Volume 24, Number 2, Winter, 2006

RebelFire 1.0: Out of the Gray Zone

By Claire Wolfe & Aaron Zelman

RebelFire Press, 2005, $17.95
ISBN: 0964230488, 227 pages

Reviewed by Chris Hibbert

RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone feels like a juvenile, in the sense of Heinlein’s juveniles, but that’s mostly because the viewpoint character is a rebellious teenager. Jeremy wants to be a rock star, sculpting visual images for the audience while his favorite band sings about freedom. The major obstacle is that he lives in a repressive surveillance society that monitors people’s movements, and controls what they buy, read, view, and ingest. Every facet of his life is monitored and controlled by one repressive bureaucracy or another.

In the style of all such juveniles, the band and all records of their existence disappear from sight, so Jeremy has to escape from his home town and undergo a harrowing journey in order to track them down. Along the way, he adopts a dog, and has the requisite eye-opening adventures in the big city. He joins up with the revolution, finds the band, stares down some government goons, and joins the band.

I describe the book as formulaic, but Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman carry it all off quite well. Jeremy is quite sympathetic, and he does visibly mature through the story. The government is a lot scarier than anything that we’ve yet seen in America, but all their attitudes and prohibitions are straightforward extrapolations of current governments. As with Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, the point is that what enables the abuse is unprotesting acceptance by the populace.

RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone ends with Jeremy having a personal happy ending, able to live underground, having achieved his dream of joining the band, and (possibly) having gotten the girl. But nothing has really changed for the larger society. This is the one weak point of an otherwise strong candidate for this year’s Prometheus award. Oh, and I prefer positive visions to dystopias when I’m voting, but dystopias aren’t disqualified by any means.

Footnote: a couple of people suggested not listening to the CD before reading the book, since the clash with their musical tastes spoiled the effect for them. There are two cuts on the CD, representing “heavy metal” and “classic rock” versions of the song “Rebelfire”. I didn’t mind the classic rock version, and have added it to my iPod. Listening to it first wouldn’t have spoiled anything for me. Caveat Auditor.

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