Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Mini-Review: Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow

A woman is so broken by life, not only has she adopted the name Broken, but she is incapable of escape – because there is essentially nothing she can do to die. She picks a fight, she heals before death. She tries to commit suicide – it won’t take, she heals after the attempt. The healing is pain. The pain is the only part of life she ‘enjoys’. Folks…this is the backstory, this is where it begins. And of course, Broken is a superhero and there was a time when she could fly.

Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow is extraordinary in its portrayal of superheroes, or extrahumans, as they are called in Bigelow’s books. Everyone loves a label, so let’s call this post-superhero literature. This is the maturation of superheroes in popular culture, and it was originally published in 2011 (and now republished by The Book Smugglers Publishing), so a few years before the current height of superheroes in pop culture had been reached.

It’s a few decades into a dystopic future where the US was on the losing side of a global war. Extrahumans, each with a superpower or two, have become a tool of the government, both hated and loved, but hated more and more. A new government has taken over, much more authoritarian, and full of parallels to groups like the Nazis, or even to the troubling groups in visible in today’s politics. A baby is born – prescient extrahumans have seen a future where things get better, seemingly infinitely better. They have also seen a future where he makes it much, much worse. It falls to a young teen, an unregistered extrahuman who sees countless possible futures when he looks others in the eyes – even his own eyes in the mirror, where he has seen his own death too many times. He finds Broken and together they try.

As positive as I am above, I must admit that dystopic books are not something I read often – it’s just not my thing. I imagine it’s a result of just where I am in life, how hard it is, and how damned stressed out and depressed I am much of the time. I simply cannot enjoy books where that sort of world dominates, where all too real situations dominate, where hope tastes of ashes. I suppose that’s why I like my SFF extra fantastic, where things are unreal and metaphoric as opposed to a version of reality that’s all too real. Call me a dreamer or escapist. So, generally, I avoid the whole dystopian thing.

Given these preferences of my reading, it’s hard for me to say that I enjoyed reading Broken. It’s hard, bad things happen, and hope is scarce, though always present in the background. It’s just not my thing. However, I can see the brilliance of the concept and the success of the execution. Broken is an incredible novel, both timeless and perfectly timed to the now. While I would probably argue that dystopic SFF is becoming overdone to the point of dulling its impact, the genre is primed for the concept of post-superhero fiction. And there’s much more to be said than I get into here. It’s done so well that I just might read the other books of the Extrahuman Union series, knowing that they aren’t my thing. Because as good as Broken is, I’m very curious to see what comes next.

The Extrahuman Union Series

Broken: Amazon
Sky Ranger: Amazon
The Spark: Amazon (forthcoming)
Extrahumans: Amazon (forthcoming)

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