Kaleidoscope, a crowdfunded anthology published in August, collects a broad variety of stories in their mission to highlight diverse contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction. Edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, the anthology completely and beautifully succeeds in what they set out to do.
Its table of contents is truly diverse both in terms of representation with a wide collection of stories featuring PoC, QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled characters but also in the types of stories it tells. Those range from Science Fiction to Fantasy and Horror; from those that are light-humored and upbeat to those that are sad and even dark; some are plot-driven and some character-driven, a few have a strong romantic focus, all of them are empowering and feminist. A lot of them are self-contained but a few have enormous potential for more (I am looking at you, “Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts and “Careful Magic” by Karen Healey) and at least one—“The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams—is part of an existing series (I actually reviewed the first book, Twinmaker, a few months ago). And just like any anthology there are indeed stories that have less staying power than others and stories that will probably stay with me forever.
Of the latter, four deserve special attention:
The aforementioned “Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts is one of the more light-hearted stories but a light-heartedness that actually enfolds astute and subversive commentary on the superhero genre, especially when it comes to the sexist representation of female characters. Bonus points for the heady sci-fi feel of the story: In this world, people take turns becoming superheroes once they enter mysterious machines that give (or remove) their superpowers.
Following a disabled girl who has been picked to join a superhero squad, the story develops as Joey deals with her future: Will she become a Legacy or an Original? If she becomes a Legacy, will she then replace the only existing female superhero (for some reason, the squad never has two female superheroes at the same time)? And what will happen to her disability? Will the machine make her “whole” or does she have a choice and in that case, what would she chose? The answer to those questions could not have been better handled and I can only hope we will get more stories in this world.
Shveta Thakrar’s “Krishna Blue” is an imaginative story that falls on the darker side of this anthology’s palette. Neha simply wants to belong and to make art—but her parents have other ideas as to what constitutes “success” and her art teacher is a culturally insensitive douchebag who expects Neha to be limited by what is stereotypically perceived as the “celebrated history and heritage” of her “people.” As the character tries to grasp and eventually turns to subvert these conceits, the story takes a strange turn into a weird, vampiristic tale that makes creative use of colors and art.
Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” cements this author as a favorite one to watch. This story is a perfect marriage of narrative form and voice, of lightness and sadness. Presented as a term paper in which a teenage girl is writing about her environment (specifically the “walkdog” of the title) complete with grammatical mistakes and everything, the tale shows both her “scientific” research as well as the remarks and footnotes that become incrementally more and more personal as the story progresses. If, to start with, it’s easy to laugh with the character’s snarky asides, it soon becomes clear that said snark hides a darker, sadder tale of friendship, love, shame and bullying that made me cry like a baby. Or rather, cry like a reader who had just read an incredibly powerful piece of literature.
Ken Liu’s “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” is almost painful in its perfection. It’s possibly my favorite story of the anthology or even my favorite short story I’ve read so far this year. It’s a story that embraces a dual narrative—one that recounts the origins of the Qixi Festival in China (and is incredibly subversive in its retelling) and one that follows the romantic relationship between two teenage girls as they are about to be apart, as one of them is going away to study. Suffused with the beautiful eagerness of youth and first love, the story examines longing, love-that-turns-into-friendship without losing any of its importance and potency in a lyrical, kind and heartwarming manner. The parting lines between the story and the reader are so beautiful in its simplicity, I want to keep hold of them forever and ever:
“I love you,” Yuan whispered. And no matter how the stream of time flowed on, that moment would be true forever.
In sum: This anthology is truly kaleidoscopic and absolutely recommended.
In BookSmugglerific: an excellent 8 out of 10.