Book Review: Chroma: Calanooka by Carlie Martece

Review by Aaron Lee

This review contains spoilers.

Chroma: Calanooka is the third book in the Constructed Sanity series by Carlie Martece, who has brilliantly woven another story that plays out on multiple levels: this is not simply a book to read, but to interact with.

We follow our neurodivergent protagonists, Leandra and Cal, through the desert to a little town called Summerton. They have difficult lives, trying to survive in a world that does not care about them. They are visited by Kalakai, an alien, who tries to recruit them for cosmic battle and warns them things may get worse before they get better.

We then find that Summerton exists on a ‘mindscape’, or asteroid, in the Chroma Galaxy. When Chromans first enter these mindscapes using portal technology, there is a connection established between the explorer and an alien life in a parallel world. The visiting alien warns that there are demons threatening all of Chroma. Leandra rationalizes the visitation, thinking it is a hallucination. Cal believes in Kalakai but fears his belief isn’t going to be enough: as is repeated many times, ‘rescue is not coming’…

Outside of Summerton we see Ash, Estella, Alicia and Serena. Serena is a creator who has built this world and is keeping an eye on everything that goes on in, and outside of, it. Ash is a non-binary warrior who has to let Leandra learn to fight for herself. Alicia plays by her own rules. Estella, a witch, wants to train Leandra and Cal so they might become their best selves, but thrives on chaos and pain. Elsewhere, there is a mansion under alien (‘Reckish’) attack which gives us a glimpse of Summerton’s destiny if things get bad enough.

I feel like Carlie Martece has re-written the rules of flashbacks and flash-forwards here. The plot is separated into sections, all of them numbered out of order. Because media consumers are so used to flashbacks, I don’t think this is a problem at all, but it led to me reading the book twice. I started with section 55 (the first section in the prologue) and then I jumped to 56 farther down in the book. Then I came back to the second section (20) and jumped to 21. Reading it this way gave me a deeper look into each scene. On my second reading I went back and experienced the story as it was presented. But…if you want to read everything in order you can do so – Martece has given us those tools (something no other author I’ve read has done).

I feel like Carlie Martece has re-written the rules of flashbacks and flash-forwards here. The plot is separated into sections, all of them numbered out of order. Because media consumers are so used to flashbacks, I don’t think this is a problem at all, but it led to me reading the book twice. I started with section 55 (the first section in the prologue) and then I jumped to 56 farther down in the book. Then I came back to the second section (20) and jumped to 21. Reading it this way gave me a deeper look into each scene. On my second reading I went back and experienced the story as it was presented. But…if you want to read everything in order you can do so – Martece has given us those tools (something no other author I’ve read has done).

The characters can feel time being disrupted and experience memory loss, and as you follow everything that’s happening, the layout creates a sensation that matches the fiction. You’re jumping through time, having a vague sense of where you are but not always knowing where you just came from. If the fiction and this sensation align, what does that say about the relationship between the human mind, fiction, and reality?

One personal interpretation I enjoyed is when the mindscaper in this story experiences an alternate reality, I thought it might be our own. They constantly watch ‘The Reality Show’, which to me felt like a window into our own world. As we read about them, the characters are watching what goes on here. Again, this fictional world invites our imagination to interact.

Many of the protagonists are called siblings, but they have a deeper connection: perhaps, on some level, a shared consciousness. The explorer who created this mindscape fractured into different characters, and in the end they are worried that if one of them dies, how deeply might that affect the rest of them? This bond is a great source of motivation between them, and it caused me to examine my own life and my relationship with others.

Chroma: Calanooka strongly emphasizes free will. If you have no choice, are you a slave? A robot? Pure evil? There is a distinction between the siblings, demons, Chromans, robots, and even NPCs in the mindscape. Who has power and conscious choice, and what do they do with it? I think it’s clear that we have to ask: who are we? Or better: who do we imagine ourselves to be? After all, when we imagine something, it becomes a viable reality, even if only to the dreamer. I hope a lot of people read this book and share the dream.

Chroma: Calanooka is available from Amazon.


Aaron E. Lee has three collections of short stories available on Amazon. Recently he has been accepted into the anthologies Remnants created by Stephen Coghlan and 100-Word Horror: Beneath edited by A.R. Ward. You can read his blog, Leonian Ambitions, here.  

Follow him on Twitter @BOCArnie.

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