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Broken Time
by Maggy Thomas
Roc, $7.99, 352pp
Published: May 2000

Why Emily Devenport chose to shift, after six novels in eight years for Roc, to a one-off pseudonym of Maggy Thomas, I have no idea, but I'll be happy to ask her about it at CoKoCon, over the Labor Day weekend of 2019, at which she's the Local Author Guest of Honor. This is certainly a different book to those which went before it, but it's not so different when you think about it. It's still a science fiction novel with a young female protagonist who leaves her world for another and gets caught up in wild shenanigans with an alien race.

What this adds is serious depth. It's easily the deepest that the author had gone thus far in creating a fleshed-out universe, especially as this one has a deliberate and fascinating flaw. Our lead character is Siggy Lindquist, who might seem to be just a janitor, cleaning the floors outside the cells of the Maximum Security Block, known to one and all as Monster Row, at the Institute for the Criminally Insane, but she's also someone special, someone who has experienced something that people can't explain: a time pocket.

When she was only seven years old, she watched David Silverstein fall into a time pocket, which didn't remove him merely from their town of Red Cliffs on the planet Veil, but from the memories of everyone who didn't see him go; in other words, everyone but Siggy. She knows that she's not crazy, but she can't explain what happened and nobody else would believe a word of it, so she lets it go. Except it keeps coming back, because this is a tale that doesn't unfold in a straight line and important things don't always seem important until they're understood.

I've learned, by reading Emily Devenport's first six novels, that she really doesn't like being categorised. Sure, she writes science fiction, but it's hard to go deeper than that because she likes to stitch genres and subgenres together in ways that we might never expect could be viable. 'The Kronos Condition' is sf with a side order of mythology and superheroes. 'GodHeads' is sf with a psychedelic dessert. 'Broken Time' is, of all things, a merger of space opera and serial killers, with the latter very much rooted in 'The Silence of the Lambs'.

If you remember that book or film, there's a scene where Clarice Starling visits Hannibal Lecter and doesn't get what she wants. He's in the end cell, so she has to pass a bunch of others to get out and, when she does, one of the prisoners, a man named Miggs, ejaculates onto her. Starling is disgusted but Lecter is disturbed by the lack of respect that Miggs demonstrated to a lady. We don't see the rest, but the next day, powerfully influenced by whatever Lecter says from his separate cell during the night, Miggs's body is discovered; he carved out his own tongue and choked to death on it. It's powerful stuff, rendered all the more powerful because Lecter doesn't and couldn't touch him. 'Broken Time' feels like that scene resonated with Devenport so much that she used it as the bedrock for a very unique space opera.

The bigger picture to this future universe is that mankind has discovered other species during its expansion into space, one of which they dubbed Speedies, because they function at a higher speed than us. Misunderstandings during early attempts to communicate led to a war, which has been fought and has ended by the time this story begins. However, these two species are still far from friends and, due to some bizarre time effects reminiscent of the time pocket that Siggy saw as a child, there's a fleet of lost Speedy ships that periodically re-emerges into our space to attack the planet of Veil, believing that the war is still being fought, and disappearing again before anyone can talk to them.

We're aware of this early on, but we concentrate on Siggy's work at the Institute. She's put on duty on Monster Row because one of the prisoners spoke to her, one that isn't known for doing anything except standing very still in his cell and certainly not talking to the help. He recognises something in her and, in turn, her supervisor sees a possibility in having her remain and having her talk to the prisoners. Maybe he can learn something about a few very interesting criminals in the process.

We have no idea, for the longest time, how these different plot strands are going to connect, but they do and in spectacular fashion. Because the author has zero interest in doing what everyone else does, she makes all this tie together in a fashion that I'm coming to recognise as quintessentially Emily Devenport. She lets this novel unfold with admirable patience and subtle control until she's ready to loose the hounds and wham! She frickin' rooks us between the eyes! There's a point late on that's so brutal in its elegance that I had to put the book down for a moment and wonder at the sheer audacity of it. And, best of all, it works and it works very well.

I've only scratched the surface here. There's a lot of obvious influence from 'The Silence of the Lambs' here but this is far from a serial killer police procedural. It's a space opera set against the backdrop of interstellar war in a region of wonderful invention, the Enigma Fold, a fantastic anomaly in the structure of time and space which the human race does not yet fully understand but perhaps the Speedies do.

The structure seems far more controlled here than in previous books, as if the author had plotted this one out in intense detail but let the others take her where they would while she wrote them. I've enjoyed previous books a lot but this one is more mature and substantial. As much as I enjoyed 'Scorpianne' and 'GodHeads', this is easily her best by this point. She started well and was still improving after seven novels. I have a feeling that, when I finish up with her two books as Lee Hogan, I'm going to be seriously wondering about why she stopped writing novels for fifteen years. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles by Emily Devenport click here

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