Volume 24, Number 3, Spring 2006

First Novels for Freedom: Rebelfire and The Black Arrow

By Rick Triplett

These two works, one short and one long, are novels by amateur fiction writers. The Black Arrow, by Vin Suprynowicz, is directed at an adult readership, while the shorter Rebelfire: Out of the Gray Zone, by Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman, reaches toward youth. In calling them amateur writers of fiction, I don’t mean to disparage them or their writing. I mean only that the bulk of the authors’ time and productivity over the years has been in areas other than fiction writing. All are longtime activists, and all have produced a commendable body of nonfiction. But except for a couple of Zelman’s collaborations with L. Neil Smith, none has published any to my knowledge. The theme of both of these books is resistance fighting in a credibly drawn near-future USA. Many coat-and-tie libertarians, nurtured primarily on cato.org and the national Libertarian Party, may not be acquainted with these authors; but those who have been around longer and are angered to the bone over injustice know all three as ardent champions of freedom.

Rebelfire tells the story of Jeremy, a teen living in the highly regulated “gray zone,” a large area on the west coast of the USA. All media are heavily censored, travel is restricted, and everyone bears an implanted chip to identify them and their location. Like many teens, Jeremy has a dream and it possesses him so strongly that he tries to escape the gray zone. A plan like this is dangerous and almost nothing works out the way he expected it to. He meets some extraordinary and picturesque characters, learns from them, and grows in ways he could never have imagined. And he never lets go of his dream. This novel is the story of his adventures and of his maturation towards individualism and self-sufficiency.

The Black Arrow is also set in a highly regulated USA, and the main character is the secret leader of a growing organization of resistance fighters. The intrusion of the state into people’s lives is painted in detail; readers repeatedly see how power breeds even more power, and suffer vicariously as good people’s lives and aspirations are crushed by police and thwarted by bureaucrats. Colorfully diverse individuals in the resistance work together and fashion their plans against evil. The Black Arrow is a vivid, sometimes electrifying tale of resistance fighting, with lots of heroic characters and a trenchant exposé of the evils of collectivism.

Despite being fairly new to the writing of fiction, the authors of these two books have produced surprisingly readable prose. I felt that Rebelfire had the better style, perhaps because the two authors served as checks on each other’s excesses.

If I were to fault the writing it would be that it lacked excess: at no point did I find my blood boiling. Nevertheless the tale of Rebelfire kept me mildly interested.

The Black Arrow, in contrast, did make my blood boil, and frequently. Suprynowicz is an intelligent man, and he has taken pains to produce a plot that is both complicated and engaging. I chortled with glee as villains were slaughtered, and I was on the edge of my seat when the good people were harmed or threatened. A surfeit of regulation is shown to be not just inefficient but unintentionally harmful and counterproductive. That being said, it was a book that could have used further revisions. The author needed to trim perhaps a quarter of the text, including the longer speeches and the unnecessarily graphic imagery. I hope The Black Arrow will sell well; but falls a little short of its potential as a libertarian classic.

These two books were written to inspire a love of liberty in the reader. Both tackle a broad range of issues important to libertarians. Both dramatize those issues so the reader will take such issues personally and care about them. I have repeatedly loaned these two books to acquaintances and none have been disappointed.

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