Monday, November 20, 2023

Kaleidotrope (Autumn 2023)

Kaleidotrope, ed. Fred Coppersmith. Autumn 2023 issue. Online at or on Kindle.

Reviewed by Storm Blakley

Kaleidotrope’s Autumn 2023 issue offers a wonderful collection of fantasy, sci-fi and a little horror. Each poem and story held, for me, a reflection on very fundamentally human needs and ideals, from a delightful array of differing perspectives.

This issue opens with “A Place We Used to Visit” by Bennett North. It is a time travel story, but not at all in the way I’d expected; it was wonderfully done. If we had the chance to go back, to avert a tragedy, would we? Knowing that that would mean we no longer become the person we are, would we? I think most of us would like to think so, but we can never really know until we’re in that situation. North does a wonderful job expressing the fear and confusion the protagonist feels, and how frightening that decision would truly be.

Survival is one of the most fundamental drives of all life, more than just about anything else. It can take many forms, such as desperately seeking a home, a shelter from the elements even in dangerous places, such as in the poem “Animals That Pretend to Be Islands” by Angel Leal, who so beautifully conveys the fear of being forced to move from place to place, learning that those places may not be as safe and welcoming as the people hoped, and the knowledge that this, too, they shall survive; carrying the prayers of one’s ancestors, much as those who come after will carry theirs.

In “By a River in Fujian,” Ai Jiang spins a tale of duty, the responsibility we bear to those who came before us, who made sacrifices in order to make the life we now live possible. It is a story of loss, and love, and coming home. Jiang masterfully expresses the ache of being far from where one was born, where one’s ancestors have always been, and their need, after death, to be brought back home. Home is a deep thing that means so much more than just a building; it’s the love, the land, the memories, the generations that brought you to where you are now.

In contrast, Jennifer Shelby’s “The Girl With Starlight Hair” was about how love can lead people to leave their homes for new places, and how those places can become home, with the ones you love. This story had an element of the fairy tale to it, blending of science fiction and fantasy, magic and technology, secret societies protecting sentient planets and the beings who create stars.

“The Sky, Imperceptibly Darker” by Michael Kellichner was a sad, lovely story. Looking back and regretting dark times in one’s life is very human. Some people have done and/or experienced things that those who haven’t simply won’t understand, even our partners. We’re scared they won’t understand, so we hedge and prevaricate; we don’t quite answer, or we don’t answer fully. In this story, told in second-person pov, we were once hunters from a long and proud line, but the harm of the practice is becoming more and more inescapable.

Jennifer Crow’s “Held at the Roots” held a theme in common, the land remembering every hurt that humanity has ever done to it, every root and branch and mushroom, all the plants we don’t spare a thought about, all of it waiting patiently for our end.

“A Matter of Collective Survival” by Elizabeth R. McClellan holds to that theme of survival, of swindling resources. From the perspective of water creatures, hunters who have less and less to eat with each passing day, finding other survivors, grouping together and going deep to look for others. McClellan deftly sketches out an apocalyptic event, and the enduring grief such a thing creates.

Elou Carroll’s “Black Tea, Cream Tea, Chocolate Tea, Blood” is another, much darker fantasy story, of a fey-like creature held in a deeply manipulative captivity, and the day she awakes from the spell cast on her. Carroll sets the unsettling tone of that captivity very well, the deeply distressing reality of it, even as she shows us that the protagonist still dreams of freedom. The desire for freedom is fundamental to all living things, and that would be no different for any being, especially those with wings.

These are just a few of the stories and poems available in Kaleidotrope’s Autumn 2023 issue, but each one was enjoyable and worth reading. Set in our backyards and in entirely new worlds, with robots and witches, dinosaurs and deep space horrors, goddesses grieving and youth rejecting court expectations, the wide array of excellent writing in this issue is a must for everyone.

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