AWW16: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti


Hate superheroes?
Yeah. They probably hate you, too.

‘There are two kinds of people with lawyers on tap, Mr Grey. The powerful and the corrupt.’
‘Thank you.’
‘For implying you’re powerful?’
‘For imagining those are two different groups.’

From Crawford Award nominee Deborah Biancotti comes this sinister short story suite, a pocketbook police procedural, set in a world where the victories are only relative, and the defeats are absolute. Bad Power celebrates the worst kind of powers both supernatural and otherwise, in the interlinked tales of five people — and how far they’ll go.

Published by Twelfth Planet Press.


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.

Bad Power is the fourth collection in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, and features five short stories by Deborah Biancotti.

These interconnected stories all take place in a world where superhuman powers exist.  There are no capes here, however – no heroes trying to save cities, no villains trying to take over the world, just people trying to make the best (and sometimes the worst) of what having their power means to them.

The collection opens with Shades of Grey, which introduced Esser Grey, a wealthy businessman who has recently discovered his power and is trying to explore the limits of it.  This is an extremely visceral story (both literally and figuratively), and Biancotti manages to make Grey a compelling character, even as he takes some horrific lengths to push his limits.  Notably, this story also introduces Detective Palmer, whose presence becomes a thread linking all of the stories in the collection.

Next is Palming the Lady, in which Detective Palmer takes focus.  Medical student Matthew Webb is being followed by a homeless woman who seems to have the ability to know where he’ll be before he does, and Palmer is called in to investigate.  This story really highlights Biancotti’s fabulous characters, and her ability to make every one of them feel like a living, breathing–and more importantly, sympathetic and understandable–person.  I challenge anyone to read this story and not fall at least a little in love with Palmer.  I would happily read a novel (or series of novels) about all the strange cases she investigates.

Web of Lies continues Matthew Webb’s story.  The medical student has recently lost his father, and he and his mother are adjusting to life without him–and, more importantly, without the drugs he used to medicate them for what he called mental illness.  This is  a story which cuts close to the bone, treading the line where powers meet mental illness.  Particularly notable here is Matthew, who wasn’t a particularly likeable character in the previous story, and who becomes much more sympathetic here, as well as the characterisation of Matthew’s mother, and how much her newfound strength changes things.

Bad Power reads more like a vignette than a full story, and is perhaps the least grounded.  It is told from the point of view of someone with a power living in a different time and place, and really reflects on power–both in terms of a superhuman gift and in terms of personal power and strength.  This is probably the darkest of the stories in the collection, and also the one that, for me, shows off Biancotti’s extraordinary talent the most.

The last story in the collection, Cross the Bridge, is my favourite.  This one brings us back to Detective Palmer again, this time given a partner in Detective Ponti.  Ponti has a very useful power, being able to track lost children.  There is a quiet horror in this story, with children being the victims of crimes, and yet there is also hope, and a quiet realisation that, for all of the horror and awfulness that’s happened in this world, there are still people who are good, people like Palmer and Ponti who will try to do good with their powers.

Overall, this is another stunning addition to the Twelve Planets, and one of my favourites (unsurprising, since I am a huge fan of all of Biancotti’s work).  The basic trope of superpowered humans has been explored many times, but few authors have the ability to really make the stories about the humans and not the powers (or the battles they fight). Biancotti does all of this, and more, making this a collection I would recommend whole-heartedly to anyone, and especially those burned out on superheroes.

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3 Responses to AWW16: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

  1. Pingback: Bad Power: Review Roundup | A Journey Through the Twelve Planets

  2. Pingback: April Round-up of Speculative Fiction | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

  3. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 | The Forest of Books

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