Saturday, January 14, 2017

Marina Fontaine's Chasing Freedom

(First off, my apologies to many people. I haven't really been myself lately and my reading/reviewing has been effected. My only excuse is that I had a roommate that kept up at night like a newborn baby and I couldn't concentrate hard enough to read or write. Follow that up with a thousand mile move, a job search, trying to learn a new job in a field I'm almost totally unfamiliar with and a reunion with my young children that  hadn't seen in more than a year and well... It happens. The good news is that I have sufficiently put my brain back together enough to be able to read more that two or three pages at a time. If you're reading this and I owe you a review IT IS COMING. Life has just been crazy lately. I apologize. Now, on with the review.)

America as we know it is dead. All of our freedoms, from the freedom to worship to the freedom to own guns and even the right to eat what we want have been taken from us. People have been forced to live in cities for "environmentalist" reasons. America is a place where cell phone time is rationed and children born with birth defects are immediately put death. Well, at least in Marina Fontaine's Chasing Freedom it is. The crazy part of the story is that it all seems so possible.

The story here, though, is not one of downtrodden people with a boot on their neck sitting quietly. There is a reason Fontaine has work published by Superversive Press.  This is the story of a fight from the shadows against an unforgiving government. It is a story of cyber warfare and sometimes outright violence. It is the story of people fighting the only way they can against a government that has them outnumbered and outgunned. It is, in its way, the story of the plucky underdog. It is also a story of sacrificing safety and wealth for freedom. Chasing Freedom also asks a question that pops up again and again in literature and in history: Was it all worth it? I won't reveal Fontaine's answer, but at the end of the day, I agree with it.

It's easy to see why Chasing Freedom was nominated for a Dragon Award for Best Apocalyptic Novel. It really moves. The characters live and breathe. I couldn't put this thing down. I read it in a day and was left wanting more. That's not to say that the ending wasn't satisfying. It was. It also made sense and was realistic which is something you don't often see in fiction anymore. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Fontaine's work.

You know that whole "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental" disclaimer that comes at the front of most works of fiction? It's there, right on page three. I just quoted it directly out of the book. I am totally not rude enough to up and call bullshit here. Nor will I make comparisons between the self-righteous absolutist attitudes expressed by politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton because then I might be tempted to point out the possibility that such things had been intentionally included and I am far too polite to ever utter such a sentiment. Of course, if someone else were to read the book and make such statements I would probably find myself unable to manufacture an argument to dispute them with, but such is life.

The characters in Chasing Freedom are amazingly well done and believable. From fighting a war, to falling in love, to having children they do what most people do. The leaders of the movement understand their roles and do what they must but never quite feel right in the role. The role players play their roles. Pretty much anyone involved in the movement suffers, some worse than others. Fontaine's cast is made up of not just characters but people. Seriously. If only he existed, I would totally sit down with Randy over a beer. Well, if I could get him away from Julie (his wife) for long enough I would.

The part that I enjoyed most about the book is not its dystopian setting, but the hope and resolve of the characters. They're face with a world where it would be easiest to go along to get along. The United States of Chasing Freedom is not the type of place to engender hope for a brighter future. The fact remains that they do. They don't give up. Nothing stops them and the horrors just pile up. Julie and Randy are forced to leave their oldest child to be raised by someone else to protect him. Another character loses a hand. KGB style torture is in common use by the US government and some break, but most don't. Friends die. Bases are destroyed. The fight continues. The characters in the work are people we could all learn a lesson from.

Fontaine's villains have motivations that, from their point of view, make sense even if, from my point of view, they don't excuse their actions. A man that participates in torture in order to provide a good living for his family is not someone I'd hang out with on a Saturday night. That much being said, men have always done whatever they needed to do to get by and torture and murder are not exceptions, even if they are despicable. The key to writing believable villains is, in my mind, providing them with not just an evil act to commit but an understandable reason for doing so. Fontaine nails it. I can somewhat sympathize with one particular villain while still considering his actions to be deplorable. It may be possible to write a villain better than that. If so, I have yet to see it happen.

I do have one complaint about the tome. We see a lot of government agents at the sharp end of the stick, but almost none at the top. Something I've always enjoyed in fiction is the Big Bad. The concept is not totally missing from CF but is really underdeveloped. The president is (appropriately) set up as the over-arching nemesis but has no "screen time" that I remember. She's just kind of out there somewhere fuming offscreen and appointing evil people. Nor do we get to spend much time with the members of the cabinet that coordinate the battle against the good guys. This is far from a fatal flaw but it does irk me just a bit. Having stated that I really did love the book. Oh, and I just bought an e-copy even though one was given to me for free. I will undoubtedly read it again at some point so it's worth it. It really is that good.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 exploding flash drives

Chasing Freedom
Marina Fontaine
Self Published, 2015

Chasing Freedom is available at the link below:

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