2019 has been a year of bolstering fortifications and gathering supplies. Curling up in a nook and disappearing in a story. In preparation for this article, please imagine a cartoon-esque cloud with the occasional writer’s limbs protruding, only to dive back into the fray, all for the privilege of shouting about Gideon the Ninth. Not to mention the livid jealousy of those who’ve already read Harrow. But there were a bevy of delightful queer books to be had this year. Let’s shout about a few of them.
dave ring: One of the delightful holes that I fell into this year was the weekend I spent reading A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. I had been primed for the experience of it by hearing Arkady read the opening chapter at World Fantasy Con in Baltimore. I remember how struck I was by the interplay between Mahit and her imperfect imago guide, as well as the way Martine wrote Mahit’s experience of an outsider finding community in an overwhelming world. This book also shares DNA with books like Tana French’s The Likeness and The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, in that way that Mahit must navigate not just what she knows but what others expect her to know.
Another book that I practically devoured whole was Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead. Gyre’s claustrophobic subterranean crawl is rife with unsettling imagery, power struggle and thoughtful psychology. The jacket copy may ask you to think of The Martian, but I recommend to everyone who immediately thinks of The Descent when someone asks you for you favorite horror movie.
Also: Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amnesty was a satisfying finish for the perfectly moody and complex Amberlough Dossier.
Some other favorites of mine from this year:
- Exile by Lisa Bradley
- Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
- Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
- The Outside by Ada Hoffman
- The West & Everything Above by Brendan Williams-Childs <3
- yes, Gideon
Sara Norja: I read This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, in a giddy few sittings in early June. I should say, we read, because I read this novella with a loved one – the two of us, reading Blue and Red’s sections aloud to each other. A ridiculously romantic and magical experience! This novella is a masterpiece of poetic prose, weaving the two characters’ feelings and histories together. I had all the feelings while reading and being read to: I laughed out loud, I cried actual tears, my heart stopped still and shuddered back to beating. We received an ARC from Amal El-Mohtar, so we got to read this beautiful book ahead of publication. I’ve been shouting about it ever since, and am so glad other people have loved it too.
I also adored Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire: it’s rare for poetry to be considered as important in SF, but while reading this novel I kept gushing about how great it was that the Teixcalaanli were so obsessed with poetry. (Also, Three Seagrass!) Another space opera I loved – very different from Martine’s, but inhabiting a similar plane of gorgeous prose and wonderful worldbuilding – is Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever, with a wonderful queer swashbuckling woman as its focal point. Empress of Forever has some really twisty plot shenanigans! And speaking of twisty plot shenanigans, Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside has lots of them. It also has this glorious deep-space weird-as-heck creepiness that sinks its teeth into you, even as the story remains grounded in a great queer relationship.
What a great year for queer SFF. Interestingly, especially SF, for me! I’m normally more of a fantasy reader, but there was just too much amazing queer space opera this year.
Some more faves:
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang
Homesick: Stories by Nino Cipri
Leigh Harlen: – 2019 was a hell of a year for queer SFF. My TBR pile still runneth over. I can’t even begin to pick favorites! So, I’m going to do some shouting about the book that prompted the most discussion in my house and also tell you all of my favorites!
The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. This book is an absolute triumph of world building. From a very real fact about the universe (tidally-locked planets!) Anders builds wildly different civilizations. From time and routine obsessed rigidity, to chaos, to now mostly dead travelers who carved their own way, for better or worse. And of course, the “crocodiles,” the rightful inhabitants of this planet with an occasionally glimpsed dying civilization and who communicate via a kind of telepathy.
The characters are complicated and vivid and her description of this world exquisite. What really made this book stand out for me however, were two things: it is rare to see an introverted and socially awkward (and sometimes naive) character on the page who doesn’t feel flat or boring and Sophie is most definitely neither of those things. The other is that science fiction is full of worlds where humans have colonized other planets, or space in general. Sometimes it’s a backdrop to the real story and sometimes there’s a monster waiting to eat them. But I don’t think I’ve seen the very concept of humans colonizing other planets explored with such gorgeous honesty. Humans aren’t meant to be on this planet. We didn’t evolve to live there. The world is fucking us up and we’re fucking up the world.
The book delves into colonialism, the absurdity of “I don’t even see race,” co-dependency, and the politics of revolution and collective action. It’s just so fucking smart. And also there’s cool science and pirates. I don’t know what else anyone could want from a book!
Another book I read and loved was The Future of Another Timeline, Annalee Newitz which has one of the most unique takes on time travel I’ve ever seen and let me vicariously enjoy the riot grrrl scene that I adored from a distance, but missed being a part of due to age and location. Also, there’s a music video!
My favorite short story collection of the year was Nino Cipri’s Homesick: Stories which I bought for “Dead Air” (SCREAM!) and stayed for the bad documentary fan fic and queer angst. As a general rule, I enjoy short fiction collections, I love being able to see collected and new work from authors I admire. Each story has the potential to add complexity and depth to the themes explored in the story before. And Cipri’s collection does that wonderfully. The entire ride from the terrifying to the fantastic has this delightful sense of being unmoored, like you’re still in the world, but canted sharply to the side.
Other favorites include The Deep by Rivers Solomon which is absolutely, heartrendingly, beautifully, exquisite. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but Bogi Takács’ collection, Algorithmic Shapeshifting brought me such utter delight in the way e uses language and words that I ended up reading it out loud to myself over the course of just a few days. C.B. Lee’s Not Your Backup was a worthy addition to the Sidekick Squad and had one of the best openings I’ve read. And finally, Seanan McGuire’s latest addition to the Wayward Children series, In an Absent Dream was a gorgeous and strange layer added to a gorgeous and strange world (and righted a wrong I’d been salty about since book 1!)
And like everyone else, I had an absolute blast reading Gideon the Ninth.
Tessa Fisher: Before I get started, let me say I adored This Is How You Lose the Time War (which destroyed me in the best way possible), was enthralled by River Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, greatly enjoyed Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, C. L. Polk’s Witchmark, and Charlie Jane Anders’ The City In the Middle of the Night (fantastic worldbuilding, all of them!), am currently engrossed in Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead, and am anxious to start Alex White’s Salvager series (which is next on my read list).
But it’s rare for me to truly become a fangirl over something. I have media I enjoy, sure, but not to the level of joining communities devoted to it, or creating art inspired by it.
Friends, this year I utterly became a fangirl for Tasmyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth.
I’m not sure if it’s the amazing enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance, the fascinating and enigmatic worldbuilding, the light and airy tone contrasted with such a dark setting, or the heartwrenching cliffhanger of an ending that captivated me. Maybe it was just because I really needed lesbian space necromancers in my life (admittedly, I’m married to a bisexual necromancer as it is–no, really, my wife’s a liscensed veterinarian, and has resuscitated a dead animal on at least one occasion).
In any case, before I knew it, I was in Discord server dedicated to the trilogy-in-the-making, obsessively reading fanfiction by other Gideon fans, and rampantly speculating on what the next installment might hold. So, my hat is off to Muir and her irrepressible creation Gideon. Can’t wait for Harrow the Ninth in June!
Jo Ladzinski: I am absolutely going to plug myself first and say that WOW the Author to Author segment on my blog had a stellar year. Here is a list of books I got to read early that have queer characters in them:
- The Perfect Assassin and The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore
- Homesick: Stories by Nino Cipri
- Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
- The Last Hope by Krista and Becca Ritchie
- The Ragged Blade by Christopher Ruz
I also got to talk to dave ring and Jamie Sands about their projects. So many cool folks working on so many cool things!
In terms of other, non-blog reads, I cannot stop shouting about The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie and (oh gosh, do not hate me) Docile by K.M. Szpara. Exquisite and intricate spec fic and politics on both ends of the fantasy- and science-fiction spectrum, I had a hard time scrubbing these books between reads. I just love all the detail work! It’s very good!
In addition, I bid farewell to the Bone Witch trilogy with The Shadowglass by Rin Chupeco. The way Chupeco introduces a queernorm world despite a mostly straight cast was really refreshing to see. It’s that bit of acknowledgement that as much thought was put into the tapestry of people residing in her world as their was in the intricacy of the magic.
But wait, there is more. Do you like to be completely terrified? Might I recommend the audiobook of Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead? The claustrophobia is turned up several notches when you literally have Em being her unreliable self and Gyre’s frightened POV. Oh shit, I think I heard the tunneler coming. Chilling and thrilling, and I wish I could do it all over again.
I mentioned The Impossible Contract, but WOW it was a great year for lesbians, necromancers, and lesbian necromancers. Gideon the Ninth was filled to the brim with crumbling architect, disastrous sapphics, and so much snark. And bones. Lots and lots of bones. Absolutely a great time from start to finish.
I know it didn’t come out in 2019, but I have to yell about revisiting one of my favorite trilogies featuring disaster bisexuals, and that’s the Dark Gifts trilogy by Vic James (Gilded Cage, Tarnished City, and Bright Ruin). Silyen Jardine alone makes the whole series worth it. I love the discussion around power, morality, and imbalance this work presents, in an alternate history which started with the U.S. breaking up at the Civil War. I cried the same amount I did the first time, which is unusual for me.
(Tooting my own horn, but I’ve surpassed my Goodreads/ New Year’s Resolution of 100 books read so uh, I have a lot more I could yell about or have yelled about).
Kai Doore: Oh gosh, this was such a glorious year for queer books, my friends. I idly started a list on a lark of all the queer SFF books that had come out this year and I’m at 44 and it’s still growing: 2019 Queer Adult Sci-Fi Fantasy Gift Guide.
I haven’t read all of those books, and I may be the only queer left who hasn’t read Gideon, but the ones I have read were perfection on a whole other level. Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh and The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht are two delicious and thoroughly queer novellas that were complete opposites in many ways – the former is full of soft tree lore, the latter sharp blades and gore – but equally complex and Just What I Needed delights.
Lord of Secrets by Breanna Teintze has the fab queer necromancer of my dreams and is also a romp of a fantasy, with a sequel coming out in April (!!).
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling is f/f caving horror, the sort that is more psychological than physical until it suddenly isn’t. I got the chance to read this ARC over a year ago and it’s still haunting me. The casual queerness of it was so refreshing at the time, as was the way the horror just creeps and creeps and creeps. A++ would recommend reading in the middle of the night if you never want to sleep again.
And I know this is specifically about books wot came out in 2019 but friends, pals, enemies – you need to ready yourself for The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett next year. Nigh last in a line of murderous heirs to an icy throne, Ekata never had to worry about becoming the Duke, but when her family falls ill to a mysterious disease and she’s the only one left, she inherits the throne and her brother’s bride. The Winter Duke is such a wonderfully layered novel that takes on fetishizing the other as well as what it means to find you own power and includes tons of soft, gently sweet f/f scenes. I just. Ugh. It’s so good.