07 February 2011

Book review: Broken

Broken, by Susan Jane Bigelow. 2011, Candlemark and Gleam.

In the interest of disclosure, I received a free review copy of this ebook.

About a hundred years from now, Earth has been invaded by two species of aliens, and, thanks to a world war, is united in a single government based out of Australia. One of the invasions gave humans the capability of interstellar flight, and now there are colony worlds around the galaxy. For reasons not explained in the text, a fraction of people have developed superpowers since the Rogarian invasion, and, for reasons that will be familiar to X-Men fans, the "extrahumans" are all brought to Union Tower, where they're kept together (and away from "normal" people).

Michael Forward, a young prescient, is looking for Silverwyng, a member of the Union who's been missing for about ten years, because he needs her help to get a baby to Valen, one of the colony worlds. This baby, whose mother hands him off to Michael in a train station, has the potential to be humanity's savior or its greatest dictator. He finds Broken, who used to be Silverwyng.

Michael, Broken, and the baby, whom they name Ian, have to escape from the Black Bands, the enforcement arm of the Reform Party, who have just taken control of the government and are in the process of enacting totalitarian rule. On the way, they meet some people who follow the Räton (the other set of aliens) lifestyle, anarchists, and neo-nationalists.

The overall setup is a fairly standard dystopia, wherein an ostensibly fairly elected government turns totalitarian and outlaws opposition parties. Bigelow puts a very relevant spin on this classic trope. The Reform Party was voted into office on a wave of anti-alien sentiment and a hearty dose of fear of Extrahumans. The newsmedia has become a mouthpiece for the Reform Party and serves mainly to feed the public the Party's spin on events and whip up their fear of the Other, in order to cement their radical right-wing policies.

One of the most poignant moments in the book occurs about halfway through. Michael and Monica, one of the Räton followers, are picked up by the American Liberation Army, who proudly display an American flag, now banned as a symbol of nationalism. Michael remembers something his mentor Joe had said before he died, about how he'd fought in the Last War, that the flag "used to stand for something a lot better than what it ended up standing for," and that Joe's father had "hated Greenleaf [the last President]. But he loved this....they were two separate things to him." (p 191-2)

Highly recommended.

This novel is available in e-format only. I read it on my laptop using Preview. The cover is nice, and the typeface is very clean. There's a minor formatting issue where occasional words mid-line are hyphenated, but it doesn't detract. I tried it out on my Android phone using Adobe Reader, and it looked nice there, as well. It's also available for Kindle, in addition to the pdf version linked above.

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