Ready Player One meets Cyberpunk 2077 in this eerily familiar future.
“Twenty minutes to power curfew, and my kill counter’s stalled at eight hundred eighty-seven while I’ve been standing here like an idiot. My health bar is flashing ominously, but I’m down to four heal patches, and I have to be smart.”
New Liberty City, 2134.
Two corporations have replaced the US, splitting the country’s remaining forty-five states (five have been submerged under the ocean) between them: Stellaxis Innovations and Greenleaf. There are nine supercities within the continental US, and New Liberty City is the only amalgamated city split between the two megacorps, and thus at a perpetual state of civil war as the feeds broadcast the atrocities committed by each side.
Here, Mallory streams Stellaxis’s wargame SecOps on BestLife, spending more time jacked in than in the world just to eke out a hardscrabble living from tips. When a chance encounter with one of the game’s rare super-soldiers leads to a side job for Mal—looking to link an actual missing girl to one of the SecOps characters. Mal’s sudden burst in online fame rivals her deepening fear of what she is uncovering about BestLife’s developer, and puts her in the kind of danger she’s only experienced through her avatar.
I read a good amount before I started blogging, but once I started writing about books I really started to pay attention to what makes up certain genres and tropes… the good, the bad, and the ugly. So when it came to reading Firebreak, my mind immediately went to other books I have read with secondary or sometimes primary settings in massive multiplayer online games. Here are some of the things I was cognizant of: strong attention to both primary and secondary world, the conflict between the worlds and the connection between the two (usually something in one world depends on the actions in the other), etc…
Firebreak is well-written. Mal’s inner monologue followed my thoughts almost exactly… We are both definitely sceptics! Ha! She doubts everything. The purpose of the game. The true motivations behind the mission she’s been sent on. Everything! This linked directly with the pacing and quality action sequences in-game. And I like the direct connection between rations, their performance, and that thing called FAME!
A couple things slowed my reading down a bit… I wanted a clearer view of the primary world. It didn’t feel like it could stand on its own which I think is important to set up the fulcrum between it and the game. What is it that links the two so strongly?
I also had a bit of an issue with the opening scene. Mal is off in VR trying to gain 1000 daily kills that will move her up the leaderboard. But off in the distance she sees what may be one of the game’s ‘heroes.’ She has a decision to make: get her kills or try to get some footage of this rare bird, the recluse super-soldier who may hold secrets to the game. It is a good action scene, but I feel it should have been more treacherous and risky. It felt too much like a “game”… Something was needed to connect it to flesh and blood outside of the game.
A mixed review for Firebreak by Kornher-Stace. Good pacing and driven characters power this narrative, but some issues within the genre create some flaws.
3 out of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley, Saga Press, and the author for an advanced copy for review.
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