Content notes for Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace: violence & gore, death, kidnapping, violation of bodily autonomy, abuse
- The city of New Liberty is wrecked by corporate civil war – there are numerous descriptions of violence, various bioweapons and their effects, lots of shots being fired, explosions exploding and overall quite a bit of blood and death
- The corporations also care little about the rights of their “free customer-citizens”, their main marketing strategy is keeping everyone dehydrated, and the above violence also includes brutal push backs against peaceful demonstrators
- Kidnapping is a central aspect of the story, as is child abuse and there is on and off page torture
Representation: This book is all about the friendships! The prota is aro/ace, there’s no romance in sight but amazing platonic relationships, including a great friend-crush (that evolves into so much more); also, there are several non-binary side-characters
In a future where the US is owned by two rival companies, the government’s main interest is how many sales they can get.
What does it take to be a hero? Mal knows that she isn’t a hero. She’s just one of of the people who lost their home and family in the corporate civil war, lucky enough to be staying in a hotel room with eight other people instead of the camps. She’s holding down four jobs and just trying to get by. Her dream? Becoming one of the few gamers who can live off streaming their adventures in Best Life – a multiplayer virtual reality game based on New Liberty and its civil war. But with three other jobs and power curfew, it’s basically impossible to even make the scoreboards, let alone climb to the top.
What does it take to start a revolution? When Mal, who, despite all her struggles, is still very much an upstanding citizen, conforming to the rules of corporate government, witnesses something she can’t ignore and unearths a stunning secret, she realizes that she has to do something, anything really, to try and make things right. What follows is not just a fun and action-filled adventure but more than that a critical look at current trends and developments and what they could turn into.
While outright corporate warfare with mechs and super-soldiers laying waste to entire cities is obviously not something that is happening right now, so many elements of the story Nicole Kornher-Stace tells in Firebreak feel extremely real because we are already seeing them happen In the real world: The world in this novel is ravaged by climate change, ruled by mega-corporations, with (artificial) resource scarcity, people trying to get by in a devastating gig-economy and trying to escape their dreary lives in virtual reality.
I thoroughly enjoyed this mix of extremely realistic near-future dystopia and the more sci-fi-esque elements and the way Mal dives into the morality issues of it all. Mal as a protagonist was someone I could relate to very much. Her social skills were about as awkward as mine, so extremely, the way she interacts with her friends was annoyingly abrasive sometimes but always very realistic and her strong sense of justice admirable. There were a number of major and minor side characters that I would have loved to know more about but what I did get to know was fascinating and intriguing.
Also, slight spoilers ahead, I very much liked the fact that Firebreak did not end with „and then they lived happily ever after“. While Nicole Kornher-Stace does end her novel on a somewhat hopeful note, the ending just serves to emphasize that there are no easy answers or immediate solutions to the questions asked throughout the book. Changing the world is a continuous effort – the world didn’t just go bad over night and it won‘t become good again that quick either.
Overall, Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace was a great book, exactly to my taste and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The gaming aspects of the story felt super realistic (unlike a lot of other sci-fi video games), I liked the characters and I especially liked the harrowing near-future setting and its excellent world-building. Also, having an officially aro-ace main character and tons of awesome friendships and platonic crushes instead of weird insta-love romances is definitely a big plus in book!
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