Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti
This book is part of Twelfth Planet Press’s “Twelve Planets” series. It is a collection of five short stories all set in a common world. I bought the ebook version and it’s also available in paperback and for Kindle.
Bad Power is set (mostly) in modern Sydney in a world where some people have an inexplicable power: talking to dead people, seeing the future, immortality, and a few less common powers. And, although most of the protagonists have super powers, none of them are heroes (well, with one possible exception).
A few words about each of the stories:
Shades of Grey
The first thing that struck me about Biancotti’s writing when I started reading this story was the cinematic quality of the mental images it conjured up. The opening story grabbed me from the first paragraph and thrust me into the collection.
In “Shades of Grey” we meet Esser Grey, a wealthy businessman who recently discovered his power and is testing the limits (and not really finding any). We also meet detective Palmer, a recurring character throughout the collection who keeps being given the weird cases. (I enjoyed the continuity of seeing Palmer in later stories and also the mentions of Grey later on.) This story really sets the scene for the rest of the collection.
Palming the Lady
In this story, a young medical student, Matthew Webb, goes to the police and is directed to detective Palmer. He is being stalked by a homeless woman who knows where he’s going to be and gets there before he does. But his future isn’t he only future she sees.
Web of Lies
We meet Matthew again, this time just after his father’s death when he and his mother and discovering how to live again, free from the old man’s dictatorship. They both struggle with it in different ways and both learn there is more power in their family than they had realised.
As a side note, Matthew is mentioned in passing the last two stories. After the tumultuous stories in which he played a central role, it was nice to read that he had a slightly more stable future ahead of him. A neat way of letting us know that it was all OK in the end.
This is the only story not set in modern Sydney and also the only one written in first person. It also stood out for me as being the one story with a less thoroughly described setting — I was slightly confused about the time period it was set in, but turns out my first instinct was correct.
It’s a story about someone with a self-described “bad” power and about the horrible things people do to each other. This was easily the most horrific story in the collection and, for that reason, my least favourite. However, the link the previous and subsequent stories made it a relevant and integral part of the collection. I think without this story, the whole collection would have felt slightly more bland. (And it does make a good title for the collection as a whole.)
Cross That Bridge
This was the story that, when I heard a brief description on Galactic Suburbia, made me want to read the whole collection. Max works for the police. His power is the ability to find lost children, even when there is no discernible trail. As one might imagine, people find his talent creepy and he is constantly under suspicion.
It’s hard to choose a favourite story in this collection. Aside from “Bad Power”, they read almost like chapters from the same book (except with resolutions and different protagonists). The idea of normal people discovering superpowers isn’t a new one (cf Heroes), nor is the idea of an organisation such as the Grey Institute hinted at in the background throughout the collection (cf X-Men, Union Dues, etc). However, Biancotti pulls the world off uniquely and fascinatingly.
I really enjoyed the exploration of human nature and the wildly different coping mechanisms the powered characters employ. My favourite take home message? Power is not always empowerment.
4.5 / 5 stars