Born from Fire (Tales from the Longview #1) by Holly Lisle
Rating: 1/5 stars
Synopsis: In a society where love is a criminal act, one man is sentenced to death for having a child with the woman he loves, while another was exiled as a boy for kissing a girl but eventually finds his way to working on The Longview, a ship that takes aboard prisoners sentenced to death and does… something mysterious with them.
This society, the We, suppresses individuality and punishes anything that is not considered “fair” and politically correct. When someone is caught committing a crime they can repent and rejoin the We by jumping into a lake of fire (and thus dying) or they can be sentenced to death and sold to the death circus where they will be worked to death or turned into gladiators or put in stasis if no one wants to buy them. The Longview is full of prisoners in stasis, and appears to be doing something with them though we don’t know what.
As a reader: The novella has two points of view, “this criminal” and Kagen, a crew member on The Longview. The point of view of “this criminal” (that is literally what he is called in the narrative) gets annoying quickly. I want a point of view character to have a name. The text does eventually explain that he never felt a part of the We so he felt like his name We-39R was a lie, but then why didn’t he come up with a name he secretly called himself before becoming a criminal?! His story also ends abruptly after he is bought by The Longview and put in stasis. Since this is a series I’m guessing he must return in a later installment, but I don’t really care if he does and his point of view felt unnecessary to me. All of the plot happens in Kagen’s scenes.
Kagen isn’t much better as a point of view character, however. Through his point of view we learn more about the horror of the We, and it becomes apparent that the We is a thinly veiled portrayal of a libertarian’s nightmare society. It also involves *a lot* of violence against women for no apparent reason, including gratuitous gang rape. Kagen, meanwhile, is an idiot. He gets caught up in politics between an officer and his immediate superior, and with one tiny misstep becomes convinced that his career is over and acts rashly as a result. It made no sense why he jumped to such an extreme conclusion over a minor thing other than the fact that the plot required it.
The only reason I finished this is because it is so short. By the time I decided it was terrible I only had one chapter left so I figured I might as well read it, and maybe the ending would provide some sort of satisfying conclusion that would improve the story overall. It didn’t.
As a writer: It felt as though the “this criminal” point of view was an attempt to show rather than tell the world building, but the character lifts right out of the story, the plot wouldn’t change if his scenes were cut, so it’s not a good example of how to avoid information dumps. The world building was also way too heavy-handed with libertarian politics. This is a good example of why writing with an agenda instead of themes doesn’t work (and why you need to look carefully at whether your themes might read as an agenda to someone else).
I was again frustrated by Lisle’s use of sexual violence in ways that are very refrigerator girl and unnecessary to the plot (there are so many other things she could have used to make this society horrifying). Throughout the story I kept thinking of what I would have done differently, and it was pretty much everything.
I would usually feel terrible writing such a scathing critique, but, honestly, between the libertarian bunk and the gang rapes I’m not inclined to be nice.