I’ve always found superhero-ish, extraordinary mutant ability-type fiction just a bit repellent; my first thought about them is generally something like: ‘Well, you couldn’t have just written more interesting human characters?’ Granted, I can also be a snobbish ass sometimes. So when I got a few pages into Broken and people started flying around and seeing into the future and such, I tried to keep an open mind. Fortunately, it was pretty much worth it.
We find ourselves in the year 2107, in the midst of global authoritarian rule and social chaos, and stumble upon Michael — an unassuming young guy with the power to see all the possible outcomes of a person’s life just by looking them in the eyes. He’s been asked by the equally prescient (and recently deceased) religious leader of a neighboring planet to save the life of a baby who holds the peaceful future of humanity in his hands. And not only that, but he has to find some way to get this kid off of Earth, to Valen, where he can learn the ways of freedom and justice — or something like that.
But Michael is totally wimpy, and he needs all the help he can get from Broken, a former member of Earth’s Extrahuman Union who once had the ability to fly. Since losing that power, she’s killed her ample spare by getting drunk in alleys and, apparently, befriending cats. One thing she hasn’t lost, though, is her ability to heal from any possible wound inflicted upon her, no matter how fatally serious. And let me tell you, she gets absolutely ripped to freaking shreds over the course of this novel.
So, as the evil Reformist government and its stereotypically mindless police brutes terrorize citizens worldwide in order to maintain their political hold, Michael and Broken are out to beat the odds and bring the baby, whom they’ve named Ian, to safety. Stuff blows up, loads of people die, and just about everything works out in the end.
Having said that, there really are some interesting layers to be peeled through in Broken. They just don’t involve any of the extrahuman-related things, or the dystopian dictator themes. (‘I told you so,’ he tells himself, upon finishing the book.) The problem with those elements was a general lack of depth, which is, to some degree, what I expected.
The super powers become a bit cheesy (one character we meet, another former extrahuman, once was a doctor with supernatural luck. Then her luck ran out and she left the force…no kidding) and the political plotline is too thin, dry and predictable to be really threatening, with no useful cultural commentary. It’s really disappointing that the use of authoritarian bad guys in sci-fi has become more of a generic affectation than an attempt to reflect on the struggles within our own society, or to create some meaningful thought experiment based on it.
But having said all that, the interesting layers I mentioned before did surface in the form of good structure and nice emotional undertones. Susan Jane Bigelow’s style is really fluid and engaging, and the fact that she could give her characters juvenile names like Sky Ranger and Silverwyng and not compel me to throw the book against a wall is saying a lot. She balances the action really well throughout the novel, and, alongside welcome shifts in perspective, it makes for a fun read. Bigelow’s deep descriptiveness and constant highlighting of each character’s unique personal ins and outs kind of made me want to feel for everyone involved — which, I guess, was really what (I hope) she was going for with this novel, rather than tough political sci-fi. I’ll admit that it’s okay for a cold-hearted reviewer to cheer for the good guys once in a while.
So, while it probably won’t satisfy those seeking any kind of deep philosophical edge, readers up for immersing themselves in a character-driven, futuristic adventure should find plenty of reasons to dig Broken.