Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Diverse Energies edited by Tobias Bucknell and Joe Monti

Tags: science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, POC, short story anthology


“No one can doubt that the wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men. No one can doubt that cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge must lead to freedom of the mind and freedom of the soul.” —President John F. Kennedy, from a speech at University of California, March 23, 1962

 In a world gone wrong, heroes and villains are not always easy to distinguish and every individual has the ability to contribute something powerful. In this stunning collection of original and rediscovered stories of tragedy and hope, the stars are a diverse group of students, street kids, good girls, kidnappers, and child laborers pitted against their environments, their governments, differing cultures, and sometimes one another as they seek answers in their dystopian worlds. Take a journey through time from a nuclear nightmare of the past to society’s far future beyond Earth with these eleven stories by masters of speculative fiction. Includes stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Daniel H. Wilson, and more. [summary from Goodreads]


DIVERSE ENERGIES is like a Halloween trick-or-treat bag: you get some real good ‘uns, but you also get some duds that you always kind of throw back into the bag and hope that you don’t pull out again in your next swipe. It’s definitely a worthwhile read for those interested in the intersection of SFF with POC (hah, so many acronyms), particularly if you enjoy or don’t mind short stories. However, I’m not sure it had the comprehensive punch required for it to break out of its niche for the time being.

Here are some thoughts for most (though unfortunately not all) the short stories:

“Last Day” by Ellen Oh - I felt like this story didn't add anything new to the category of "tales about Japanese people in wartime." The "shocking reveal" towards the end was too sudden to actually move me. 3/5

"Freshee's Frogurt" by Daniel Wilson - Rebellious, murderous robots! Quick, intense, eerily believable. 4/5

"Uncertainty Principle" by K. Tempest Bradford - Attention-holding storytelling. The science aspect felt a little underexplained, though. 4/5

"Pattern Recognition" by Ken Liu – So that’s how one can write about modern China's characteristics. The timeline jumped around a little too abruptly for me, but I felt the idea of this was quite realistic. 3.5/5

"Gods of Dimming Light" by Greg van Eekhout - Bad. Ass. Viking legends? Genomics? Short and fast, but fun! 3.5/5

"Next Door" by Rahul Kanakia - I liked the characters and the world but the pacing was uneven, especially towards the end, when it felt like things rushed to a premature conclusion. 3/5

"Good Girl" by Malinda Lo - Good, controlled balance between emotion, plot, and world-building. Little actually happened and questions were left unanswered at the end, but in a way that felt natural to the MC's understanding of things. 4/5

"A Pocket Full of Dharma" by Paolo Bacigalupi - Great worldbuilding; recognized a lot of elements of the modern China I know in here. The concept of having a person's consciousness in a datacube was fascinating, and the villains were scary. 4/5

"Blue Skies" by Cindy Pon - It's cool to read about a future version of Taipei. Unfortunately, the kidnapping plot felt a bit contrived, which lessened the impact the story's setup could've had for me. 3/5

"What Arms to Hold" by Rajan Khanna - Really wished the story had been slightly more specific as to its setting. 'Twas okay, but forgettable. 3.5/5

"Solitude" by Ursula K. LeGuin – This is the best of the bunch, even though it’s a reprint. But I’m glad the editors decided to include this, because I don’t know if I would’ve heard of this short story otherwise, and it’s brilliant. This is spot-on, a chilling yet fully understandable depiction of communication problems ("CP") between different cultures. 5/5

Cover discussion: I kinda like how the cover doesn't attempt to do anything fancy in terms of designs or symbolic representations of the future, and just lets the focus be simply on the title and the names of authors.

Tu Books / Oct. 1, 2012 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $19.95

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.


  1. I haven't been seeing many reviews for DIVERSE ENERGIES around, so it was nice to see that you enjoyed it overall. :) "Solitude" and "Good Girl" sound really good, too!

    I don't think I'll be checking this one out yet, since it didn't seem to impress you that much, ha-ha, but thanks for the great review all the same, Steph!

    P.S. Just found your blog and LOVE it. The plain and simple design is great. :)

  2. Oooo LOVE the halloween candy analogy! That's brilliant and so often how I feel when reading anthologies. There's always some stories that are stronger than others, but I've found some great new authors by reading anthologies so I like them for that reason alone:) Thanks for putting this one on my radar Steph!

  3. I need to get to reading this. The premise of the anthology makes it worth the time, regardless of how many stories I actually enjoy beyond a meh stage. I'm in the middle of Ellen Oh's debut Prophecy and have mixed feelings. Readers who prefer their worlds and fantasies to their characters will get a lot of enjoyment out of it, but I feel like she's still very much a young writer in terms of her style and execution. It's worth a look if you like the idea of a YA Korean fantasy, though.

  4. This anthology sounds interesting! I like how the stories sound very diverse, and I love the overall premise of the anthology. I may just have to take a look into this.

  5. I'm a big fan of short stories, but I totally know what you mean about anthologies being a bit of a Halloween grab bag (in fact, I really love that analogy). I don't think I'd buy this one, but I'd likely pick it up from the library and read the stories from the authors I know (Bacigalupi, La Guin, Lo)--glad to see those were some of the ones you liked best!


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