Broken Skies: Austin And Burke

Broken SkiesIf you haven’t noticed already, the novellas don’t focus on one set of characters. JT and Lizzy are in both Gimme Shelter and The Children of Amargosa, but Gimme Shelter is a prelude to ChildrenThe First One’s Free/Before Amargosa feature the Gelt duo of Kai and Tishla and luckless Compact bureaucrat Douglas Best as they are conned by the man with multiple names. Broken Skies, however, has the most direct connection, besides Gimme Shelter, to the Amargosa trilogy. It’s event begin literally hours after Children ends. But it, too, focuses elsewhere.

Like Before AmargosaBroken Skies is set in the wider Compact, giving readers a bigger picture of the universe where all this takes place. But instead of JT Austin, Quentin Austin is the POV character. As JT’s father, he has a personal stake in retaking Amargosa. But even he knows that wasn’t the Compact’s best move. When we meet him, he’s balancing his need to rescue the son he stranded on Amargosa as an act of tough love and his realization that another colony, one held longer, might have made a better place for the Compact to counterpunch the mysterious Realm that’s seizing human worlds.

Austin is relatively young for a flag officer, only in his forties in an era where two centuries is common. Yet he behaves as one who has seen much and expects to see more. Part of Austin’s role is to be the audience’s way into the Compact Universe. Sure, he’s a high-ranking officer, but this sudden war has thrown him into a situation thousands of other people are in – a loved one is behind enemy lines, and all he or they can do is carry on with life as usual. Fortunately, life as usual involves breaking those enemy lines.

He’s aided and supported by the rather comely Admiral Eileen Burke. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I lifted it directly from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct. Having read a couple of novels with Burke as a character, I read up on the rest of her history in that series. Burke, a police detective, is young, almost immature, and winds up being traumatized in the line of duty. Plus, and I hate to say this because McBain was such a good writer, Burke was basically the token girl in McBain’s testosterone-laced precinct.

My Eileen Burke, so named on as a homage to McBain, is on the opposite end of McBain’s Burke. Pushing 120 years, with her age genetically frozen at 35, she’s gone through even more than McBain’s Burke. The result is a young-looking old lady who’s seen it all, done it all, and managed to survive.

Burke also serves to show the effects of stalled aging and extreme longevity on human society. She handles her superiors deftly and even alien commanders seem intimidated by this female who fails to be impressed by armor and firepower.

Austin and Burke appear again in Warped, which is in rough draft. Burke is a mentor to quite a few of officers in the Compact Navy. Austin emerges from Broken Skies with a certain contempt for the bureaucracy and the rules. It’s not the Gelt who need to worry that they’re in command. It’s the enemies within humanity who are in trouble.

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