Worlds of Possibility, Zooscape, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Kaleidotrope – Locus Online

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Worlds of Possibility 12/23
Zooscape 12/23
Beneath Ceaseless Skies 12/28/23, 1/11/24, 1/25/24
Kaleidotrope 1/24

Worlds of Possibility ended 2023 with an issue including Keyan Bowes’s “A Refugee from Fairyland”, which imagines a sudden eviction of a number of children from the “care” of the fairies. The narrator, Latasha, works with an organization seeking to either reunite these lost children with their families or provide long-term housing for them. For a boy called Munna, who was taken centuries before but thanks to how time works in Fairyland is just ten years old, the search for a home is complicated first by a lack of any living relatives able to take him in and second by the trauma he’s endured. It’s a combination that leads Latasha to taking a more active role in his life, and leads both of them into a confronta­tion with his past when the reason for the evic­tions becomes clear. Bowes has a fresh take on fairy abductions and returns, mixing some grim elements into an ultimately joyous story about family, care, and home. Ayida Shonibar’s poem “Sweet Child” also features magic, travel, and the complexity of care by following a narrator who works in a magical bakery that specializes in giving customers what they need. Different sweets ease different hurts, and the narrator’s job is to be aware of what’s required for each new customer – what has hurt them and what flavor and texture and dash of magic might help them to heal. Shonibar captures the atmosphere and feel of the bakery with style and vivid clarity, let­ting readers get a whiff and a taste of something warm and delightful.

December brought a new issue of the furry-fiction focused Zooscape, which opens strong thanks to Amitha Jagannath Knight’s defiant story “Kaliya, Queen of Snakes”. In it, a hu­man woman laments how her family views her as nearly worthless, good only to be married off to someone who will likely regard her even less. She yearns for something more, and her wish is granted when she transforms into a giant snake and names herself Kaliya. She becomes a de­fender of women, devouring the poisons meant to oppress and subjugate and earning a fearsome reputation in the process. When she hears that she is fated to be defeated by the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, though, she decides to confront the situation directly, but doesn’t count on the complexities of him and her own heart to get in the way. Knight does a great job in revealing the conflicting emotions and desires coursing through Kaliya in a way that doesn’t limit her or her agency, but gives her a freedom to both fulfill her goals and find a companionship that doesn’t diminish who she is or what she can accomplish.

The first issue of 2024 from Beneath Ceaseless Skies features R.E. Dukalsky’s “Home Bread”, which finds Nachli acting as Auntie Bread for her community – a position where she oversees ritu­als related to cooking and baking. That includes some of the rites surrounding death, as the dying are supposed to eat Home Bread before they die to ensure their passage to the Feasting Country. For those who die alone and untended, there is only the Famine Lands, and it’s there Nachli is asked to travel to make contact with a man called Kunin, who estranged himself from his family and died suddenly. The piece follows the ritual to contact him, which requires all the people he hurt in life to want him to avoid wasting away in the Famine Lands and join their cherished ancestors in a better afterlife. Dukalsky does a great job in exploring the relationships he had in life, the toxic ways he moved through the world and the rare kindnesses he authored. It’s a look at grief and guilt, and the responsibilities that connect those in a family and community, and it’s compelling.

The new year also brings a new Kaleidotrope full of new fiction and poetry, including Erica L. Satifka’s rather haunting short story “Woke Up New”, which finds the world rather changed after a pandemic that killed adults and left a great many children with a dual presence in their minds – a companion born from the virus. Sandra is the result of one such infection, but is one of the few who didn’t form a close bond between the infected and infecting personality. There is a hard split between her and Amanda, who “takes control” when Sandra sleeps. It’s a delicate balance, and one that gets thrown off when a young man appears wanting to know more about her case, and breaking through the solitude that had kept Sandra insulated from the full weight of her situation. Satifka delves into the complicated emotions and desires of both Sandra and Amanda, showing the damage done to both of them and how they coexist in a tenuous and fractured peace. Phoebe Barton shifts focus to the dangers of dating when you can grow to be giant size in “Climbing the Mountains of Me”. Carol can grow and shrink, though shrinking is deeply uncomfortable and growing comes with added attention and the anxieties that come along with that. But since the world expects her to be small, she strives to shrink as much as pos­sible – at least until she’s told to try being big as a form of therapy, and finds that the relief opens up new doors and possibilities for her. And new chances at romance. Barton navigates a messy queer dating scene where the fear of being alone keeps putting Carol in a place where she feels she has to betray herself in order to make room for someone else. But suppressing a part of herself or being alone aren’t the only options in front of her, and the story brings Carol to a place where she can be as big as she wants, and still cherished for who she is. It’s a lovely story!

Moving to the issue’s poetry, Elizabeth R. McClellan weaves a fun piece that might hide a rather grim core in “Outside Negotiations”. The piece centers a meeting between the nar­rator, a rock-based life-form, and a fish, as the two discuss a possible peace between the fish and the humans who have harmed so much of the Earth’s waters. It’s interesting that humans never really appear in the piece, which instead focuses on the ways the narrator’s neutrality towards the situation opens up a kind of trust and communication. Where the fish can start to see that not all of those who live on the surface are enemies, even as the narrator is quick not to dismiss or minimize the real harm done to the fish and all aquatic life by humans. It’s a strange but richly imagined poem, and McClellan keeps things hopeful without implying that the work ahead for anyone will be easy.

Recommended Stories:
“Kaliya, Queen of Snakes”, Amitha Jagannath Knight (Zooscape 12/23)
“Home Bread”, R.E. Dukalsky (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/24)
“Climbing the Mountains of Me”, Phoebe Barton (Kaleidotrope 1/24)


Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others, and many are included in his debut collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories (Lethe Press 2021). He is the series editor of We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction (Neon Hemlock Press) and a multiple-time Hugo and Ignyte Award finalist for his work at Quick Sip Reviews. When not drunkenly discussing Goosebumps, X-Men comic books, and his cats on his Patreon (/quicksipreviews) and Twitter (@ClowderofTwo), he can probably found raising a beer with his husband, Matt, in their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


This review and more like it in the March 2024 issue of Locus.

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