the Little Red Reviewer

Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

Posted on: August 22, 2014

kaleidoscope anthoKaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

published in August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the editors (Thanks Alisa and Julia!)

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The tagline for Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios’s new anthology Kaleidoscope is “Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy stories”, but what’s in this collection goes much deeper than that.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and I very much appreciated the depth of variety of the stories, everything from contemporary fantasy, to parallel universe, to futuristic schools for shapeshifters, to ancient Chinese mythology, to accidental humor,  to a superhero story, and to one so ambiguous it could take place anywhere or anytime. As promised, the characters are diverse, (mostly female, some are queer, some with disabilities or disorders, many are ethnic minorities), and while some of them have already found acceptance, others have a tougher road to travel. A number of the stories deal with being an ethnic and/or racial minority, and being torn between doing whatever it takes to be accepted by your peers, and keeping to the traditions of your parents. Even as horrible things are sometimes happening and characters are in dark places, these are incredibly hopeful, optimistic stories.

 

I think many readers will agree that the two finest  stories in the collection are “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu and “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar.  Multiple award winning Ken Liu is with good reason famous for his short fiction, and Sofia Samatar is a rising star, and in fact just won the Campbell Award.  In Liu’s “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon”, Yuan and Jing are struggling with saying goodbye as Jing’s family prepares to move away. The two young women “fall” into the Chinese story of Zhinu and Niulang, who fell in love and were then forced to live apart (their stars are on the opposite side of the Milky Way). The story of the ancient lovers is beautiful in a way only Ken Liu can do, and if you’ve never read him, this is a wonderful introduction to the magic he does with words.  “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” is a story of first love, and how to accept that your first love isn’t forever.

 

When I stop to think about it, Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” is also a story of first love, or at least about realizing you care deeply for another human being.  Yolanda is writing a paper for school, and you’re going to get a smile on your face reading this, because it looks like every research paper everything 9th grader has every had to write, complete with introduction, thesis statement, discussion of research and conclusion. Samatar has left in all of Yolanda’s spelling errors, unnecessary footnotes, and other errata, which just adds to the fun. So you’re smiling, and maybe laughing, and you wonder why Yolanda keeps going on this tangent about her classmate Andy, when her paper is supposed to be about the urban legend creature the Walkdog, which steals kids. This is not a very long story, and Yolanda realizes what’s happening as she’s writing the research paper, and she’s practically begging her teacher to help her, asking why someone didn’t do something earlier so the horrible thing didn’t have to happen. How can something that starts off so goofy turn so tragic so quickly? A testament to Samatar’s prowess, “Walkdog” will be on my Hugo nominations next year.

Those two were far and away the best stories of the bunch, and there were a number of others I highly enjoyed (and went back to reread multiple times)!

 

Sean Williams’ “The Legend Trap” has a “sliders”-esque feeling to it, with three teenagers learning the hardway the truth behind an urban legend. Will they ever find their way home? And what to do when they can’t agree about how to move forward?   This story was just pure fun.  “The Truth about Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar follows Anisa, who is Lebanese and is being raised by her mother in the UK. Anisa finds solace in visiting the local owl center, which leads her to research the Mabinogian. She’s torn between her parent’s expectations that she steep herself in her Lebanese culture, and her interest in Welsh mythology. An award winning poet, it’s no surprise El-Mohtar weaves a beautiful yet complicated tale of separation, and of coming back together again.

 

“The Lovely Duckling”, by Tim Susman is an epistolary tale that includes letters and e-mails back and forth between a young girl who wants to attend a special school for shapeshifters, the school, and her father who is against the whole thing. Part of her application is an essay, so she tells a story about a duckling who grows up. The girl’s spirit shape might be a beautiful condor, but the shape she sees herself as is completely different. I think a lot of readers will be envious of the freedom she attains.  “Vanilla”, by Dirk Flinthart was another purely fun story to read.Because she’s Somali, Kylie is having trouble making friends at school. So she befriends the only other students weirder than her, the !gontok, visiting extra terrestrials that the school has welcomed. It was a little heavy handed in the way the !gontok are a stand-in for how ethnic minorities are often treated, but this story is so playful and joyous that I was willing to forgive anything. You’re sure to get an uncomfortable chuckle out of the end of this one.

 

And then there is Alena McNamara’s “The Day The God Died” This story has so little detail, and is so barely sketched out that it’s nearly naked.  It was like seeing something out of the corner of my eye, a wisp of something that I could never catch, and in hopes of catching it I happily read this story multiple times. Our unnamed protagonist meets a god while jogging. The god is dying, and is mostly at piece with coming to the end of its life. As the protagonist bends more and more to society’s expectations of what to do, what to study, how to look and how to act, the god dies more.  Is it a god, or a reflection? A reflection of the reader as well, this is one of those stories where you get out what you put in, and I kept wanting to go back and put more in.

 

There were a fair handful of stories that I bounced right off of, and I blame user error. This is ostensibly a collection of YA fiction, so it makes sense that some of the stories would be on a younger reading level.  I tend not to have much interest in mid-grade fiction, because  I want a higher reading level. You are more than welcome to pass judgement and call me a snob because of this, it’s totally ok.

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If you enjoy speculative fiction aimed towards the YA crowd, or fiction that stars younger protagonists, this is a collection you should look for. If you enjoyed Long Hidden, Kalidescope  is a great companion piece, especially if you have a teen reader in your home who might be too young for the adult themes and language of Long Hidden.

4 Responses to "Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios"

I’m dying to read Walkdog and I might just have to buy this book for that reason! (Although the stories all sound intriguing) I’m reading the Apex Book of World SF right now which sounds almost like an adult version of Kaleidoscope. Very cool, thanks for your review!

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As someone who has purchased anthologies for a single story, I can tell you that Kaleidoscope is worth it just for that one story. and then when it shows up on the Hugo ballot next year, you’ll have already read it!😀

I didn’t have time to mention it in the review, but Kaleidoscope also boasts a lot of international authors.

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I’m frustrated that my library has books by so few of these authors. I’ll have to wishlist this book for later so I can get a taste of their work.

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Can you request titles for your library to purchase? Many libraries I’ve been to are open to suggestions from their patrons. And, if they purchase books your request, it means other readers can discover these fantastic authors too!

Many of the Kaleidoscope authors have also published short fiction at online magazines like Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, etc. do a google search for their names, I bet you’ll come across some of their short fiction that’s online that you can read for free.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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