Shouting About Queer SF

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Shouting About 2018

2018 has had its ups and downs when it comes to events big and small, but 2018 has also published some fire queer SFF.  Without further ado, let’s shout about some of it.

dave ring:  While I enjoyed being destroyed by 2017’s Amberlough, Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly surpassed any concerns I might have had about second-in-a-trilogy plot weaknesses by crushing me over and over again with its cruel, bittersweet and labyrinthine pleasures. It is a masochistic delight to see the terrible plights these characters get themselves and each other into.  Armistice contains nuanced, complex queer characters enmeshed in brutal plots and achingly human quandaries amidst luxe surroundings and political drama of the highest scale. My favorite book of 2018. I await the third installment, Amnesty, with bated breath.

Leigh Harlen:  When I sit and think, “Who completely and utterly destroyed me this year?” The first name to spring to mind is Bo Bolander. I sat and contemplated which of her three novelettes and short stories from 2018 I loved most. The lush poetry and fragmented narrative of The Only Harmless Great Thing left me weeping for elephants and radium girls. Meanwhile, The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat left me laughing and screaming in cathartic joy. (I will never read anything that delights as much as the words, “FRUIT FOR THE SHINY APE KING’S FLAT TEETH.” “MAMMALS LOVE FRUIT.”) And I will forever long to live naked in a hut in the woods with witches and raptors, those most clever of girls.

But in the end, what ripped my heart out, kissed it, and left me a husk of sorrowful joyful longing for all the beautiful creatures humans have wiped from the earth and all those we will destroy in the future, probably including ourselves, was No Flight Without the Shatter. It is a fact that those of us who write science fiction and fantasy LOVE the beautiful sadness of endlings. But Bo manages to elevate that concept with an undercurrent of enraged sadness that pairs with a melancholy compassion that makes this a story like nothing else I’ve ever read (except perhaps the previously mentioned, The Only Harmless Great Thing, but somehow it’s even better!)

“But d’you think, little squab of my breast, that they could ever forget the sound of that many wings blotting out the sun? There were plenty of mouths and memories to pass on the beating of a million wings that was our name. As to who or what will be left to remember your own kind, dwindling with no wings to bear them away…”

“We were many too, once,” she repeats, barely a whisper. “I really am sorry.”

Darcie Little Badger:  I’m glad that this isn’t a “best of” list (we don’t do those here; we just shout). If I tried to discuss all my favorite fiction from 2018, the process would take so long, I wouldn’t finish typing ‘til the next new year. That said, I’d like to highlight a couple truly awesome short stories. True to my brand, they’re both in the horror genre.

Don’t Pack Hope” by Emma Osborne (Nightmare Magazine). It’s rare that a second-person POV story can win over my prickly sense of independence, but when I read “Don’t Pack Hope,” the POV was not only flawlessly immersive, its emotional impact hit me in the feels like a bag of textbooks. I still get a bit teary-eyed when I think about the ending. A relatively short (1881 words) offering of zombie survival fiction, this story challenges you to defy its title.

Dead Air” by Nino Cipri (Nightmare Magazine). I actually listened to the podcast of “Dead Air” instead of reading the text myself, a method I highly recommend, considering the story’s unique format (plus, the team of narrators do a fantastic job). “Dead Air” is the transcript of … well, it begins as a recorded interview for an ethnographic project (Nita is playfully interrogating her new lover, Maddie) and transforms into something much stranger. I love this story because, at the 1/3 point, it takes a surprising turn. Without spoiling anything, the lore underlying “Dead Air” is rich, creative and horrifying. There’s also a creepy Pacific northwest town involved in the plot (the place is described as “Fairytale-ish. But not the nice kind of fairytale. Not something Disney would make into a movie.”). Horror fans take note!

Shouting (Screaming) About Horror: Great Reads for Halloween!

Hello, horror fans! Darcie here. It’s that time of the year again. You know the one. Halloween. There’s leering pumpkins on every street corner. Costumed children demand treats from their neighbors. Blog posts about horror movies, books, and creepypastas are sprouting from the internet like candy corn.

 

That said, we at Shouting About Queer SF don’t want to miss out on the fun! It’s time for us to shout–I mean scream–about some of the queer horror stories we absolutely love!

 

Charles Payseur: Can I just shout about Queers Destroy Horror (Nightmare Magazine #37, for those counting)? Yes? Okay. Queers Destroy Horror is AMAZING! It is a tender and rending and beautiful and TERRIFYING collection of stories and truly, if you missed when it dropped in 2015 (in October, no less, making this it’s three year anniversary), you should go fix that. Like, right now. Dorian Gray survives and survives while those around him die in the haunting “Golden Hair, Red Lips” by Matthew Bright. A research project defines a staggering and monumental loss and wound in “Dispatches from a Hole in the World” by Sunny Moraine. Monsters and consumption mix and mingle with darkness and hunger in “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong. And in tragedy, family, and innocence are shattered in my favorite read of the issue, “The Lord of Corrosion” by Lee Thomas. Plus there’s reprints, poetry, nonfiction, IT’S JUST SO GOOD! Separately the pieces represent chilling works tracing fear and violence and grief, all involving queer characters caught by their hungers and a hostile world. Together, they are perfect addition to your October readings, as long as you’re okay going to bed with the lights on. Cheers!

 

dave ring:  I adore “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine.  Pitch perfect discomforting social commentary, concomitant with well-written gore.  The language is blunt and pretty and startling, firmly ensconced in the now. This piece is a mood, an aesthetic, and a battering ram to the gut.  It’s a mirror held up to barely-contained incandescent rage.

 

Kelly Robson: I want to shout about Priya Sharma’s “Fabulous Beasts” — (TW for rape, though, so be aware). This vicseral horror novelette won the 2016 British Fantasy Award. Just drink in this quote:

My real name is Lola and I’m no princess. I’m a monster.

Yeah you are, Lola, and I’m behind you all the way. This is a story about getting ultimate revenge on the people who hurt you, and it ends WELL. Read it!

 

Jennifer Mace: Let me tell you about a story called “Mr. Try Again” by Merc Rustad. This is the kind of horror story which makes me want to describe it in wine tasting notes – it’s so rich with sensory detail that you come away feeling like you can hear the chirp and crackle of the swamp following you off the page. This is a story of what is done to the powerless, and the danger of believing a victim will be one forever. It’s a story of coming out the other side and then going back with knives. It’s a story of metamorphosis and revenge and the terrible things the world will do to little girls if we let it.

Girls lie, you know. Everyone knows that. If Violet was a boy, someone might have believed her.

 

Leigh Harlen: I have to shout about a story that literally made me scream. “Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey in the anthology Robots vs Fairies. It is a profound and horrifying exploration of abuse, trauma, and power. Gailey captures the disturbing “otherness” of the malevolent fairy and the terrifying mundane evil of a man who wants CONTROL. What makes it perfect, is the ending. Which I won’t spoil here. Go read it. But put some milk out on the the windowsill first and if someone beckons you into the woods, follow. Nothing bad could happen.

 

But then, I am perhaps dishonest.

 

Darcie Little Badger: My shout is about “A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson. It will be a challenge to discuss this story without dropping spoilers, but I gotta try because the mystery of “A Human Stain” is one of its many strengths. I love stories that unlock like Lemarchand’s puzzle box  (yes, that’s a Hellraiser reference). In fact, after I first finished Robson’s novelette, I immediately reread the entire thing from beginning to end and was delighted to find that much of the dialogue and character behavior was more sinister and/or significant than I first realized. If you’re looking for a creepy historical horror story that is a combination of tried-and-true scary themes (e.g., a remote castle, an unsettling child, tight-lipped servants, an ominous door, and secrets best left unanswered) and a TRULY unique horror that reveals itself (at least partially) in a tense and terrifying third act, this is the read for you. Oh, and the protagonist, Helen, is a talkative, charismatic ladies’ woman who is a wonderful foil to the morose setting.

 

“A Human Stain” earns five out of five screams. And the Nebula Award for Best Novelette. It won that, too. (Content warning: violence/gore).

 

Happy reading, friends!

 

And don’t look under the bed.

5 Sci-Fi Poems To Blast You Into Orbit

  1. Entwined ‘Neath Stars and Empty Suns by Merc Rustad

A (scorching!) poem about alien lovers.  When I first read this poem I had to immediately go lie down, it’s so good.  The language is rich and redolent and gives a real sense of the texture of the world.  And to pack so much story and world-building into something so small!

  1. becoming, c.a. 2000 by Charles Payseur

Ugh, this poem is funny and poignant and sad and creepy all at the same time, it’s frankly rude.  Each word feels so carefully chosen and placed, crisp and clear and evocative.  It so deftly conveys both a sense of the point-of-view character’s loneliness and desire to connect.

  1. Crashdown by Emma Osborne

If you ever wanted to read a queer poem from the point of view of a spaceship falling through the atmosphere then this is the poem for you.  The language jolts in this, and you can feel the tensions between the pull of space and the ground.  It’s glorious.

  1. Perihelion by Toby MacNutt

This poem is a sensory joy – it starts in stillness and blooms into a tangle of chills and desires and colours and yearnings.  It delicately conveys both the sense of the expanse of empty space, and the urgent intimacy of union.  Plus, who doesn’t love space witches?

  1. io. by Ceto Hesperia

A queer love poem to Jupiter from one of its moons.  This poem is utterly delightful.  It is sweet and eager and breathtaking.  I particularly love how the poem continually circles back (ha) to the theme of the lovers circling one another, the sense of closeness reaching through space, evident both in the use of language – the repeated patterns and phrasing – and in the movement of the story.

Shouting about In Other Lands

Image description: Book cover in white with two grey sketches of mermaids on a cream background. The title “In Other Lands” is scribbled in blocky blue handwriting on top of the mermaids, with the author’s name, “Sarah Rees Brennan”, written neatly below in the same colour.

I didn’t really know the word ‘bisexual’ until I was 17 years old.

In my defense, I grew up in a Yorkshire village so small and remote that if you wanted to buy milk you’d have to hike across fields to reach the next town over. It’s a bit of a poor excuse, though, given I turned 17 in 2007.

But bisexuality is such a foggy, underrepresented identity. It’s not a social “default”, like being straight; nor is it a clear defiance of that “default”, like being gay. There’s always an underlying assumption, when one is bisexual, that one is choosing to be queer. Just to be difficult.

In Other Lands’ Elliot Schafer is bisexual.

He’s also sarcastic, irreverent, allergic to exercise, and utterly unsuited to the portal fantasy adventure his life has somehow become when he stumbles into the militarised world of the Borderlands. All in all, being bi is the least of his issues.

Here’s why I adore In Other Lands, though: even though it’s not the source of the majority of his problems, or the driver of his adventures, Elliot’s bisexuality suffuses and informs the whole book. And that’s rare.

There are a lot of reasons to love this book. We could start with its condemnation of fantasy’s blithe justification of violence on anyone considered ‘other’: the book’s ‘sun-kissed warrior’ archetype, Luke Sunborn, throws up after killing his first troll, even though that troll was about to murder Elliot, his best friend. Elliot himself spends that page wishing he knew the language of trolls so he could speak, rather than stab. They’re people to him, rather than obstacles.

Then there’s its exceedingly smart and devastating critique of the patriarchy, embodied by the beautiful elf maiden Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle. By creating in the elves a direct gender-flipped reproduction of our patriarchal biases around warfare, child rearing, and general mouthiness, Rees Brennan gets to rub Elliot’s nose in what it means to be considered ‘the softer sex’.

There’s also, of course, its wit. Rees Brennan is a fantastic writer of banter and sarcastic narration, and In Other Lands sparkles on every page. It’s impossible to read this book without laughing.

For me, though, the reason I shout this book to high heavens comes back to how it handles Elliot’s bisexuality. Here we have a character who never saw a challenge he wouldn’t take, never backs down from an argument, and who throws himself wholeheartedly into relationships with very different people across the course of the book. Through Elliot, we see some of the more aggravating pieces of life as a bisexual (“Before you realized you didn’t like girls,” says Elliot’s first boyfriend towards the middle of the book, treating bisexuality as a phase) and we see its joys, in the connections he makes with others. Rees Brennan’s deft hand with character brings us entirely different dynamics in each of Elliot’s many relationships, showing that there is more to a relationship’s balance than the genders of those involved.

Elliot is a character who knows who he is. He never once doubts his sexuality, though it’s questioned and occasionally mocked by those around him. He’s incandescent, chaotic, and exactly the kind of bisexual protagonist I most needed as a teen.

Don’t let this book pass you bi.

You can buy In Other Lands direct from the publisher, or from any of your usual sources of fiction.

Shouting about Ida

Front cover of IDA showing multiple identical figures in a misty landscapeIda is the sort of queer book we desperately need, but doesn’t come along that often. It’s also one I might never have picked up had not (long story short) Piers Morgan been his usual bigoted asshole self to the author on Twitter, which resulted in my partner buying it as a “fuck you” to Piers Morgan.

So, uh, cheers Piers.

There are no great quests in this story, even though Ida has powers most of us don’t. This is the story of the little choices, and a young woman choosing the life she wants – and needs. It’s a story of family and love and grief and longing and growing independence.

It’s a very real story of early adulthood, delicately written; and even as someone who spent that time in a different place, in a different decade, it felt more realistic than almost anything else I’d read. It handles the questions you can easily tear yourself up in knots about: what would I give up to have a loved one alive again? what if a family member had never been born? beautifully and carefully without falling into angst and intense philosophical circles.

Ida is a bisexual woman of Vietnamese and white European descent; her partner, Daisy, is genderqueer, her young cousin is a trans boy (there are also a couple of gender fluid characters in a sub-plot, which I’ll get to later) and I kinda want to shove this book into the faces of every one of those who complain that more than one character with an under-represented identity == a social justice tract.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the social justice tracts! Bring on the social justice tracts!

But. Ida is not a social justice tract. Ida is a story about people like the people I know, like the people I love, living, and making choices, and sometimes getting it wrong but mostly trying to do the right thing.

My one quibble: there is a sub-plot which seeks to explain the powers Ida has. And… it was okay. It was well written. But I feel the story would have been stronger without it. Perhaps it could have worked better as a spin-off short story.

That is a mild quibble, though, about an excellent, and highly recommended book, that brings together some of the best aspects of the SFF and literary genres, and is filled with excellent queer rep.

You can buy Ida direct from the publisher’s website, or from most of your usual sources. You will be supporting a queer author, getting an excellent book, and pissing off Piers Morgan. Win-win-win situation. Remember: You can always order books through your local independent bookstore!

Nicola Griffith’s SO LUCKY is incandescent genius

Image description: Book cover in matte black with the title “So Lucky,” and the author’s name “Nicola Griffith,” in big uppercase type rendered as burning paper. In smaller, brighter letters between title and author is, “A novel,” and, below the writer’s name, “Author of Hild”

It’s highly appropriate that Nicola Griffith’s latest book So Lucky should be the first book shouted about here. Nicola came onto the SF scene like a juggernaut in 1993 with the revolutationary, very queer Ammonite (sure to be shouted about soon!). In the past 25+ years, she’s published many superb books and stories, hit many activist bullseyes in #criplit, queer, and feminist issues, earned a PhD, and has long been one of the most well respected writers in the genre. She’s scary-smart and just simply an amazing person.

Since So Lucky was published in May 2018, I’ve read it three times. It’s fair to say I haven’t stopped thinking about the book. It’s intensely personal, with some autobiographical elements — but let’s not pretend it’s autobiographical. It’s not.

So Lucky is about Mara, a lesbian from Atlanta whose first symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis reveal themselves the day her partner leaves her.

It’s an incandescently angry book, not one bit sentimental, and as powerful and serious as a black hole. If I had my way it would win every single award from the Lambda to the Pulitzer. I want Nicola to be canonized for this book. I want her made Pope.

But I haven’t explained why I love and respect this book so much. And this is the problem with shouting about things you love. The language of praise is elusive. Not liking something is easy to talk about but it’s so difficult to say why you love something. You just do.

So let’s get specific. Three things. I could do thirty but let’s keep this reasonable:

Nicola Griffith writes lesbians like nobody else

I’m a lesbian (yay, lesbians!). The way Nicola Griffith writes lesbians always seems completely authentic and transparent. Probably I feel this connection because Nicola and I are about the same age. But mostly, I think it’s because she’s unsentimental. Nicola Griffith commits no bullshit. Nothing is glossed over or romanticized. Her lesbians are just flawed, adult humans like everyone else, but with that ineffable something (what is it? I don’t know!) that makes them live in my imagination as real people.

I can taste Mara’s anger and intensity

One of my other favorite Nicola Griffith books is Stay, number two in her series of lesbian hardboiled mysteries. Like Stay, So Lucky is a short gut punch of a book, knocking the main character over and dragging her down a path of coals. I love that. I love the unapologetic intensity. She’s daring us to stay with her character in this unlovable state, on a journey so painful I can feel it in my own bones. If reading teaches us empathy, Nicola Griffith is giving us a master class.

Nicola Griffith is one of the finest writers on the planet

Damn, she’s good. Damn, she’s good. Damn, she’s good.

Read So Lucky. Just read it now.

Buy links: See the bottom of this page at Nicola Griffith’s site.
Remember: You can always order books through your local independent bookstore!

Shout

by Charles Payseur

Stories have always been the center of my universe. An awkward, shy, and lonely child, they were my way of coping with something I didn’t even really understand, that for the longest time I didn’t have the words for. That, in many ways, those very stories I was reading made even harder to understand because, by and large, all they did was reflect back the manicured and false monoculture that I saw gazing around the suburbs where I grew up. They provided worlds to escape into, but never one that really helped me figure out who I was or why I felt so out of place. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t devour them.

I read The Wheel of Time and The Sword of Truth and The Dragonriders of Pern. If it was in the Legends collection from Tor, you can be sure I either had read it or wanted to. These were the books that I was told I should enjoy, that I should read. And, in a way, I did. Certainly, I read them. Over and over again. Checked out from the library, given as gifts for birthdays or Christmas, I read so many of the same kind of book, the same kind of character. And it’s very possible that they kept me alive. But they didn’t really help me to live.

The truth only really started to dawn on me much later. Not in college, unfortunately, because even there the curriculum didn’t offer much that pushed me in the right ways outside my comfort zone. I read some amazing works, don’t get me wrong, but I was still rather miserable, still not comfortable in my own skin. But I still read. And read a lot. Still focused on the books I was supposed to read, those recommended by friends, by professors, those that seemed to lead one into the other, huge series that replayed the same fantasies over and over and over again. A young man escapes a stifling life and becomes a hero, goes out and does…something!

Sometimes I wonder how I could have missed what seems so obvious looking back. Hello, yes, I’m bi, and it took until I was in my mid twenties to figure out and come to terms with that. And stories. It took a lot of stories. Just…not the ones that I had been reading. And I wonder what it would have been like to read the stories that ended up really opening my eyes at a younger age. At twenty, or eighteen, or fifteen, or younger still. If they had been normal, so I could have seen myself as normal. Sometimes the past is full of the ghosts of what might have been. Different versions of myself who got to grow up with the stories I needed, when I needed them.

The problem, it turns out, isn’t that these stories didn’t exist. They’ve always existed. It was that I had no idea where they were or how to find them. I didn’t even know that I might need them. They weren’t recommended in the right places, weren’t promoted, weren’t shared. There was no visible queer presence in my hometown, or else I was effectively shielded from it. Without much of an internet until college (and by then not a great idea of how to best use it), finding the stories that might have helped me was…well, it didn’t happen. And there’s no rewind on that. There’s no getting to find out what might have been different. For me. But for others, getting that right story at the right moment is still possible. For them to find a language to give voice to their identities. To push back against the pressure to self-erase. To connect with community, and with hope.

Which is why I feel projects to find, collect, and shout about queer SFF are so vital. Not just because I, now, continue to grapple with myself and my identity through these stories. Not just because they’re fun and frightening and sexy and inspiring. Not just because they have the power to offer people a world in which they exist and have presence and can see themselves. But for all these reasons and more. Because too often queerness is defined by loss. Loss of childhood, or loss of hope, or the loss of all those who history and injustice have erased, or tried to erase.

And so one thing we can do here, now, is help people to find these stories. And maybe, though fiction, find much more as well. So let’s not just talk about queer SFF. Let’s get the word out. Let’s be heard. Let’s shout.

We like to shout about queer SF

We are a bunch of queer SF writers who like to shout about queer SF. Lots of other people who like to shout about it too, but we figure there’s no upper limit on shouting about things you like.

We are just getting going, so check out these wonderful people for good queer SF recs while we figure out how to convince Twitter we’re not a bot.

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