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Outlaw School
Rebecca Ore
HarperCollins EOS, 320 pages

Outlaw School
Rebecca Ore
Rebecca Ore was born in Louisville, Kentucky. She grew up in South Carolina before moving to New York to attend Columbia University's School of General Studies. Later, she worked for various publishing houses and a weekly newspaper in Patrick County, Virginia, before going back to graduate school. She now lives in Philadelphia.

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A review by Hank Luttrell

This novel will be compared to classic dystopian novels like Brave New World and 1984; it is effective in evoking a distressing and unpleasant vision of an all too possible future. For just this reason it is a bit hard to read at first; it isn't a lot of fun. But after you get to know Ore's main character, you'll have to keep reading to learn how her life turns out.

The book starts with the protagonist, Jayne, in high school. An unhappy time for many of us, as pressures forcing us to conform increase, and biology sends us confusing messages. It is easy to identify with Jayne's stress. The future's answer to her problems is a regime of "school drugs," not that far removed from today. (Amusingly, characters in this narrative sometimes muse that while they might have problems, at least things aren't as bad as they were in the barbaric past, our present.)

Today we seem to be poised on the brink of a revolution in intellectual property. The Web is having a profound effect on information systems. Internet pioneers, many of them, say "Information wants to be free!" Traditionally, information is free. In our culture, facts and information are free for the taking and using. Only those organizations known as books or articles or essays or shows or plays or poems or drawings or movies or programs are "owned," to be sold, bought, licensed or lent. Writers and artists may freely use any bit of information or misinformation they find, and it becomes their property only after they (as my grade school teachers would say) put it into their own words. (My teachers would say that after catching one of us copying word for word out of the encyclopedia again.)

Ore's chilling speculation suggests that in the future, information won't be free, but will be regulated, licensed, doled out only to those who have somehow earned or more likely inherited the right to use it.

In Ore's story, non-conformity in high school starts an escalating pattern of rebellion which leads Jayne to the "Outlaw School" of the title. Jayne joins an underground, illegal movement to give unauthorized people access to knowledge and skills.

Ore's understanding of what is important about the digital revolution is profound, and goes well beyond trendy cyberpunk and virtual reality fantasies. Ore's work joins a grand tradition in science fiction, in which speculative fiction is the genre of choice for serious attempts to criticize society with stories of the future. Outlaw School is reminiscent of the days when Galaxy was the most subversive magazine in America. It even follows one of H.L. Gold's important formulas, in that some small hope of genuine progress or redemption is offered by the idealistic band of underground opposition.

Copyright © 2000 by Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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