Tesseracts Fifteen

Edited by Julie Czerneda and Susan MacGregor

Reviewed by Michael Potts
Young people would have an incredible opportunity if an anthology of short stories stimulated their imaginations, drew them into the characters—and contained stories of high literary quality. Fortunately, Julie Czerneda and Susan MacGregor have edited such a volume, Tesseracts Fifteen. If the other volumes in this series of speculative young adult fiction (interspersed with poetry) by Canadian writers are as splendid as this volume, fans of speculative fiction of all ages will be treated to a garden of fantasy fruit well worth savoring.
The real strength of Tesseracts Fifteen is not only in the imaginative and unique twists on standard fantasy and science fiction themes, but the struggles with self-acceptance, insecurity, and the physical and emotional changes and volatility children growing into adulthood face. The alienation of the adolescent body from the self is explored in the first story by E. L. Chen, “A Safety of Crowds.” Ostensibly the story concerns a teenage girl, Jenna Crow, who has wings. The underlying theme concerns the sense that many teenagers have of their new, post-puberty body being something alien, with their relation to that body seeming like another separate self, a self that refuses to accept its identity with either the child’s mind or the growing adult body.
The stories show through the vividness of character and plot such themes as:
·         Gaining confidence and courage (Ericka Holt, “Just Dance.” This is a story of a girl’s father kidnapped by ghouls and her attempt to rescue him).
·         Struggles with puberty (Nicole Luiken, “Feral,” in which a female teenaged werewolf is too old not to change into a wolf—her friends make fun of her).
·         Struggling to balance academics and spending time with friends; alienation from self (Katrina Nicholson, “A+ Brain,” in which a boy that has a low C average in school gets a transplant of an “A+ brain.”)
·         Adult maturity required to handle adult power (Kevin Cockle, “The Bridge Builder,” in which a boy invents a video games whose characters take on a reality that a child cannot handle)
·         What seems childish may not be (Shen Braun, “Costumes,” in which a history teacher wears a costume to class every Halloween)
·         Overcoming fear of leaving home for the big world outside (Robert Runte, “Split Decision,” a story about aliens visiting the earth.
·         A stuck-up teenaged personality may be hiding a more real self (Virginia Modugno, “Every You, Every Me,” a story that reminds me of Rilke’s story of the woman on the park bench without a face in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)
·         Dealing with a hopeless crush; discovering that the person on whom you have a crush is not everything she seems (Ed Greenwood, “Edge of Moonglow,” a werewolf story)
·         Peer pressure, wanting to fit in, going along with the crowd (Rebecca M. Senese, “Ice Pirates,” a Lovecraft-like story)
Some stories deal with very adult issues children often face when they are too young to face them. Mike Rimar’s “My Name is Tommy,” focuses on a spaceship on which a boy, Tommy, lives with his mother, the ship’s captain. His mother violated ship’s rules by allowing a “defective” child to be born rather than aborting him—one character makes the chilling statement, “Other times, we have to take steps to weed out aspects that might be seen as unfruitful to society.” But there may be more to Tommy than his critics realize.
Another striking story is Lynne M. MacLean’s “The Illumination of Cypher-Space,” which concerns a girl on the streets, owned by a pimp, beaten by thugs, threatened by gang members. She discovers a way to survive—but can she wholly escape her past?
Another fascinating story is “The Memory Junkies.” If there was a world in which a machine could allow people to relive their memories over and over—but at a price—would it be worth trying? Ray Bradbury would appreciate the direction this story takes.
These are not all the stories, but all the stories have excellent characterization and plotting. The poems are strong poems, with “You Always Knew” by Michelle Barker being my favorite—it has a unique twist on how Death appears—and he is not a hooded skeleton holding a scythe.
Although Tesseracts Fifteen is technically “young adult fiction,” it would also appeal to older children (above age ten) and to adults of all ages. It is a top-notch anthology, and I am hopeful that Czerneda and MacGregor will continue editing volumes in this series.