little different than I was expecting, I still really enjoyed it and it's compelling take on the issues of corporate power.
Originally gave it 3 stars, but when a day later I was still saying "Oh yeah, and that part didn't make any sense either..." it got downgraded. The writing was good, characters were fine, but the world and the overall plot didn't work for me. Dystopian requires some suspension of disbelief, but, for example, not drinking rainwater when you are literally dying of thirst because the company says it has diseases? Nope. Soda (which is mostly water) is cheap - do they make it with a water substitute in the future? Dispensing water rations from a storeroom full of heavily guarded water barrels even though the building has working plumbing? Why? Wouldn't it be easier to dispense from a tap and, you know, turn off the water at the source, no plot-convenient armed guards needed? Yet the communal garden on the roof, growing the only citrus that is apparently holding scurvy at bay, needs no guards at all?
Something that worries me - "Does it make it better, what she did, if she was only following orders when she did it? Fuck if I know that, either. " Answer - No, it does not make it better, because she TORTURED KIDS. It's called a war crime. It's not even like she was in the German army and would be court-martialed for not following orders. If she didn't want to, she could just QUIT HER JOB.
The ending, while very millennial, didn't work. Anyone old enough to remember Tiananmen Square knows that getting press attention isn't going to change an oppressive dictatorship. Sorry, but clicking "like" on Facebook will not bring down a government that is not already open to change.
Overall, it makes me wonder if this author has ever cracked open a history book.
Wow wow wow! I was excited to dive into this book, primarily because of two reasons: 1) the synopsis sounds so good! and 2) there is aro/ace rep. I didn't know what else to expect here in Firebreak. But now that I've finished it, I am just so in awe of it.
The world-building is spot on and immersive, the writing style is so good, the characters (especially Mal) are compelling, the plot is thrilling (hell, several plot twists knocked me off guard), even Mal's platonic crush is such a refreshing element, and overall, it's just such an irresistibly good book!
Think Hunger Games, but with a VR war game, social media, and capitalist megacorporations that need to be dismantled. Queer SFF lovers, you need to add this to your TBRs!
If I could rate this more than 5 stars, I would do so in a heartbeat. (Also, I can't help but think this would make such a good movie?!) Full review on my blog soon!
A big thanks to Saga SFF/Gallery Books for sending an ARC my way! This, of course, did not affect my overall opinion of the book.
I read a few early chapters of this book and loved them -- then was afraid that the rest wouldn't hold up. I was afraid, truly, that my early enthusiasm was just setting me up for disappointment. Then I read the rest of the draft, and loved the rest of the book *more*. Truly, FIREBREAK is weapons-grade awesome and I can't wait to read the final version.
You know? I bet parts of this stick with me. The plot didn’t feel revolutionary, but the commentary was really interesting, and I’m honestly mulling it all over (and probably will continue to for a bit).
At its most simple this is a dystopian book that portrays rampant capitalism and a true oligarchy, but I also feel like there are some smaller things that’ll be more top of mind as I process this one. The use of war propaganda to warm their citizens to the war, the parasocial relationships between victims of a war and the super soldiers they’re taught to worship. It’s just an interesting commentary on an intersection between violent video games, parasocial influencer relationships, and capitalism that all kind of worked for me.
Not sure how long the characters and plot will stick with me, but the world definitely will.
Tienes que empezar por recoger todos los elementos clásicos del género distópico: ambienta la historia en un futuro indeterminado, en el que gran parte de la población viva en malas condiciones, en contraste con los lujos que se permite una pequeña minoría. Crea una ciudad enorme habitada por personajes que no pueden permitirse apenas vivir en ella, que sobreviven al día a día con los pocos recursos que tienen.
Escoge a un héroe, que destacará de entre la multitud complaciente. El héroe será capaz de ver entre los hilos del sistema, descubrirá las injusticias que está viviendo e incitará al resto de la población —hasta entonces, ajena a lo que él va descubriendo— a la revolución.
Pero este héroe ha de enfrentarse a un enemigo abstracto, ya que en realidad lucha contra todo un sistema político y social, muchísimo más grande que él y con el poder ramificado. Dale dudas sobre su poder de influencia, ponle en el camino unos cuantos agentes del sistema que intenten detenerlo, dale algún compañero que le haga dudar de lo que esté haciendo.
Si al final tiene éxito o el sistema termina por aplastarlo depende de ti y de tu historia.
Las distopías llevan componiéndose así desde sus inicios. Han pasado casi 100 años desde el origen del género, y hasta ahora se han basado en este esquema.
Así es cómo actualizas la distopía:
Añade a esa historia distópica los problemas sociales propios de nuestro presente. Añade grandes empresas multinacionales que han fagocitado y destruido el sistema económico en sus ansias de crecimiento infinito. Ellas han terminado por derrocar a los gobiernos y convertido a los ciudadanos en consumidores; el problema ya no es el gobierno dictatorial, sino el propio sistema económico. Enfrenta a las dos empresas restantes en una guerra ultracapitalista sin sentido, de la cual no se recuerda el inicio y para la que no se ve el final.
Añade el mundo digital. Crea una ciudad hiperrealista y virtual, en un videojuego multijugador masivo, con tareas y retos diarios. Añádele streamers, ¿vivir de microdonaciones anónimas cuenta como tener un sueldo? Añade chats, el impulso de compartir todo en internet, los trolls, las alarmas de suscriptores, los mensajes privados de los seguidores, los memes. La manera caótica en la que la red recibe las buenas y las malas noticias.
Para terminar de actualizar la distopía a estas primeras décadas del siglo XXI, convierte al héroe en una chica. Una chica joven, que se encontrará arrastrada de manera injusta a una vida de miserias, pluriempleo y escasez. Que ve un hilo del que tirar y cuyas ansias de ayudar a quien está peor que ella, le harán dejarlo todo atrás sin dudar, siguiendo únicamente el impulso de hacer un mundo mejor. Sabiendo que no sabe ser una líder, pero si no lo es ella, ¿quién lo va a ser? Si no lo hace ahora, ¿cuándo?
The United States has been taken over & is now ruled by 2 corporations, Stellaxis & Greenleaf, which are at constant war with each other. Mallory lives in the ruins of New Liberty City, known as Old Town. Here she is bunked with other young adults, working odd jobs & dealing with the aftermath of war & rationed water & food by the Stellaxis Corporation.
Stellaxis has a group of super-soldiers that are named only by numbers. The super-soldiers are the equivalent of celebrities in this dystopian society. They have fought in the great war against Greenleaf & Stellaxis sells all their merch in the corporate stores. Stellaxis has also created an MMO game, SecOps, to keep the population at bay with online versions of all the soldiers. Players compete against each other in a virtual version of New Liberty City to get to the top of the daily leader board to be allied with & control a super-soldier until they are booted from the top spot on the leaderboard. Everyone streams their games in the hopes of landing sponsors to get better in-game gear to improve their rank as well as real-life goods such as water, food, or merch.
Mallory & her BFF, Jessa, find a presumed “dead” soldier wandering around in the game, resulting in their stream going viral. They receive sponsorship from a mysterious sponsor that wants more than just entertaining gameplay. Mallory is tasked with investigating the circumstances & background of another one of the soldiers that have died in real life. Throughout the course of her investigation, Mallory unwittingly becomes the face of an uprising against Stellaxis corporation.
What I liked: Firebreak is a wild ride. The dystopian world that is created by Nicole Kornher-Smith has a familiar feel but is incredibly unique. It is well written & the pacing of the plot is on point. I never felt bored or that there was filler that wasn’t integral to the story. As a gamer, I found the gaming aspect realistic & incredibly relevant to the current day Twitch & social media influencer world we live in.
What I didn't: I needed more backstory. This is a selfish ask as the book probably would have hit 1000 pages to include all the things I wanted to know. I wanted to know how the corporations take over the US government. I want to know more about Mallory. I want to know more about the soldiers. I want to know what happens next.
I’ve read several reviews comparing this to Ready Player One & I have to fully disagree. The only similarities between the two are only that:
1. It takes place in a dystopian future with a poor young adult/teenager 2. There is an MMO style video game
And that is where the comparisons end. While I enjoyed Ready Player One, it was more focused on a fun nostalgia trip & the gaming aspect than the bleak dystopia of the world. Firebreak is the opposite. The MMO game in Firebreak is merely a vehicle to introduce the characters & the propaganda put forth by the powers in charge.
Firebreak is a sci-fi dystopian blend of 1984, Hunger Games & Ready Player One & would make an excellent episode of Black Mirror. The story portrays a bleak dystopian future where corporations rule & the population is forced to ration basic needs in the name of corporate warfare. I am hoping for a prequel or sequel to Firebreak.
*I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions included herein are my own.*
Did not vibe-- was recommended this at a local bookstore, tagline was something like "ready player one-esque with more leaning on the dystopia," and that description is TRUE I just thought the dystopia in general was not that interesting and I did not much relate to the characters' motivations to do most of what they did.
book is about a woman and her friend who are video game streamers in like 2222 or something, in the midst of megacorps having purchased the US and everyone has to pay out the nose for water privileges. This so far is interesting to me & that's why I picked the book up, but where it loses me are the details of what comes after it, like "the city they're in specifically is an active war zone, she and her friends are all specifically refugees living in a hotel, the game takes place IN this SAME war-torn city"- I think you can say a lot about RP1 but what it has vs. this book is at least an ELEMENT of escapism for the characters from shitty dystopia world. personally if I were being bombed & starved in Boston, MA and had lost friends and family I do not think I would like to spend my free time pretending to be a soldier with a big gun who kills NPCs in Boston, MA
that in general I think is a lot of my problem with the book, as well as its kind of, very surface level reaction to Company Atrocities, like constanltly we hear "oh you get sent to prison for terrorism if you collect rainwater" and "oh Tegan's mom was killed in a protest which is typical" but the main hook of the plot is "the company kidnapped 20 children" and I simply Do Not see why this is so much worse than the 100 other things- this and the fact that the response is "we must protest!! but NonViolently And Legally :)" which I might understand if later we understood this action to be underinformed and naive yet. We do not
book also suffers extremely from "I did this, and I don't know why I did it" mc voice. i once read someone in another review saying "if you can't explain why your characters are doing something, you need better motivations" and that's extremely true. anyway! Have a lot of gripes! it simply was not very good
"Does it make it better, what she did, if she was only following orders when she did it? Fuck if I know that, either. " This book was described as Ready Player 1 meets streaming and I have to say it hit ALL the marks for me. I really felt so immersed in this story from the very first line. Maybe it's seeing the "hustle and gig economies" crumple my friends, maybe it's the fact that collecting rainwater is illegal in many states under the guise of safety. Maybe it's the fact that over the last year I've seen more protests and the utter weight of feeling hopeless and realizing that swapping one corporate overlord for another isn't really a change. Maybe it's the fact that this book isn't too far from what's happening in the world right now.
But wow, I found myself seeing bleekness through all new lenses. If you're looking for a happy ending - I wouldn't go for this one. If you're looking to be entertained with pop culture references, this ain't the one. However, if you're looking for a book that covers what happens when corporation take control (it's slower and faster than you think) this is the one.
Mal, the MC, just wants to go through her life with her 3 jobs until she sees a truth that she can't ignore. It costs her everything. She goes from an upstanding (read: conforming) citizen until she fights back for what she believes in and while this book tries to end on a hopeful note, I only have to wonder for how long until a drone strike happens to take her out.
This book gripes you from the very first chapter and refuses to let you go. I hope everyone reads this and realizes that action is necessary, but martyrdom is rarely as glorious as it sounds.
Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace was a 3.75 read for me
Firebreak is a book that takes the “chosen one” narrative that is so often repeated in YA fiction and flips it on its head. Firebreak takes place in the US Settler State in the 22nd century as two major corporations wage war as they vie for complete monopolistic control of the water and food sources. Our main character is Mallory, a VR streamer who juggles multiple jobs on the side, and we follow her as she becomes an unlikely leader in the beginnings of a revolution. I was on the edge of my seat for so much of this novel and was invested in the plot pretty much from the jump. I think there was some important commentary on the decay of imperial-capitalism and on movement building in this novel; it is simply a fictionalization of what we’re witnessing in the current day: the monopolizing of corporations, corporate “ownership” of food, water, housing, etc., the glorification of imperial wars, how civilian media coverage and documentation can play a vital role in uprisings and revolutions, the role that martyrs play in uprisings, the fact that revolution cannot be brought about by individuals, but, rather, needs to include, and be led, by the masses. The reason that this wasn’t a higher rating for me is simply based on personal preference/taste; after the Hunger Games-Divergent-Maze-Runner-etc. YA craze, I was a bit hesitant about this book for fear that it would follow this path. Although Kornher-Stace definitely subverts some of the tropes of that particular niche genre, there were portions of this book that felt in the vein of the aforementioned books-- which made me like it, not love it.