Creative Fire
Brenda Cooper
Canopus Award Finalist

Despite what your English teacher said, there’s a reason that cliché and tropes work.

There are certain types of stories that we, as readers, never tire of. It’s different for different people, of course. For me, type of story that almost always works for me is that one about someone from a lower class (or even caste system) who breaks free and fights for the revolution for their people–and the revolution is always awesome and uplifting and might even involve someone standing on a chair in mute protest, a la Silkwood. TV Tropes calls this one “The Revolution Will Not be Vilified,” and I fall for it almost every time. I even cried my way through the Battlestar Galactica “Dirty Hands” episode, to my great shame.

But, that’s the power of tropes, amiright? These tropes have power because they automatically resonate with all the other stories that go before it. In this case, every awesome act of defiance from Robin Hood to Hunger Games.

Given my love for this kind of story, Brenda Cooper’s Creative Fire should have been a shoo-in for me. I mean, get a load of the tagline for the novel: “Nothing can match the power of a single voice.”

The back cover copy got my heart hopping, because it sound like everything I want. Our heroine, Ruby Martin is part of a generation ship’s underclass, the Grays. The social structure is rigidly defined by uniform color: there are Reds, who are basically cops/peacekeepers, and Blues, who are the mysterious next level up from Gray. Until the ceiling literally falls, Ruby has never met anyone of another class who wasn’t a Red (who, predictably, are basically thugs, who only uphold the law as an excuse to abuse their limited power), and Ix, the ship’s AI.

A freak accident shatters the glass ceiling (both metaphorically and literally, except for the glass part,) and a Blue named Fox falls out of the sky and into her arms. While they sit in the cold dark and await a rescue, Ruby convinces herself that she could advance if she could get Fox to fall in love with her. Even though they only hung out for a couple of hours, Ruby kisses him and is absolutely certain he loves her back.

Yeah…. that’s probably the point this story lost me.

I was expecting Cesar Chavez and I ended up with Eva Perón.

Even so, I might have been able to roll with the Evita storyline, if the injustices of being a Gray were more… well, honestly, more painful.The image Cooper paints is not much worse than being working class in America. That’s not to say that being working class in this country doesn’t suck, but, you might also notice that revolutions against it are kind of nebulous and tend to fizzle out. I mean, the battle cry, “We want better opportunities for advancement!” don’t resonate nearly as much as, say the ones from the Industrial Revolution: “Children are dying at the loom!”

And yet Ruby’s revolution is seen as incredibly threatening. Because she can sing. Literally, she sings what are supposed to be stirring songs, but, even reading the lyrics twice, I never felt it. Thing is, I get the power of song. I actually think songs can be dangerous, for real. I feel it anytime someone sings, “We Shall Overcome.”

Ultimately, I never felt the fire in my belly that this trope usually feeds. What was missing from Creative Fire was the bright and brilliant flame of revolution.

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