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May 6, 2012

Review – Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti

Filed under: books read,reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 9:57 pm

Bad Power is a collection of five linked short stories by Deborah Biancotti in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. I read the ebook version a couple of months ago and review it now as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.

“Every kid growing to an adult wants a power. Too stupid to want otherwise.”

The stories in Bad Power are about people who possess extraordinary abilities – superpowers – and how those abilities don’t make their lives better. Nobody dresses extravagantly. The only people fighting crime are the weary, jaded cops – primarily Detective Palmer, whose ability, if she has one, is getting all the fruitcake cases.

In ‘Shades of Grey’ a monstrous millionaire tests both the limits of his ability to heal any injury and society’s capacity to tolerate him. A young man is being stalked by a psychic homeless woman in ‘Palming the Lady’ but it’s not just him that needs to worry. A further exploration of the young man and his family in ‘Web of Lies’ is about the destructiveness of family secrets (some families more so than others). The eponymous tale, set some indistinct time generations earlier, is a gruesome morality play comparing the unwitting use of power to its deliberate exercise, and how either path can lead to terrible consequences. And finally, as if to relieve some of the grim fatalism of ‘Bad Power’, the final story ‘Cross that Bridge’ is the story of a policeman with an unusual tracking ability that condemns him to ostracism but lends hope where it is least liable to be found.

The last one is my favourite – it’s almost an adventurous romp, albeit one with a core of real dread. In the others there’s little relief from the cynicism of selfishly powerful and cruelly fearful people. Biancotti’s cast are for the most part an unlikeable lot, though an exception must be made for Palmer, whose self-recrimination is unfair if understandable, and Detective Ponti, the hunter who finds lost children. He’s not as creepy as his reputation suggests.

‘Bad Power’ treads familiar ground for a long-time comic reader like me; the notion of super-powers being a horrible curse rather than an extraordinary opportunity to do good is not new. Biancotti grounds her exploration of the idea in ordinary (mostly) contemporary life, and draws very different conclusions than a typical cape book. There are no flashy battles here – no fanciful costumes or bombastic monologues or heroic triumphs. There are just people, some good but most not so much, finding themselves with powers that do not, in themselves, offer solution. Just new problems.


  1. Hey, thanks for the thoughtful review! 🙂

    Comment by Deborahb — May 7, 2012 @ 12:39 am

  2. Hi Deborah. Umm, it belatedly occurs to me that I neglected to mention that I really liked this collection, which is not at all the same thing as praising its virtues. So – er, right, please to be noting that I liked ‘Bad Power’ a great deal. Recommended!

    Comment by lexifab — May 7, 2012 @ 1:25 am

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