The concept behind Diverse Energies, a YA science fiction (mostly dystopian-esque) short story collection from Lee and Low, is admirable: all stories feature a person of color, something often lacking in the SFF world. The result, however, is a bit uneven. While some stories are interesting and well written, some are duds in either the plot or writing aspect (and sometimes both). I find that this is my normal reaction to short story collections on the whole, so it’s not unique to this anthology.
Good Girl by Malinda Lo
This was my favorite of the stories. It’s difficult to squeeze in significant character development in a short story while also keeping the plot interesting, but Lo manages it with aplomb. In her vision of the future, the government rules the everyday lives of normal people, even mandating what job they will work at. They’re also obsessed with racial purity, mandating sterilization for anyone who gives birth to a mixed-race baby. Lo’s protagonist is one of these children. Her older brother has gone missing, and she travels to the tunnels beneath the city for clues to his whereabouts. There, she finds a group of people who may be willing to help her – or may just want to hurt her. She also uncovers secrets, which I always love in my dystopias.
Gods of Dimming Light by Greg van Eekhout
This story gets major points for creativity. In van Eekhout’s future, permanent winter has descended upon the world, bringing with it poverty and starvation. His teenage protagonist, desperate for money and work, answers an advertisement for a paid medical study. Naturally, he gets much more than he bargained for, including a forced fight with an ancient Norse god. The storytelling is terrific and the concept is very cool. (You may all laugh at my pun now.)
Solitude by Ursula LeGuin
Buckell and Monti knew what they were doing when they chose to close the anthology with Le Guin’s story, which was previously published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1994. She puts most of these authors to shame with both writing and concept – but that’s not a knock on the other authors, it’s simply a testament to Le Guin’s skill. She’s the master.
Pattern Recognition by Ken Liu
Liu has a great concept with his story – poor children who have the ability to recognize patterns in ways that computers can’t are taken from their homes and kept as near-slaves, forced to work for a corporation and told the “outside” no longer exists – but it seems to be purposely told out of order, which was an odd choice. The story itself is divided into three sections which I believe skipped around in time some. I’m actually not quite clear, since the jumps aren’t explained contextually (at least not thoroughly enough for my liking). The climax of the story is in letter form, which is disappointing – it could have been great as a bit of action, but instead is reduced to telling instead of showing.
Next Door by Rahul Kanakia
Parts of Kanakia’s story are interesting, but mostly it was too muddled for me to make sense of it. As a result, I got no clear idea of character or meaning. In Kanakia’s future, the upper class is so plugged in to their electronics that they don’t notice when the lower class move into their homes. Kanakia’s protagonist belongs to this lower class, and he’s desperate to find a place for his family to live that isn’t riddled with bugs. The garage they’re currently living in belongs to an upper class family, but this particular family is at least clued-in enough to notice when they try to move in to the main house. So, that’s out. What follows is the protag’s search for a new home with his boyfriend and a run-in with the upper class family’s son, who has goals of his own. I can’t explain much beyond that because I didn’t quite get it.
I realize in my reviews of the two previous stories that I may come across as not a very careful reader. I assure you I am, and I assure you I read portions of each of these stories twice in an effort to understand them and ensure I was being fair to them. It’s a tricky task to cram a creative, SF concept into a dozen or so pages, and the two authors above just didn’t succeed at it. (Insert obligatory ymmv note here.)
The rest of the stories fell squarely in the middle for me, both in terms of writing and plot. I’ve yet to read an anthology that satisfied me completely with every story. Moreover, I’ve yet to read an anthology where I even mildly enjoyed every story, but that’s just the nature of anthologies. You read through the mediocre ones to get to the gems, and you hope you’re so blown away that it was all worth it. I wouldn’t call Diverse Energies a rousing success, but it will definitely appeal to readers interested in SF shorts. The fact that it features a diverse cast of characters is just icing.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Diverse Energies is available October 1.