Read Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek Online

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Twenty-year-old Skyler saw the incident out her window: Some sort of metalic object hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge just before it collapsed and a mushroom cloud lifted above the city. Like everyone, she ran, but she couldn’t outrun the radiation, with her last thoughts being of her beloved baby brother, Dorian, safe in her distant family home. Flash forward to a postTwenty-year-old Skyler saw the incident out her window: Some sort of metalic object hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge just before it collapsed and a mushroom cloud lifted above the city. Like everyone, she ran, but she couldn’t outrun the radiation, with her last thoughts being of her beloved baby brother, Dorian, safe in her distant family home. Flash forward to a post-incident America, where the country has been broken up into territories and Muslims have been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west, even though no one has determined who set off the explosion that destroyed San Francisco. Twelve-year old Dorian dreams about killing Muslims and about his sister—even though Dorian’s parents insist Skyler never existed. Are they still shell-shocked, trying to put the past behind them...or is something more sinister going on?Meanwhile, across the street, Dorian’s neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories. It will set off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that will lead to either tragedy or redemption for Dorian, as he struggles to prove that his sister existed—and was killed by a terrorist attack.Not on Fire, but Burning is unlike anything you’re read before—not exactly a thriller, not exactly sci-fi, not exactly speculative fiction, but rather a brilliant and absorbing adventure into the dark heart of an America that seems ripped from the headlines. But just as powerfully, it presents a captivating hero: A young boy driven by love to seek the truth, even if it means his deepest beliefs are wrong....

Title : Not on Fire, but Burning
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781612194530
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 275 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Not on Fire, but Burning Reviews

  • Maxwell
    2019-04-19 00:19

    I'm not quite sure how to even begin describing this book. I don't think any blurb or short description would do the complexity and depth of this story justice. And on top of that, I had such an interesting and unique experience reading this book, I'm finding it hard to rate. Because it's not a 5 star book in my opinion. It's not perfect; it is confounding and unclear at times (but also for good reason, if that makes sense); you're left with so many questions and yet the irresolution feels right. And at the end of the day, I'm just a bit befuddled as to what exactly I just read. The highlight of this book for me was the writing. It's truly unlike anything I've read before. Hrbek navigates so many narrative voices, multiple character perspectives shifting between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person so seamlessly. It could be gimmicky and confusing, but it flows naturally, tying all the characters together into a sort of choral voice. At times I was reminded of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. And the writing is quite poetic. There are Faulkner-length sentences in here, followed by short, choppy fragments. It's arresting and completely original.How do I feel about the story? I don't even know. It's much more than what's on the back of the book. So much more. And I know it will keep me thinking for days. It has so many elements I find interesting and that I enjoy contemplating. I just wish I had someone with which to share this story and discuss! But it hasn't yet been released, so I suppose I will have to wait until pub day to get other people to read it.So while it isn't a perfect book by any means, and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it, it's one that I would still recommend solely for the selfish reason that I want to talk about it with others. And I believe it's a story that could create a lot of conversation and valuable discussion. Apologies for the very vague review, but this book is extremely difficult to articulate. I'm still not sure if or when I will come back with a star rating because I'm struggling to even pin a number on the experience I had while reading.

  • Joachim Stoop
    2019-04-13 06:57

    I cannot rate this. Today I would give it 3,76. Maybe tomorrow 3,36. The day after 4,22. Maybe in a parallel universe I would rate it 1,41 or 4,99. Who knows?From page one I was constantly balancing between finding it intriguing and fatiguing. Waiting for a tipping point for better or worse that just never came.I really don't regret reading it. But I think it could have been a definite 5-star book. So what went wrong?Did you ever have the experience of cooking a homemade pasta sauce, which -tasting it at a certain point- is absolutely perfect? But then, in an over-enthusiast flow- you add some more herbs and spices. So in the end you have to run back to the shop to buy an extra can of peeled tomatoes to get the taste back to edible?I could have replaced this entire metaphor by using the word 'overdone', but I guess I'm just hungry...So yeah: it's too much. And not transparent enough to my taste. But it's still a compelling, tastefull read.Ps. Two days later....I decided on giving it 4 stars

  • Richard
    2019-03-29 03:12

    Usually I appreciate speculative fiction and imagining alternative worlds but, in "Not on Fire, but Burning," these aspects actually overcomplicate what could have been a simple, powerful story about young people trying to navigate racism, terrorism, and loss. Worse, the elements of many-worlds theory that gets incorporated into the plot (with most of the action taking place in an alternate future that's familiar but has branched from a slightly different present from our own) seem to undermine the idea of personal agency that the author seems to be trying to promote. The characters get glimpses of alternate selves and draw strength from the choices these other selves made or the lives they imagine these other selves leading as a kind of opiate for decisions and circumstances they regret or want to escape from in their own reality. In the end these imagined (or real?) alternative lives give the characters strength to make the best of a horrible situation - the freedom to act; because there is another me, in another universe, who has the life I wanted. While I think many-worlds theory could make for an interesting setting or coloring to a story, here it, and the world-building details, distract from a story that could just as easily be set, with more power, in the world as it is. A story about muslims under suspicion of terrorism, the fear of terrorist attacks, and young people being manipulated by adults espousing white power or Islamic jihad, doesn't need a fantasy world dreamed up around it - it's all around us. In fact, the story would have had more power if it was set in one world, with no alternatives, where decisions truly matter, and are irrevocable, because that would speak directly to people having to live in this world, where there is no "second you" or "third you" to fall back on, who did the right thing or the wrong one - only you. That's what makes our decisions in this life (and stories about them) so powerful.

  • Robyn
    2019-04-15 00:17

    Intriguing, but in the end it didn't really work for me. Not quite enough substance to go along with the shifting story-lines, and an incredibly dark story.

  • Lindsay
    2019-04-14 02:55

    An unusually told story of 9/11 ramped to an extreme with parallel universe elements.The story starts in a prologue with Skyler Wakefield in San Francisco babysitting a child when a nuclear blast detonates directly over the Golden Gate bridge. Skyler tries to save both herself and the child but eventually succumbs to exposure to radiation. We then jump to the main story of Dorian Wakefield and his family years later. Dorian is convinced he had an older sister named Skyler, but noone in the family remembers her.The Wakefields live in an alternate 2038 North America where the San Francisco strike happened in an event called 8-11. There are a number of minor differences from the history in our world including the history surrounding the first two Gulf Wars and that the country they are in is referred to as the Original Thirteen Colonies and the Acquired Territories. Arabs living in the US have been rounded up into reservations and the whole depressing story of suicide bombings and drone reprisal attacks is being carried out on American soil.Into this scenario the Wakefield's elderly veteran neighbor adopts an orphaned boy from an Arab reservation and events play out from there, exploring the whole range of reactions from tolerance to radicalization. Anti-muslim sentiment is strong in this world due to the 8-11 attack and the orphaned boy Karim has already been recruited by Islamic radicals. So both Dorian and Karim end up having to make critical choices around all this.All through this though is the emerging realization on the part of several of the characters of the proximity of alternate versions of their universe where Skyler existed and died in 8-11 and where 8-11 didn't happen and Skyler is alive.I was warned about some of the odd writing choices in this book (thanks Justine), but to me the perspective shifting from 1st, 2nd and 3rd person writing worked quite organically. There was usually enough context in the first paragraph after a perspective shift to follow characters and that the shift had happened so I thought this worked well. What worked less well for me were the enormous stream of consciousness paragraphs that come thick and fast. I understand why the author chose to do this: it works extremely well when doing parallel world narratives towards the latter part of the book. But it doesn't make the book particularly readable when single paragraphs are rendered into walls of text going over multiple pages.Riveting subject matter, fascinating take on parallel worlds, but let down a little by the mechanical issues with the experimental style.

  • Timothy
    2019-04-07 03:01

    Not on Fire, but Burning is one the greatest novels I have read. Thought-provoking and different. On 8-11 something crashes into the Golden Gate Bridge that changes history and a nation. Muslims are locked away in reservations behind electrified fences. People live in fear of another attack, never knowing what caused the catastrophe. Karim is adopted from a reservation after the gates have reopened leading to events that ripple through other's lives and time. Uniquely written and uniquely told from several perspectives that all connect and slide into each other. Slipping from first to second to third person point of view and never becoming jumbled. It was like poetry. The metaphors kept coming back in a circle sealing the story and connecting everything. It hit me over and over. I would have to put the book down to let a line sink in because I was so in awe of what Greg Hrbek was doing with his story. This novel is a commentary on: choice, fear, xenophobia, terrorism, social media, atonement, hope, and quantum mechanics. All this in a concise story that has altered my life.

  • switterbug (Betsey)
    2019-04-18 02:20

    There’s a whiff here of the post 9/11 novel. An attack. Islamophobia. Hatred. Fear of the future, and hardliners taking positions. But Hrbek, perhaps inspired by that genre of books, created a more unconventional novel—part speculative fiction, part dystopia, thriller, particles of sci-fi, cautionary tale, family drama, and part scrutiny of social bias. It’s an ambitious novel that alternates between characters, and in different realms of time—or networks of time, while also occurring in a narrow period of eight years. It’s an examination of people who attempt to reconcile their principles with their fears, and how memories play an important part of their convictions, but may not be what they seem. Moreover, it demonstrates how hatred is a toxin that spreads to future generations.The prelude opens with an attack of unknown source and composition on the Golden Gate Bridge on 8/11/2030, “something, metal or fire or a bolt of electromagnetism.” Young college student Skyler Wakefield is babysitting when it happens, while her family is tucked safely and distantly away from the resulting mushroom cloud and radiation. The reader can’t be sure of her fate, but we know that her mind is on her three-year-old brother, Dorian.Fast-forward eight years later, a very different America, whose borders have changed into provinces and territories, due to the nuclear fallout. Although nothing has been substantiated about the cause of the 8/11 attack, the official story blames radical Islam terrorists. All Muslims have been corralled into ghetto-like camps, isolated from the rest of the country, just like the Americans did to the Japanese seventy years ago. They have been categorically demonized, although some progressive people are sympathetic to their plight.Meanwhile, Dorian, now almost twelve, is having dreams about a sister, Skyler, who he doesn’t actually remember, but is ever-present in a nighttime fever of clairvoyance. His parents state that they have no memory of a daughter, and are disturbed by Dorian’s insistence that she existed. The widespread blame on Muslims for 8/11 fuels Dorian’s suspicion and naïve hatred of them, as he connects them to the fate of his sister. Does she exist? Hberk deftly structures the book so that even the reader is questioning whether Skyler was real. Or, perhaps she exists in a different sphere of time, as promoted by a keen, long-haired outlier. Are his parents lying to him?Meanwhile, the Wakefield’s 71 year-old neighbor, who fought in all Gulf Wars (most recently Gulf War III), has just legally adopted eleven-year-old Karim from one of the camps. Karim’s parents were killed in an American drone strike, which leaves him ripe for hatred against “infidels.” His presence in the neighborhood causes a stir and escalation of convictions, and an incident that unleashes extremes of behavior, and in some cases, potential heroism.The novel achieves a great resonance of feeling, but its breadth, which came on hard and fast toward the end, also obfuscated some of the key questions it raised, or dropped them altogether. Some ideas used shallow treatment, and the portrait of Muslim characters mostly lacked nuance. Dorian and Karim emerge as the main characters, and it is their actions and interior monologues that give it pace throughout the shifting perspectives.Much of the narrative is stream-of-consciousness, which was periodically repetitive, and could have been sharpened to a finer point. However, at times, such as with this quote, it accentuated the enigma of humanity.“What we have presented here is a fraction of the whole, no more representative of the total narrative than a single cell is representative of the living body of a person, just as every person described herein is, in like manner, a fraction of a whole of greater selves.”I enjoyed it for its intriguing enterprise and imagination, as well as giving us a window into a community, and how its empathy, enmity, fears, fractiousness, and convictions are built. Additionally, the story illuminates that history and memory are intertwined, and that all our actions build on previous actions, affect each other, and have consequences.

  • Britta Böhler
    2019-04-11 04:51

    Greg Hrbek is not the first author trying to fictionalize 9/11 and its aftermath (just a few examples: Falling Man, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Submission, and also not the first to do so by choosing science fiction (The Mirage).Still, Hrbek's novel is, in a way, one of its kind. The book is set in the future (2038), in an alternate reality, where 9/11 didn't happened. But there was a similar attack, albeit in a different year, on a (slightly) different day and targeting a different city. The War on Terror that follows the attack is more terrifying than the one we live in, but not by much, and its closer to home. And that's not all that is different: in this reality, the United States are a fragmented country of territories and colonies (and Texas is independent), and in the Muslim world, the Caliphat rules. In this 'strange new world', the fear of another attack is constant, or as one of the main character says: "What are we living in now, if not fear?"Fear is one of the main themes as we follow the fate of the Wakefield-family (11 year old Dorian, his older brother and his parents), Dorian's friends and most importantly, the family's new neighbour Karim. Karim is a Muslim orphan from one of the internment camps were American Muslims have been forced to live after the attack. His parents and his younger sister were killed in a drone attack and he is now adopted by Wil, a 71 year old veteran of the three gulf wars (yes, there were three in this reality). And let's not forget Skyler, Dorian's older sister who might or might not exist... Driven by fear and hatred, both Dorian and Karim are propelled to extremist positions. And as the story unfolds, both boys have to make difficult choices and face the consequences. Because in the end, this is a book about choice. Small ones that might have unforseen and sometimes unfair consequences (you stay at home, you live; you go to the city, you die) but also bigger ones, with moral aspects attached. And although the geopolitical developments are rather similar in this alternate reality (World War II still happened, and so did slavery), and it is made clear that the course of history won't be altered just by changing one decision, the book still shows that this doesn't mean that one boy's choice doesn't matter. It matters morally and it matters because of the consequences it carries. And as the different paths of possible timelines (each one following a different choice) start to converge, we get a glimpse of just how important each choice truly is. All this is told in a language which is beautifully poetic, almost lyrical at times. Moreover, Hrbek succeeds in effortlessly hopping from one point of view to another as well as switching back and forth from first to third person-narration without confusing the reader.Not on Fire but Burning is speculative fiction at its best.

  • Michelle Morrell
    2019-04-04 00:01

    In the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, a young boy remembers his sister killed in the attack, but he is the only one who does. In this timeline, people of the Muslim faith are rounded up into camps where hardship and tragedy are the norm. One man, adopting an orphan from there, brings him home to suburbia, sparking a series of events that may or may not lead to tragedy. This is quite an unusual book. At times I was befuddled, at time crystal clear, as is often the case with conflicting timelines and alternate dimensions bleeding into each other. But some powerful points stood out, including the insidious indoctrination of young minds towards hatred and martyrdom, and how sequestering swaths of the population is only going to lead to concentrated anger and tragedy.

  • Justine
    2019-03-30 23:51

    This is a hard book to rate. Essentially I think it is best described as a work of experimental fiction. The author switches between first and third person throughout to give the narrative a more multi-dimensional feel.While there were some really powerful ideas about prejudices based on race, religion, and ethnicity, the actual impact of the story was somewhat lessened by the way it was told. Along with the switching of perspectives, there was a tendency for the narrative to drift to the point that it started to feel at some points like a kind of stream of consciousness. I applaud the author for taking a chance, but for me, the execution just did not end up working out very well.

  • Ziad
    2019-04-18 07:18

    An impressively ambitious concept, executed poorly.I should have loved everything about this novel—speculative dystopian fiction, sociopolitical commentary, mindbending timeline, quickly shifting points of view—it's even set in San Francisco. It should have been, and I really expected it to be, right up my alley.But I didn't really like it. The characters weren't developed enough to care about. The point of view shifted so quickly and so often that I didn't find myself immersed in the story—I wasn't drawn in, I was just reading about it from a distance.NPR said it was poignant and perplexing, and I can't argue with that. It's poignant, and it's most definitely perplexing—it's just not very good.

  • Ethan
    2019-04-07 07:00

    "What they're doing down there is mourning. As millions of people across the infinitude of the grid shall always be mourning, coping with every imaginable variation of loss. Every loss deserves a telling."8-11 was the day that changed everything. Twenty-year-old Skylar was watching from her apartment window when she noticed the object falling from the sky. Before she could reach the young boy she was babysitting, the night's sky was illuminated by the brilliant flash of the mass impacting the earth. The Golden Gate Bridge was reduced to rubble, and a haze of ash and debris enveloped the city. As soon as she ascended to the chaos on the streets, Skylar's fate was sealed. The toxic air polluted her lungs and she, like so many others that day, fell victim to the catastrophic tragedy.Several years later the world is still coping with the effects of that incident. Authorities were never able to determine what exactly caused the disaster and have no idea who, if anyone, was responsible for the attack. Some claim that the object was a missal or a bomb. Others swear it was an object from outer space. In the end, whatever the object was doesn't really matter. The events of that day have caused an immense shift in the daily lives of everyday people. They now, "live, day to day, with the chance of something violent, something tragic happening at any moment."Motivated by this constant fear, post-incident America has responded in a historically misguided way. Much like Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Muslim Americans have been corralled into camps. As Americans search for any scapegoat to place their anger and grief upon, Muslims become the victims of hate and distrust. Skylar's family has found her death to be unbearable. So much so that her parents, Mitch and Kathryn, have erased any trace of their deceased daughter. Whether they have done this consciously or not is unclear, but they constantly tell their youngest son, Dorian, that he does not and has never had a sister. Dorian was a toddler on 8-11, so he has no recollection of Skylar. But the young man is beginning to suspect that his parents are hiding something from him. He has vivid dreams of a young woman watching a blinding flash from an apartment window in the city. His parents refuse to acknowledge any questions about the girl, but Dorian persists that evidence of a sister must exist somewhere. Dorian's life becomes even further conflicted when his elderly neighbor introduces a young boy, Karim, who he has adopted from one of the Muslim camps. Dorian is instantly filled with hate for the boy. "Hating . . . not him exactly, but the idea of him, or the idea of people like him -- and though he has been taught to not believe in the sameness of all such persons, a logic as inborn as the structure of his DNA connect each and every one of them. . ." Karim is equally troubled with his new life. In the camps, he was indoctrinated with the teachings of self-sacrifice to reach eternal paradise. The Sheik had Karim memorize a number that he was to use to contact the camp after he settled into his new home. Once contact was established, Karim would begin the process of planning for a suicide bombing mission. But as he assimilates to his current situation, Karim begins to realize that he may have more similarities than differences with the people he has been taught to hate. In Not on Fire, but Burning, author Greg Hrbek explores the ways in which people deal with the grief and fear that comes from loss. He changes between first and third person point of view as each of the characters are explored. At first, this can be a bit disconcerting, but the changing perspectives soon fall into a steady rhythm that allows for a breezy pace. By shifting to the different characters, Hrbek provides intimate insight into each of their situations. While they are all connected as participants in the main narrative, the characters are further united by the same internal conflict. Each character is trying to reconcile societal decorum with their own conscience. This makes for a layered drama that delves beyond the main story. Through this extensive character study and an almost poetic prose, Hrbek crafts an exquisite novel that works as a metaphor to America's reaction to the events of 9/11 and a stunning exploration of the human reaction to tragedy.

  • Sara
    2019-04-08 00:54

    Hrbek sets Not on Fire, but Burning in an alternate reality in which 9/11 did not happen but a similar attack is perpetrated in San Francisco in another year. From its first page, this novel has a gripping squeeze on your heart and your mind. The fears it exposes are so visceral and relevant that you are almost standing in the room with Skyler as she witnesses the 9/11 style attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. And then you are somewhere else.The strength of this novel for me was in the believablity of its characters. I understood and felt with Skyler, Dorian, Karim, Mitch and Will Banfelder. Hrbek did a great job of showing both sides of a complex situation in very human terms. He did what we always hope an author will do, he made me look at something I have contemplated before and see it in a new light.If life is a series of decisions and choices, how many possibilities are there that any event might never happen or that any life might be lead in a different direction? Might we ourselves change something major by making some different decision ourselves. When we are faced with the most horrible situation, when we have gone down the wrong path, is there still always a good choice we can yet make?I highly recommend this novel as one that will leave you thinking long after you have put it down.My thanks to Melville House Publishing and the very talented author, Greg Hrbek, for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.

  • Lark Benobi
    2019-03-30 01:05

    Hrbek employs a decidedly linear art form (the novel) to tell a fractal story, or stories rather, of a handful of characters who become dimly aware of their existence in one strand of the Multiverse, and aware as well of some of the infinite decision points and possibilities and outcomes that are happening to their other selves, in other strands of reality. It's a very ballsy book in that it begins with a character and outcome that are both highly dramatic, and charged with pathos...and yet this character doesn't even exist in most of the other realities depicted throughout the book. I enjoyed the novel a great deal for both its intellectual playfulness as well as its faith in the power of loving human connections, some of which remain powerfully fixed from one universe to the next. There is a lot of moral feeling here, and much to ponder about love, hate, obligation, and atonement. In some cases bitter enemies are close friends in other realities; in one case, a character atones in every possible universe for his wrongs, without exception; even though he is a good person his personal life choices come to an irrevocable decision point of knotty irrevocable guilt in every universe in which he appears. These narrative choices don't always reduce to completely logical outcomes but that didn't matter, it felt entirely ok when so much is unknowable about personal fate that some things would be left unexplained in the end.

  • Becca
    2019-04-24 06:10

    I wanted to like this book much more than I did. The idea was brilliant. The execution flawed. For one, my expectations were extremely high after reading the brilliant, fast-paced beginning with Skylar. Those expectations fell with each new chapter and never picked up again.One problem was that there were too many narrators. I never got the chance to care about any of them one way or the other. Every time I started to enjoy Karim or Dorian or the guy who adopted Karim - I can't even recall his name, which is a sign - it would switch to Mitch or someone else. To make matters worse, the galley was not formatted correctly and there were sometimes no indications that the narrator was changing. This will not be a problem for those reading the finalized copy.Another problem was the pace. After Skylar's part, I expected the pace would slow. The problem is it stayed slow. It took what felt like ages for just the tiniest of things to happen. I got bored waiting for anything to happen or for a character to interest me. Unfortunately, this book wasn't on fire nor burning. It felt like a heap of ashes trying to find a spark.

  • ril
    2019-03-31 08:01

    I have used the word 'poetic' to describe many books this year. Perhaps I've overused it. But I was mistaken in all other uses, and I rescind them all only to apply that amount of descriptive focus to this novel.Poetic.On 8-11, something falls from the sky; Skyler watches it and closes her eyes as it lands. As she wanders the city, looking for shelter, her final thoughts are of her baby brother, Dorian, safe at her family home, miles away. Now a pre-teen, Dorian lives in a world filled with religious tension. Told through several voices, this novel forces the reader to forgive reality and its limitations.This novel defines the word sonder for me perfectly. The way it weaves between POVs is amazing.

  • Kendra
    2019-04-05 06:05

    Loved this book! It is a cautionary tale that reminds us all that we can make a huge impact on the rising conflict between people. The conflict depicted in the book is with Muslims but it also serves as a metaphor for the prejudice we have against those not like us. I enjoyed the way in which Hrbek gives us possible paths throughout the book to illustrate that we make choices everyday that lead to different outcomes which can dramatically effect the future. Although the story can seem bleak at times, I appreciated the message of hope at the end. I would also people to check out this amazing organization which is doing the work Hrbek writes about: http://www.seedsofpeace.org/

  • A
    2019-04-16 02:51

    This book was more basic than Taylor Swift Instagramming a pumpkin spice latte. Ooooh, parallel universes? Suburban ennui? Give this guy a McArthur Genius and a Pulitzer right now. If you want a book with something worthwhile to say (or even if you don't) skip this and read the only great "post-9/11" book that's been written (so far): Amy Waldman's brilliant and unnerving "The Submission" from 2011 (not to be confused with the bigoted shart of the same name that Houellebecq pinched off earlier this year).

  • Pat
    2019-04-12 02:20

    Wow, what a read! This was sad, scary, provocative and hopeful, all at once. And despite being set in the future, the headlines from this week and last indicate it could not be more timely. I could not decide at the half-way point whether I loved this book or hated it. Having finished it, I decided I loved it. Five stars. Looking forward to the book club discussion this week.

  • Tom Lee
    2019-04-21 02:55

    Hrbek's language elevates this book to being nearly great, but there are some weaknesses here that are difficult to ignore. At its heart this book attempts to interweave a near-future parable about the war on terror and cultural hatreds with a parallel universe head-scratcher. For both the latter theme and its suburban DC setting it owes a LOT to Donnie Darko, a movie I still unabashedly love (even though I know I should probably be somewhat abash-ed). But aside from the mystery of the initial disaster in SF -- which is perfect, enigmatic and sad and lovely--there is an unfortunate tendency toward literalism. An author who is spinning string theory nonsense should gleefully stupefy the reader. Instead we get a flatly (ha) boring Cartesian geometry metaphor and, worse, even a bit of the tired "belatedly introduced space-time bureaucrat" trope.The terrorism stuff isn't a lot better. The moral analysis comes down to "Not all Muslims are bad! (But the bad ones really *are* suicide bombers, and they are hiding in plain sight in suburban America)". Hrbek's sensitivity means he draws all of his characters with nuance and grace, but it rings a little weird in the case of his xenophobic terrorist cell: if America was under constant biological, chemical and explosive assault by Islamist fifth columnists you would have to think that our protagonist family of suburban median voters would be a little more The Apprentice than the early-aughts-vintage diligent NPR liberals they seem to be.Politics and multiverse mechanics aside, there is real emotion and graceful writing here. It earns four stars for the characters' inner lives, even if their outer lives don't always make a ton of sense.

  • Oriana
    2019-04-19 03:09

    From one of the genius booksellers at the marvelous Word Books:There is a catastrophic event over San Francisco Bay. No one has taken the blame. In one of the most interesting styles I have ever read, Hrbek tells the story of a young man coming to terms with the loss of his sister and the strange world events happening all around him. For any post-apocalyptic fan this one really sparkles. It's one that takes us into the future to make us dwell on the present.Yes. Give it.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-23 03:54

    The first 3/4 of this book rated a solid 3 stars, but the final quarter really surprised and impressed me. Had the the earlier parts of the book been stronger, I would have given it a 5. I don't want to give anything away. I'll just say that I was very surprised by this book, in a good way.

  • Joshua Buhs
    2019-04-05 04:51

    Avoiding one pitfall, it slips into another--without, to be fair, ever sacrificing its narrative drive.Greg Hrbek's "Not on Fire, But Burning," starts in San Francisco, where college student Skyler Wakefield is watching the child of a (presumably) very rich family--when some thing (meteor, bomb, UFO?) brings down the Golden Gate, an act that is meant to be a stand-in for the terrorism of 9-11. (It happens on 8-11, the twin towers of the bridge are mentioned). Skyler struggles through a city on flames to get her charge to a hospital while a poisonous rain falls on her. She succeeds, then continues trudging, no obvious way to get home since her family home is on the other side of the bridge . . .The book then switches, leaving San Francisco and Skyler behind, at least at first. It's a disorienting switch, as we move to her family, who itself has moved to the Northeast, and aged. The brother who was three is now twelve. His name is Dorian, and he becomes the focus. But that's not the disorienting part. The disorientation comes because it was unclear when this section was set and, really, where.The United States is no longer divided into states, but rather territories and colonies. Global Warming has become obvious. There are different drugs on the street, different slang, different cars. But people are still using smart phones. Muslims (mostly) have been herded onto reservations in the mountainous West: Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming. It is unclear, though, if this was because of 8-11 of something else.At first, as I tried to sort this out, I thought of Justin Cronin's "The Passage," where the derivative but fabulously narrated first section--the discovery of the thing that would change all of human history--is followed by a jump into The Future(TM), where every New Thing is reified. It soon became clear, though, as Hrbek became less stingy with the dates, that this wasn't The Future(TM) but an alternate reality. And at first that was actually a relief. The problem with writing about the near to mid-distance future is the reader is forced to imagine how we got from one place to the next--how did all cars become electric and new designer drugs emerge, while smart phones and social media remain the same? By jumping to a world that is like outs but different, Hrbek obviated that problem.But he created others.As we follow Dorian, we also follow another character, to a lesser extent, his foil, Kerim, a Muslim adopted from the reservation by a veteran of the Three Gulf Wars who is haunted (of course): he did terrible things there and is trying to make amends. Dorian is well-known as an Islamaphobe in his town--to the horror of his mother and the small Muslim community there, to the bemusement of his brother and father, and to the glee of (most of) his friends and neighbors. The story brings Kerim and Dorian together; they fight, and they almost get past there differences.But each is also embedded in a wider world, and worked on by opposing forces that encourage them toward violence: Kerim is the student of a radical sheik who wants him to commit a suicide bombing. Dorian is recruited by an anti-Islamic hate group. The story follows as they try to negotiate their way out of these networks of violence, ultimately failing, but redeeming themselves nonetheless--spoiler!--Kerim by blowing himself up so as to only kill other terrorists, Dorian by refusing to shoot an innocent Muslim, but his captor instead.Meanwhile, the idea of Skyler persists. Dorian is sure that she was real, and that her family somehow erased her presence after she died in San Francisco. Her parents and brother have no memory of her. Then, at Dorian's prompting, her father finds a small photographic suggestion of her existence, which soon puts him into connection with her in a séance-like way. (Maybe it's just his own imagination.) Then, the narrative voice starts inserting itself.The narrative voice to this point has been difficult to get a hold of. We dip into and out of man character's consciousness--sometimes from paragraph to paragraph--but wha they think is told not with their words, but the narrator's. Which is confusing. Because it makes Dorian and Kerim seem way too perspicacious for twelve year olds, especially since some of their insights acute, and some badly naive. And the contrast between the thoughts--as expressed by the narrator--and the way they talk is striking. so much so it feels as though we never know the characters.The voice starts droning about infinite universes, and grids, and events that are constant or variable across these different universes. So in some universes--some timelines--Skyler actually exists. In others, though, she doesn't: she was aborted because her mother was selfish, having affairs with two men, and worried that since she didn't know the paternity she shouldn't give birth. (Really, Hrbek's writing of Dorian's mother is embarrassing: she is the cause of so much of the family's suffering, haunted herself by this abortion (of course), so much so that she has to keep herself stoned, ignoring the needs of her children then existent. There's hints that she is depressed but even this is seen not as a medical condition but self-indulgence.)This whole move into the theory of infinite universes, and the omnipotent narrator, creates so many problems. If indeed there are an infinite number, there should be no constants across them; no cases--as the voice says--in which a "majority" of the timelines have one event. (What's the majority of infinity?) And it vitiates the whole theme of the book, about making the best choices one can in situations. There are a couple of occasions--when Dorian kisses a Muslim girl, when Dorian and Kerim almost become friends--that events almost rearrange themselves. But if there are an infinite number of universes, there must be occasions when those events do arrange themselves. And the choices that Kerim and Dorian make at the end are neither heroic nor tragic. They just are. One of an infinite number of possibilities--all of them being enacted somewhere, and so none of any particular meaning.Indeed, meaning, as it has now been re-conceived, is meaning_less_. The book--the narrative voice--has many things that are Symbolic(TM), chief among them the 17 year cicadas that have emerged this summer. They burn but do not catch fire--like the thing that destroyed the Golden Gate, like the emotions that animate so many of the characters. They are witnesses to everything, even have voices--but cannot be understood--like the bird chorus in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. They represent a different version of time, cyclical, but also with large gaps in their memories. They carry a lot of weight. But in an infinite set of universes, they are only sometimes witnesses. Sometimes they emerge this summer, sometimes they do not. Sometimes there are no such things as cicadas at all.But ok, set that all aside. The infinite number of universes aren't really infinite. There are just a lot of them. Let's rescue meaning. Even with this, I could not stop thinking of Charlie Kaufman, "Adaptation," and The New Yorker.In that movie and in real life Charlie Kaufman (fictional and real) met with the story doctor Robert Mckee. The story was told in a New Yorker article about McKee, how Mckee solved some of Kaufman's narrative problems and even agreed to be represented in the movie. (It's a greta article.) At one point, McKee is talking to a scriptwriter who is trying to tell a story about a post-Nazi cult, but cannot get his hands on what the story is. He considers putting a woman in jeopardy t get the story going. Mckee yells at him:“That film’s been done, and it’s called ‘Missing,’ ” McKee said. “Why do a woman-in-jeopardy story? You’ve got an organization in cahoots with the Chilean government, in cahoots with the United States government, which has caused the death of thousands—torture, suffering, etc.—and as a result we’ve got a woman in jeopardy? It’s like hiring an elephant to pull a little red wagon. I can tell you a woman-in-jeopardy story: she gets a flat tire in the middle of the night, some guy offers her a lift.”Which is exactly the problem with this book. The story inside is about two boys from different cultures, one Muslim, one who hates Muslims (he thinks), and how they get on. It's a trite story with obvious morals. But then Hrbek drags in this huge apparatus--alternate universes!, dissappearing presences!--to tell it. None of which add much. Kerim and Dorian's story could have been told just as easily as a standard refugee story--or invading army story. The creation of an alternate universe demanded a story that could only be told in that universe. But we get none of that. So, it's confusion--and the invention of a God to act as narrator--for no obvious pay off.And yet, the book cannot be dismissed entirely. If one sets aside the issue of the alternate universes and the meaninglessness they inspire, then the story has a narrative drive that keeps the reader engaged, trying to figure out how the two boys will act to take as much control as the can in their very different networks of violence.It's a hint of an alternate universe, one in which this book was much more modest, and also much more meaningful.

  • David Dinaburg
    2019-04-13 04:10

    Have you seenBlade Runner? I suppose, this being a book review website, it would be apropos to ask aboutDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but I haven’t read it so I don’t know if it is late nineteen-nineties standard fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire versus HBO Game of Thrones mini-turned-series different from the source material, or the first season of NBC's The Office, a shot-for-shot remake of the BBC one.Regardless of how much it veers from PKD’s goofy yet oddly endearing title, it took me around thirty years to finally watch Blade Runner, a title which makes up in marketing coolness checkpoints what it lacks in goofiness. For most of the movie I was waiting to see how the big reveal—that Decker is a replicant!—was handled. Put another way, if you lack a nerd's memory for a thousand sci-fi and fantasy world-building systems and a terrible memory for, you know, everything worthwhile in life—I was waiting until it was revealed that Harrison Ford is a robot. That’s not a spoiler because it doesn’t actually happen: it was a rumor, or some sort of fan theory that had metastasized, or maybe it was a holdover from the book that I didn’t read. Not sure how I would have known that in the first place, but who knows how I knew it was based off a book to begin with? Perhaps if I watched it another time or two I would understand where the rumor came from or why I believed it completely but I haven’t so I don’t and I’m still a bit put out from the film not matching my expectations.If you don’t know the book or the movie, perhaps the same pop culture osmosis that taught me it was a book may have seeped the Voight-Kampff test into your brain. It's the test to see if you can correctly respond to emotional stimuli—it's really strange and makes even the real people awkward and nervous. That the replicants are so hard to find—they are feared, sure, and they are hunted—but they look just like us. Honestly, if you have to jump through that many hoops to track them down and differentiate them from real human people, it maybe shouldn’t matter whether someone is a replicant or not. This was probably a metaphor for Communism, but who knows? Regardless, that test could be replaced with the prologue of Not on Fire, but Burning; if it doesn’t make your eyes water and your breath shorten you, my friend, have just failed the Voight-Kampff.The rest of it, well, I didn’t know it was going to be Science Fiction; my expectations were grounded in the breathtaking opening and, similar to how I expected Decker to show his robo-powers, I was forever left waiting for Not on Fire to show me something that was never going to happen, a subtlety that it never really had. The hard sci-fi tropes did force me to acknowledge my own bias surrounding the commingling of genre tropes and literary fiction; it can and it does work, as we’ve seen from magical realism,absurdist satire, or any appearance from anthropomorphizedfate ever. But I tend to write off sci-fi and fantasy as purely pleasurable and not informative; they are fun for me! They lack the harsh difficulty of something like kale or fitness; there is nobitterness to let you know you’re doing something “good” for yourself. Not on Fire quickly becomes a non-stop barrage of Islamophobia, in a way for which I was definitely not prepared. I assume it is meant as an extrapolation of how much worse the world will become if our current zeitgeist—shameful evictions of brown people from airplanes; constant, soulless drone-sourced murdering of innocent civilians—continues for a generation. But no matter how much you tell me it is for the sake of literature or for giving “nice” people a chance to safely experience the destruction wrought by cultural alienation, the book is still steeped in language and imagery that is needlessly inflammatory. Young Muslim boys addicted to opium, eventually strapping on suicide vests as they are pressed to give up their lives for the promises of eternal reward. It is played for titillation while it drives the plot; it is the plot. Racism is still racism, just like employing tedium to critique tedium is stilltedious. It doesn’t highlight the ills of Islamophobia or serve as a ghost of Christmas Future. Not on Fire does not do it better or smarter or more subversively—instead, it still stokes the fires of ignorance, hatred, and fear. It takes one massive event, drafts a what-if scenario, lets malice fly, and then is bailed out by a tepid parallel-multiverse hypothesis.I can perhaps see this book being an interesting read twenty or thirty years from now, once cultural tensions have decreased and Muslims aren’t global boogeymen. It may serve as a embarrassing look back at how people in 2016 feared the future, the way Back to the Future is funny and also a little sad for people in the 1980s thinking we’d have flying cars and theChicago Cubsin a World Series by the mid-twenty-teens, or howReefer Madness is unabashedly anti-Mexican anti-science propaganda from the nineteen-thirties.Not on Fire, But Burning is a distillate of our current bias, a dystopian science fiction novel that doesn’t stem from the Cold War’s threat of nuclear annihilation but from ceaseless global guerilla warfare. It is not a bad idea, drawn from the big fears of today, yet I do not recommend it. The writing is beautiful but the plot is too crude, leans too heavily on stereotypes, stigmatizations, and clichés to try undermine or signal those same stereotypes, stigmatizations, and clichés. It is Blade Runner sans nuance, where the replicants look like Robocop, have guns for arms, and no one bothers toask them about turtles.

  • Sonatajessica
    2019-04-02 00:21

    On the one hand we have a story of terrorism, racism, paranoia and loss. But at the center of these themes and overarching the book are CHOICES. "Not on Fire, but Burning" looks at choices. And boy did it leave an impression on me. Whether potential readers will enjoy this novel depends on two factors imho: 1) Will you like the style? 2) Can you flow with the speculative fiction element used in here? For me, an easy and sky-high yes, but that might not be the case with everybody since both elements are a bit unusual. The writing feels like an unbearably hot summer day where you are waiting for a bit of a breeze, it is intense, the cicadas are here for a reason. I loved it, if I was to pin down the one thing I love most about book, I would go with the writing style. The Science in this fiction can be confusing and is purposefully vague, it worked for me, it created a book like no other yet I can see people not being happy with what they end up here.Reading about Muslims being forced into camps makes the novel incredibly timely (and considering it was published in 2015 I feel like Hrbek was onto things I didn't think possible until politics of the last 1.5 years showed me they are). Some themes are more universal but this book speaks strongly to our time and I would recommend to pick it up rather sooner than later. But pick it up anyway, you might end up feeling like me and being completely blown away!A white boy about to give into hate, a Muslim boy on the path to an unthinkable act; Hrbek manages to make both side have a reasonable point while they are also wrong, they are connected, there are possibilities. Ugh, just read the damn book. It is fantastic albeit not an easy one which might make it even more fantastastic.

  • Bianca
    2019-04-14 03:03

    Well that was terrifying! Not only is the attack and the state of our country in 2038 eerily realistic but with the political climate of our nation it is not hard to imagine our country taking this frightening path. This was an interesting book to read. Not what I was expecting and a little scattered in the plot but I'll give it 4 stars since I'm still thinking about it two days later.

  • Kerri
    2019-04-17 02:00

    Wow. Gripping and different. This book is a whirlwind!

  • Pamela
    2019-03-27 08:12

    I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads. Once I started it, I could not put it down. I became so wrapped up in the momentum of this story, tense through many pages, tense to see how it would end. I loved both the time-space speculative nature of this book and the main narrative arc. It is unflinching and brilliant. At first I found the writer's style a little jumpy and confusing. The lack of transitions, the bursts of short sentences, and the constant shifting of 1st, 2ond, and 3rd points of view between the characters all required a lot of reorientation at the start (wait, which character is this?). But then I settled into this, got used to the style, and the jumps became easier to follow, and they built tension in such a wonderful way, and it allowed for a simultaneous building of character. I suppose it's a little like watching a movie jump cut through simultaneous yet discrete scenes towards a shared climax affecting all characters. As the characters and points of view changed, the characters wove in and around each other so that their stories felt inescapably entwined. So what I first found disorienting about the book turned into a literary device that enhanced the overall narrative. This book is about memory and the quantum time-space weirdness of time ("The possibilities are infinite" & "Death is nothing but something that happens at one set of coordinates while life is happening at another."). It is about guilt and the need for redemption. It's about racism's irrationally blind and destructive momentum. Its about how religion is used as a cover for hate and as a vehicle to recruit more people who will be trained to hate in the name of God. It's about the truth tucked inside of rumors or conspiracy theories and how we most of us need very badly to believe in our governments, and at the same time it's about how conspiracy theories are fear-producing craziness. It's about how our ideals trick us into thinking we're behaving justly when justice can be cruel and even inhumane. The book is all of this in one chorused narrative that I found difficult to put down. Every character felt distinct, full, real, and each plot twist made me care more and fear for their fates. I feel the need to mention this: the same week I started this book, I finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which Mike Peed of the NYT reviewed under the title "Realities of Race," and concluded, "a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us. It never feels false." Yes, Americanah is a very different novel, not just in style and story but in brilliantly showing the subtle layers of race and ethnicity and the relentless subtle and not so subtle ways we want to avoid admitting to or talking about our biases, even as we are displaying them. But if Americanah is the quiet and rarely talked about day-to-dayness of racial divisions and prejudices then Not on Fire, but Burning is what we do talk about and see in the media--it's the extreme ends of racial divisions and prejudices. It's the backstory behind the headlines. It's what drives political campaigns, and it is saturated with fear. It is how the small prejudices turn into hate and how hate become identity, consuming the host as if the host was overtaken by an alien, and how the new hate-alien-identity breeds terrorism. It is the homegrown extremists vs. the jihadists, and I just want to say kudos to Hrbek for taking this on and then executing it expertly. I felt equally for both Dorian and Karim. They are boys, and they are pawns being pushed for another's agenda. Mike Peed's words work well here, too: it is "a novel that holds the discomfiting realities of our times fearlessly before us," and, "It never feels false." Even as it keeps the speculative thread of time/quantum mechanics/all possible points of reality present throughout the novel, it never feels false. It feels like life. I am so grateful that this book found its way into my hands.

  • Emily
    2019-03-25 04:21

    (On mobile)3.5 stars A super compelling read that presents a near-future America in a light both hopeful and realistic. We finally did something about climate change, it seems, but the War on Islam rages on.Hbrek's ever-changing voice is what makes the book most compelling (and fatiguing, until you get used to it). I particularly liked the dips into second person to point at You, to make you a guilty a party to these characters' misdeeds. Then, also, there's the diverse cast of characters and planes of existence. What is real? What isn't? Idfk but what I do know is that this America does not feel too far away. Dorian, Karim... who's to say they don't exist right now?

  • Lori L (She Treads Softly)
    2019-04-18 06:21

    Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek is a highly recommended genre twisting novel. It is part sci-fi, part thriller, part speculative dystopia and opens with a bang that should capture every reader's attention.Skylar, a 20 year old college student, is babysitting when the incident happens. When she looks out of the picture window she sees a bright metallic object hit the Golden Gate Bridge. A mushroom cloud forms above San Francisco and radioactive fallout is everywhere. Skylar starts walking to try and get out and to her parents where she knows her beloved little brother, Dorian, is safe. No one knows what the object was, but some say the words "Air Arabia" could be seen on the object.Years later Dorian is 12 and knows two things: he misses his sister and hates all Muslims. He is having dreams about a sister that seemingly never existed. She is not in photos. His parents say she didn't exist. Dorian knows she did because his dreams/visions about her are so real. He also dreams about killing Muslims.In this future America, the country is divided into territories and all Muslims have been interned in the Dakotas, where the former inhabitants have been relocated. When the neighbor, a veteran from Gulf War III adopts Karim, a Muslim orphan from the internment camps and brings him to the neighborhood, introducing him to the neighborhood boys, trouble is bound to happen. Racial slurs slip out and prejudices are revealed, on both sides. Fear and grievances continue to multiply and build up between the Arab and Americans. Is the hatred and fear the two groups hold for each other real or the result of prejudices or incomplete information?In Not on Fire, but Burning Hrbek has penned a well-written, thoughtful novel with a social conscious. The prose and insight into the psyche of each character is carefully crafted as each of them struggle with societal expectations, their own emotions, and the reality. The result is a multilayered novel that transcends genre. The one drawback for me is the switch between first and third person in the narrative. I found it disconcerting and this threw me off kilter for a good portion of the book. Since I had an advanced reading copy the transitions may be better noted or delineated in the final version.Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Melville House for review purposes.