Review: Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios

KaleidoscopeByline Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories
Published by: Twelfth Planet Press
ASBN: B00MFT1S28
ISBN 13: 9781922101129
Published: August 2014
Pages: 437
Format reviewed: eVersion (bought) and paperback (bought)
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction stories that are  fun, edgy, meditative, and feature diverse leads. These twenty original stories tell of scary futures, magical adventures, and the joys and heartbreaks of teenage life.

This anthology was funded by Pozible back in October of 2013 where they stated ‘too often popular culture and media defaults to a very narrow cross section of the world’s populace. We believe that people of all kinds want to see themselves reflected in stories. We also believe that readers actively enjoy reading stories about people who aren’t exactly like them. We want see more stories featuring people who don’t always get the spotlight.

The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.

That said, these aren’t going to be issue stories. The focus here is contemporary fantasy, and while the characters’ backgrounds will necessarily affect how they engage with the world, we’re not going to have a collection of “Very Special Episode” stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality/disability/mental illness/cultural identity, etc. We want to see protagonists from all sorts of backgrounds being the heroes of their own journeys.’ 

You can find out more about this anthology from this feature on John Scalzi’s ‘The Big Idea’, where Alisa Krasnostein (editor) discusses the anthology.

If you’d like to buy this highly recommended and enjoyable anthology, please see the publisher’s website here.

Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Firstly, I hope that this gets developed into a novel someday. Secondly, because of this I’ve already started my nominations list for the Hugos next year – this better get on a the shortlist! Finally – wow. How excellent is it to see a slice of comic book heroes set in Australia! Of course, this being Tansy, every chance is taken to point out how ridiculous females are often portrayed in comic-related media and it’s fabulous. But on to the story.

Across the world there are superhero generator machines, though every country uses theirs differently. England hardly retire their superhero crew, whereas Japan swap theirs around every two weeks. Australia, following the US, do theirs every six months and this time the lottery has picked teen Joey, who has an arm that hasn’t quite developed. In the weeks leading up to when she’ll step into the machine and be transformed into a superhero, she struggles between whether she wants the machine to ‘fix’ her, or if she’s content the way things are.

In this short story we see electric, interesting characters that are displayed to the reader effortlessly. We see slight hints of world building that make you desperate for this to become a novel. And we have the usual wit and superb way of words we can rely upon from Tansy. I say again – HUGO NOMINATION!

Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu

Yuan and Jing live in China, in an area where their love for each other – as females – isn’t welcome. It’s Jing’s last night before she goes to America to study, and Yuan is understandably upset by the whole experience.

Through a story she tells to her younger sister so she falls asleep quickly (and Yuan can run out to see Jing one last time), we hear the tale of two lovers kept apart by things outside their control. Sometimes, though you may love someone and though it’s unfair, things just don’t work out. Through Liu’s excellent way with words we see how love that passes still counts as love.

‘You think if we’re no longer in love, then that means the love we had was somehow not real. But the past does not get rewritten. Niulang was the first man I loved, and that would be true no matter how many times I fell in love after him.’

This is such an important message that I wish I’d read this when I was much younger – it would have saved a lot of grief.

The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams

This is a story that’s simply too smart for the likes of me. Though I love science fiction and Doctor Who and all that, you’d think I’d be able to ‘get’ the idea of travelling through space and time, and the issues that could come around through all that – how you can be yourself, but there are many other ‘selves’ who are you, but not you at the same time. Many, many countless different dimensions, and so forth.

This is written in Sean’s Twinmaker series which I love, and I’m so happy to see so many of his recent short stories in various anthologies be set in the same world. This focuses on one of the games teens play in the d-mat booth – we see mentions of this in the series, but here we get to really focus on it. It’s unsettling and odd and what an ending! Even though I don’t quite ‘get’ this as deeply as I should be able to, I enjoyed the adventure immensely, as sad as it was.

End of Service” by Gabriela Lee

A girl barely knows her mother, because in Manila it is common to find work in other countries that pays so much better – double, triple, quadruple what you’d made at home. She grows up living with her father, and very rarely sees her mother who’s practically a stranger to her. Then her mother dies, and she’s expected to feel and react as though someone incredibly close has passed away – something which must be so impossible hard to come to terms with. Do you hate yourself for not feeling anything, or do you hate the situation that’s the cause for why you barely know your own mother?

I like the twist in this one – it’s spooky and pretty gross in how realistically this could come to happen.

Chupacabra’s Song” by Jim Hines

This is the first time I’ve sampled Hines’ writing, I think. I mention that, because I should have read him long ago, or at least directly after meeting him at Continuum in Melbourne this year – he was excellent, and we had a good chat about the comic strip Peanuts – however, my reading has been pretty woeful this year. Hopefully this short story will encourage me to try harder because it was dang excellent.

I like a short story that doesn’t specifically say what a character has – it just shows it. This shows us a young teen who works with her father in his veterinary clinic, and has the ability of using magic through music. She learns that even those you may feel similar to for what makes you different, doesn’t exactly mean that automatically makes them good people. Inside, she has the courage to do what she knows is right. Altogether this is an uplifting story of a girl who does hard things because they’re the right thing to do.

The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara

Well, this one made me cry. I can’t take animals being hurt in books or tv/movies, and though this wasn’t an animal, the way it was written made it damn similar. It’s a simple tale where so much happens without a whole lot of plot – in a good way. The details are slipped in so simply to really compound how this is such a normal occurrence – it’s simply life, nothing grand or Big Dramatic Plot about it – which makes it all so real.

This one has a lot of impact, and it’s done so simply. Well done, McNamara.

Signature” by Faith Mudge

I loved the characters in this, they were so bright and descriptive and fun. The enemy in this is so easy to hate also – everyone’s probably met someone so close to this, vindictive for no reason and simply nasty – kinda like how Umbridge is more hated than Voldemort.

The resolution in this one comes a little close as being too easy, but just manages to pull it off. It’s especially saved by the ‘I didn’t think that would work!’ follow up, and the way the characters close up at the end. Priya egging on Kabir is especially sweet. This is probably one of my favourites, especially for how the bookstore is described – I want to go there!

The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman

Another that’s disturbing in how accurate it could be if shapeshifting were possible, and otherwise pretty spot on for transgender people, which is always sad to read and hear of. I always enjoy stories that are told through a range of mediums – in this case, memos, phone records and letters.

A good resolution that leaves you with hope – I would love to see this one expanded into a novella.

Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E. C. Myers

Ahh, drug use. It always make me a little uncomfortable to read of, but I’m glad they included it in here. The recklessness teens have when it comes to recreational drugs, but then the embarrassment and shame felt when drugs are needed for whatever reason – schizophrenia in this case – is explored as we witness typical teenagers and precognition. I really enjoyed this piece – I love the idea behind it, and how it was handled.

Vanilla” by Dirk Flinthart

This one certainly ends in a way I wasn’t expecting, and the title is really quite clever. This one shows how hard it is for those trapped between cultures. Kylie Howard – named for an Australian singer and the prime minister at the time this story is set – is Somali but born in Australia. Her father is determined for her to be considered Australian, but only by his standards – she can’t dress or act the way other Aussie girls do, that’s for sure.

She befriends a few individuals who are in the same boat, so to speak, as she is – aliens who have lost their planet to a disaster, and have been split up and integrated into the community in small groups. In this, Kylie is sweet and innocent, not really understanding how to act or what to do as everything that feels right is considered ‘wrong’ by whoever happens to be interfering at the time. Not knowing how to interact with other females is something that really spoke to me in this one.

Careful Magic” by Karen Healey

Another of my instant favourites. I love magic in an urban setting, especially school-based. I love the characters, and I love the careful view of OCD and the confirmation that the OCD wasn’t what made the protagonist so excellent at magic.

The characters are what make this sing – you see typical school personalities, the hot girl and so on, and how other kids can be so cruel, but throughout all the characters felt real and varied, like they actually existed rather than were just ‘that way’ because ‘all schools’ have the hot and popular students, and so on.

I love Karen Healey’s writing. Incidentally, we need another ‘When We Wake’ novel!

Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar

This is one of those short stories you aren’t sure you’re really on board with, until it all comes together whilst also swatting you around the head for good measure. Not exactly one of my favourites, but effective all the same. Written in essay-format, complete with extensive footnotes which really give the sassy-style of the young author, this is a powerful piece of writing.

Celebration” by Sean Eads

One of the more shocking ones, at least in the setting of the piece – a summer program for gay males to be ‘reprogrammed’, mostly shocking because it’s the type of thing that sadly exists in our world as it is today.

Other than that, this wasn’t as strong as some of the other pieces – I didn’t feel the terror of the characters, nor why they clung together – I could understand why and I felt the plot itself was rather good, but I didn’t otherwise feel much for this as much as I have had for the other pieces. The message in this one – what would alien’s be left to think if they came to judge whether or not our world was worthy of not – seemed to be somewhat lacking.

The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar

A young Lebanese girl is in Scotland, and is left to deal with being another lost to cross-cultural ties. Little comments in this one like how even her interest in learning Welsh is questioned – why not Arabic?, her mother instantly asks – and just shows how one must both excel and fit into their new life whilst also embracing their heritage which doesn’t leave much room for personal interests.

I loved this one for the interest in owls, a creature I also love. You really feel for the main character in this one (which is what I think I was hoping for in the previous story, where you feel for them all as a whole, but not really the protagonist). This is a strong piece where you really feel the struggle, and the simple ending is heart-warming and satisfying.

Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar

About a girl who discovers she can feed of colour itself, this is a mad and energetic rollicking tale that’s quite harsh and frightening. We probably all know someone who’s been quite talented with art, only for their family to be dismissive of it in terms of what they should be doing with their life longterm – if not knowing of someone like that, then as that person ourself. The descriptions of colour and the names for the colours given are magnificent, the characters are quite lovely and so real, and what an ending! You really feel for the protagonist in this one.

Every Little Thing” by Holly Kench

This is another that has little Big Plot in it, and is mostly character driven – my favourite kind! The characters have explosive, identifiable personality and you get so much from this one from such few words. This is just a really sweet little story, showing how excellent friends can be and how the best people are those who put up with your little quirks. This is an engaging piece, and it’s always amusing to see short stories that compliment each other in the same anthology. You want to throw a copy at the protagonist so she can read ‘Careful Magic’ and think twice before she performs that particular spell! This one has a nice ending to it also – nice and simple, realistic, kinda a non-event but hey, that’s life, isn’t it?

Happy Go Lucky” by Garth Nix

I didn’t really know what to make of this one. It didn’t really grab me, but… it’s Garth Nix. What is wrong with me? It takes on messages of refugees, boat people and that horrible journey in a desperate plea to a better life. It also shows that really kind of messed up Government where they can lie and throw your whole family into squalor for the wrong move.

I didn’t really connect to the protagonist in this one – I couldn’t really believe the way she spoke or acted in general, or interacted with her fathers.

Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan

A sad, hard story, of a girl with something similar to OCD who is struggling to cope through a breakup with a particularly nasty person. She struggles to cope with her rituals and certain things she thinks of as safe, like certain exact times shown on a clock. This one was a bit unsettling, really. It kinda ends in hope, but I would have liked to see the friendship explored in a different way – friendship and nothing else, and there remaining strong by the end also.

Double Time” by John Chu

An interesting look at the use of technology. In a world where you can time travel for a few minutes by use of a watch-type instrument on your wrist (so is there the ability to travel longer with bigger pieces of tech, maybe?) we see it used by figure skaters in order to watch themselves perform (you can’t really get an idea for speed via video, apparently) or even skate with themselves for duo performances.

We see a young girl driven hard to please her mother who never has words to show how proud she is. She steals time from herself in order to use the piece of tech to practise at doubling with herself to skate well enough to win – even though it then takes her by surprise when she manages it.

Quite bittersweet, and excellently written. But it’s John Chu – like the poor girl in this piece, we expect fine, fine things from him.

Welcome” by William Alexander

A short and sweet piece ending with hope, which is a pretty perfect end to this excellent anthology. A fantastical bridge connects the Earth to the Moon, a crossing made possible at certain times when the planet and moon drift close enough together. This is the only chance a young boy gets to see his sister and mother, and though it’s filled with pain (the issue of his body not used to being on the moon) he still loves it.

Circumstance throw him and his sister out to another crossing – one that will make history – and his sister’s infectious nature is wonderful.

~

Although I never would have expected it to turn out this way, I review a lot of anthologies. For 2011 and 2012 I judged the anthologies/collections category of the Aurealis Awards, before that I (like most people) picked up anthologies like Dreaming Down-Under and The New Space Opera in order to find new authors to love when I was still developing my speculative fiction tastes. Nowadays it seems I review a fair amount of anthologies. So taking that experience into consideration, let me say how much I adored this anthology. It is easily one of my favourites, right up there with The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius edited by John Joseph Adams, and Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely.

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