Review: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (AWW Challenge #5)

Although I used to read my brothers’ comics (including Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and numerous horror comics) I didn’t really get into comics until Elfquest. Then I met Tim and he reintroduced me to the whole DC Universe.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed a lot of superhero stories, and I have an ongoing fondness for ‘real’ superheroes: that is, stories that address what might happen if people really did have super powers. Alan Moore’s Miracle Man was my first encounter with a very dystopian vision of this idea. Later there was Heroes (though I abandoned that half way through the second season). I’ve enjoyed shows like No Heroics and Misfits as well.

The genre exists in literature as well. Deborah Biancotti’s Bad Power is the first I’ve read, though, and now everyone else has got a high benchmark to reach to impress me.

Bad Power contains five short stories set in a world where there are people with powers, though no superheroes. Instead, people slowly come to realise that they have abilities – some of them very subtle – and have to confront what it means for their everyday lives.

Anyone who has read Biancotti’s Book of Endings will already be familiar with her ability to infuse the everyday – the mundanely human – with a sense of creeping horror. Her work is full of the textures of human frailty as well as strength.

Biancotti has other qualities as a writer, too. I love how distinctive each of her characters is. Everyone has their own voice, the way they speak in their dialogue as well as how they think and act.

The eponymous story, Bad Power, features the very distinctive voice of an unnamed woman. It’s not easy to write a dialectical patois without sounding awkward or somehow pantomime, but Biancotti is seamless. It’s full of surprises too, but as the revelations come they always feel natural, as though now the truth is out, you always suspected it was there.

The story comes midway through the collection, and we’re led there through the gently interconnected stories. In Shades of Grey, the futilely suicidal Esser Grey meets Detective Palmer, who has troubles of her own. These are explored in more detail in Palming the Lady, and the consequences of her investigation of a stalker continue in Web of Lies, one of the creepiest and least expected stories of the collection.

The young doctor, Matthew Webb, who hears things, surfaces in Bad Power, while characters from that tale meet up with others we’ve met before along with Ponti, a detective with a knack for finding lost children, in Cross that Bridge.

You can see how the characters are echoed in the story titles as well as weaving around each other in the stories. Even in a world without powers, bad or otherwise, we all have an effect on each other. The ripples and whorls of individual choices are visible throughout this satisfying little book.

Bad Power is satisfying – yet also leaves you craving more. I want to read more about this world that has super powers but no super heroes. Hell, I just want more Biancotti.