Review of the short story anthology Kaleidoscope edited by Julia Rios & Alisa Krasnostein. Kaleidoscope hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads. The teenagers are queer, disabled, neurodiverse, PoC etc.
My review of Kaleidoscope
Kaleidoscope is an anthology of hopeful young adult anthology with 20 SFF stories.
Overall I really enjoyed this anthology. It is definitely the fastest I have ever read a short story collection of any short – I found myself reading multiple stories in one go.
My review from 2014 of Kaleidoscope
Crowdfunded project that I have supported among with many other people. The anthology gathers original fantasy and science fiction stories about diverse young adult protagonists. And they use the word diverse to cover a broad spectrum of genders, sexuality, ethnicity, ability and everything from neurotypical to protagonists that isn’t. The authors themself are also quite diverse.
In this post I will review the stories as I read them. I will not do long reviews of all of these, but of some of them I will. I will link the the long reviews, where I have them. I have been binge reading the book – reading 5-8 stories in one sitting and I am still not done because this anthology is huge! To me it is pretty much un-put-downable!
I have put a star * next to the names of authors that I have read before, for my own convenience.
“Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts*
I loved this story and I want a novel in this setting. The protagonist is a young teenage girl who has gotten chosen to become a member a superhero team. Tansy put all her thoughts and issues with superhero fiction into this story while delivering a very enjoying story. Read my full review
“Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu*
The story is really touching. It actually somehow took me by surprise when the fantastical element showed up because I was enjoying the story so much by that point. The story tells a wonderful story of the Qixi Festival which is wonderful and then the girlfriends goes into the night of the Qixi Festival. The story is about letting go and letting each other be happy when circumstance makes it impossible for you to be happy together. It’s a great story and I very much enjoyed it!
“The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams
As I have stated before, horror really isn’t my cup of tea. Not even this wage kind of horror that plays more with emotions than with the more classic horror. I do not really like stories that leave me feeling like they are unresolved. I do not need every single end tied up in a neat bow to leave me happy, but the classic open end of horror stories just annoys me. I feel manipulated and toyed with. Read my full review
“End of Service” by Gabriela Lee
Aya just lost her mom, who has been living as a migrant worker, somewhere else. Her mom has never been home much and that is making the grief process harder on Aya, who does not know what to think and feel. A good story, but it didn’t quite connect with me. Read my full review
“Chupacabra’s Song” by Jim C. Hines*
This story is about a teenager, Nicola Pallas, with some sort of disorder, that makes it hard for her to concentrate. Music is extremely important for her and for the story. It is also a story set around a veterinarian clinic where Nicola helps her dad. Nicola meets someone like her self for the very first time and that sets off the story. This story works around the idea we have in our heads, that people who are like us in one accept must be like us in others – that people who has the same interest as us, like the same thing or has the same job as us, must be good people. And why should they be any better than other people – well it of course turns out that might not be. I don’t think I can say more about the story without spoiling it. I liked the story, though it was not one of my favourites in the collection. As always with Hines’ stories it is very emotional and made me feel what Nicola was feeling, which was what made it work for me.
“The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara
For me this was not a very satisfying story. Mostly because as it says, it is not a story – or rather it doesn’t follow a conventional narrative path. As the title says, this is the story of a dying god. It is also a story of young quiltbag man, choosing not to deal with his sexuality. Choosing not to be himself. To me the story left me sad and unsettled, which was probably the intent of the story. But that sadly means that I will not be recommending this one to anyone.
“Signature” by Faith Mudge
As a child the story of Rumpelstiltskin, was one of the many stories my aunt told us. She is quite the storyteller – always telling stories from memory, never reading them aloud like my mom would do. So this story instantly resonated with me. Not only was it a modern take on Rumpelstiltskin, the protagonist, Priya Gowda, adores books. I will not tell you a lot of the plot, because it is great. I greatly enjoyed the story and I found a lot of emotional resonance with this one. I very much recommend this one!
“The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman
This is the story of Mara Pachacutec who wants to be a shapeshifter, so she applies to shapeshifter school (because of course there is such a thing). Her conservative father, really does not want her to go. That is the main conflict of the story. The story is told as the school files on her application and their correspondence with the school. The form really add to the story, but does make the ending a bit awkward. There is a cute little fairytale in the material as well. I really liked the story, it was very emotional and rather enjoyable.
Impressions so far:
I find the anthology hard to put down. I find myself reading story after story – never being bored or finding the themes being repeated too close together.
I adore how many of the characters in this anthology that are not neurotypical. I love that the characters are rarely defined by their point of difference (from the white straight male narrative norm) – for many of the stories they just happen to be gay, transsexual, non-white, non-neurotypical or whatever it might be, that make them into a bunch of very diverse characters.
I also really like that the teenagers in the anthology all feel very authentic and real. They are real teenagers who have a sexuality, they do go to parties, they make stupid-ass mistakes, they are heroic, they are friends, enemies, horrible to each other and wonderful to their fellow human beings. They all feel like so well rounded characters.
Even though the anthology is written by different writers the stories very much form a patchwork that forms whole.
The changing formats fits the stories so well and keeps it interesting. Another thing that has impressed me is how much world building and how far the authors are able to suck me into their stories, though the stories are so short. I think most of them are well within the short story category. Some of these stories might go on my hugo nomination ballot next year. I know some of them will also be nominated for the Tiptree as well.
“Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E. C. Myers
Rene is a medicated schizophrenic and a totally normal teenager in high school. This story is all about teenage life as well as about memory and precognition. Both the protagonist and the other main character is not really good people – or at least they didn’t use to be. However they have both grown and are still growing over the course of the story. The story is also about substance use and about sexuality. I enjoyed the story and I really felt with the characters.
“Vanilla” by Dirk Flinthart
To me this was a really brave story. The story is about an Australian-somali teenage girl, Kylie Haward, who befriend some alien creatures who settled on Earth after their world was destroyed. The story is very much one about friendship, about being an outsider, about belonging and about identity. I really enjoyed the story and I really felt for Kylie. Great story. Read my full review here.
“Careful Magic” by Karen Healey
This was definitely one of my favourite stories of the anthology. Helen is such a wonderful protagonist and I was sad when the story ended. Not because it was a sad ending, but because it ended. That’s what you want from a short story isn’t it? Helen has some sort of OCD, she is also a mage and a really good one at that. It is not her disorder who makes her good at that – it is her talent and her eye for detail – which is great. To me it was a super enjoyable story. Read my full review here.
“Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar*
About half way though this story I was about to declare that i didn’t particularly like it. But then it really kicked into gear. In many ways it reminded me of “If you were a Dinosaur my Love” by Rachel Swirsky. It had the same kind of twist to it, where all the sudden it turned a lot darker. It pretty much kicked me in the gut. That is one of the things I like about short stories, they can pull tricks like this because you are more likely to read them to the end than a novel, that don’t catch you The essay style story really worked for this story. Like Swirsky’s story it is really hard to talk about without spoiling. Even sharing the themes of the story would really be spoiling it. I suggest you read it your self.
“Celebration” by Sean Eads
This was another sad story – at least to me. I find it heart wrenching that parents refuse to accept that their children’s sexuality is something other than what they would want it to be. That they can bring themself to send their children off to have other people “cure” them of their deviance. I really liked the protagonist, Jim, he seems like such an awesome kid.
“The Truth about Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar*
I adored this story! This is another story about a child of immigrants and about her struggle with identity. It is also a story about owls and about fairytales. It is a story about the power of belief and a story about the power of language. The story really filled me with emotion and made me feel with and for Anisa. I loved the ending. And yeah owls!
“Krishna Blue” by Shveta Thakrar
I liked the meat of this story, but I really didn’t particularly liked where the story was going or where it was ending. I liked the prose and I liked the descriptions of art and color. I liked Naha as a character. But the ending left me kind of cold.
“Every Little Thing” by Holly Kench
Uh I liked this one. I really liked Many and her friend Natasha. They seemed like very real and kind of awesome teenagers. I can definitely recognize both from my classroom. The plot (if you can call it that) was sweet and I really enjoyed the ending. I find myself liking stories with happier endings better than the ones with unhappy endings. I like stories about friendship – especially female friendship and was that. Yeah!
Kench has done a great post about the story over at SF Signal
“Happy Go Lucky” by Garth Nix
This story I did not particularly like. I thought the exposition was a bit clumsy and the setup for the story was not fully developed enough to care much about the characters change from Lucky to Unlucky. To me it felt like a clumsy analog for poverty. It was also another sad story in a stack of sad stories – here the order of the stories didn’t do the stories any favours.
“Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan*
Kate has OCD (or something a lot like it) but she does not recognize that she has it. She just perform rituals. Kate also has a girlfriend who is not what she need at all. Throughout the story she tries to deal with the stress in her life. It is not a fluffy story at all – it is quite dark and grim. But it is also very much a story about friendship. I liked the story but it was quite sad – and wasn’t really what I needed at that point.
“Double Time” by John Chu*
This story is about ice skating, about parental pressures, about achieving success and about freedom. Shelly has a mother who really pushes her to achieve everything she can be and then some. The mother pushes to the point where Shelly no longer enjoy skating and this is where the story starts. It was a really neat story and I liked how the sci-fi element was just sneaked in there without any fuss.
“Welcome” by William Alexander
“Antonio sailed to the moon” now that is a great opening! This story is almost a fable isn’t it? But it is also a story about family relationships. Again this was not my favourite story, but it was quite enjoyable. It ends the anthology on a sad but also joyas note.
Kaleidoscope: Final impressions:
An odd thing happened while reading this anthology. The more stories I read, the more I missed neurodiversity in the stories where the protagonists were neurotypical. Weird isn’t it? But it speaks volumes of how normalising it is to read story after story with neurodiverse characters. I missed their quirks when the protagonists were “merely” non-white or queer – because it seemed too normal for this anthology – weird but wonderful isn’t it?
Overall I really enjoyed this anthology. It is definitely the fastest I have ever read a short story collection of any short. I found it hard to put the collection down after just one story. I didn’t like every single story, but I did enjoy almost all of them. The quality was amazing overall. I really hope that Julia Rios & Alisa Krasnostein will put out a second volume – I know I will buy it – because wow!
The stats: Kaleidoscope
Published: 2014 by twelfth planet press
Read: 6th to 23rd of August 2014
This review was originally posted: August 20, 2014. Updated and edited June 26, 2023