Shouting About Queer SF

Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Month: September 2018

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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