Monday, April 16, 2012

Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales edited by Julie Czerneda and Susan MacGregor

Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, the fifteenth anthology in the Tesseracts series highlighting Canadian science fiction and fantasy, focuses on YA as an organizing factor for twenty-seven short stories and poems. Interestingly, the collection begins with a defense of young adult literature, of showing the importance of housing fantastical content in a “younger” category. But the editors discuss that YA literature doesn’t necessarily mean a younger audience: it means complex writing, careful and believable character development, with a touch of the curiosity of fantasy. As Susan MacGregor, a co-editor of the collection notes, “Excellent writing is excellent writing, in no matter what genre it finds itself.” Young adult literature opens up the category of fantasy, and creating an anthology of “crossover literature” generates a larger audience of adolescents, young adults, and adults within the fantasy genre, furthering the reach of the Tesseracts collections.

The range of form, style, and content in this anthology covers first person, third person, poetry, journal entries, historical, futuristic, and present timelines. And each story contains a teenage/adolescent protagonist, creating a range of topics and situations for characters to work with that exist outside of the adult fantasy genre, even if many of the tropes and archetypes might remain the same.

E.L. Chen’s “A Safety of Crowds” begins the collection, a look at celebrity, social networking, and identity. Chen uses Jenna Crow as the figure to explain the hyper-connection available through technology, where,

“That night, a young man will raise his phone to identify the cute redhead dancing in front of the stage and see Jenna Crow superimposed on the screen, headphones held up to her ear and nodding in time to the music. He’ll record a video, geotag it and post it online – and for the next few days the club will be packed with people eager for a glimpse of the ghost-Jenna spinning for a party in a mirror world that only exists in people’s phones.”

Chen also crafts a unique and supernatural story, layering fantasy with a critique and observation of connection and connectivity through technology. T.S. Eliot makes an appearance (or, his poetry does), as connection is also shown to be transferred through reading and writing.

Amanda Sun and Nicole Luiken look at two fantastical tropes present in many stories in this genre, and their young, empathetic, dynamic protagonists carry these far. Sun’s “Fragile Things,” introduces Alex, a boy who lives on a farm where his daily chores include feeding and taking care of a unicorn. It has the feel of Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place at times, reflective and necessary. Luiken’s “Feral” is about Chloe, a fifteen-year-old werewolf who is the only one of her friends who has not yet made the “Change.” It examines young adulthood and the inevitable transition from adolescence to adulthood that is marked by the ability to “Change,” grow, and develop, in this case, facilitated through transformation into a werewolf.

Katrina Nicholson’s “A+ Brain” reflects on similar issues brought up by Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies series, where teenagers are able to get surgery that irrevocably transitions them out of adolescence. When the protagonist upgrades from a C- brain to an A+ one, “ becomes the Harvard Political Review, becomes NASA’s Hubble Telescope Page, becomes National Public Radio.” Robert Runte’s “Split Decision” introduces my favorite protagonist in this collection, and uses an interview-like/first person style to re-tell the story of a sci-fi event that happens at school. The protagonist’s voice is immediate and believable, beginning the story by talking about the lockdown at the middle school,

“Mr. Shakey? Oh, sorry. Mr. Sheckley, the principal. But we call him “Mr. Shakey,” because sometimes his judgment is kind of off. Like, that has to be the lamest code phrase ever. I mean, I ask you: if you’re in the school intent on a killing rampage and you hear ‘drop everything and water the plants’ over the PA, wouldn’t you at least suspect that that means, ‘go into lockdown?’”

At a time when fantasy novels for young adults are widely read and hugely successful – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Inkheart, Eragon, Divergent – a collection of YA short stories* in the fantasy genre** – and a Canadian collection particularly*** – makes a space for the growing category of YA fantasy. Each story is accompanied by an author bio, allowing Canadian readers to become familiar with the writers expanding and developing the fantastical genre today.

* Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd was edited by Holly Black, and pulls short stories from John Green, Libba Bray, David Leviathan, Sara Zarr, and Garth Nix (and graphic novel writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Mally provides illustrations).
** A new collection of YA fantasy short stories, Zombies vs. Unicorns was also edited by Holly Black, and its authors are international – Libba Bray, Margo Lanagan, and Scott Westerfeld, for example.
*** Peter Carver edited a collection of Canadian YA short stories called Close Ups, which included more realistic material from authors such as Tim Wynne-Jones, Budge Wilson, Martha Brooks, Sarah Ellis, Kathy Stinson, and Linda Holeman. 

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