News Ticker

[GUEST POST] Catherine Lundoff on LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1980s

Catherine Lundoff is a former archaeologist, former grad student and former bookstore owner turned professional computer geek and award-winning author and editor. She is a transplanted Brooklynite who now lives in Minneapolis with her wife and the two cats which own them. Silver Moon (Lethe Press, 2012) is her latest book and “Medium Méchanique” in Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam (2013) and “The Light Fantastic” in Luna Station Quarterly (2013) are her latest stories. Visit her online at her website, facebook and Twitter as @CLundoff.

LGBT Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in the 1980s

by Catherine Lundoff

The 1970s, famed as an era of free love, political protests and hallucinogen-fueled utopias, gave way to the era of punk and New Wave, AIDS, and the politics of Reagan and Thatcher in the more conservative 1980s. And science fiction, fantasy and horror followed suit, with hard-edged military science fiction, dystopian visions, anti-hero sword and sorcery, vampires and of course, cyberpunk. None of these, on the face of it, seemed any more LGBT-friendly than the sfnal works of the previous decade, yet the number of portrayals of LGBT characters more than quadrupled.

This was due in large part to greater visibility and increased social acceptance of LGBT people. In addition to LGBT characters, there were also more out lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans authors in the genre than ever been before. Delany, Russ, Disch and Lynn were joined by Melissa Scott, Geoff Ryman, Rachel Pollack, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, David Gerrold, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Jewelle Gomez, Jeffrey McMahan and others.

Fantasies with LGBT protagonists included the last book in Elizabeth Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor series, The Northern Girl (1980), as well as Samuel Delany’s sword and sorcery series, The Tales of Nevèrÿon, which were released in multiple volumes over the course of the decade. The Silverglass series by J.F. Rivkin: Silverglass (1986), Web of Wind (1987), Witch of Rhostshyl (1989) and Mistress of Ambiguities (1991) featured a bisexual swordswoman and a lesbian witch in a series of swashbuckling adventures. Writers S. M. Stirling, Shirley Meier and Karen Wehrstein collaborated on the post-apocalyptic fantasy series The Fifth Millennium, which included The Snow Brother (1985), The Sharpest Edge (1986), The Cage (1989), Shadow’s Daughter (1991) and Shadow’s Son (1991) and featured two bisexual women warriors as protagonists and partners.

Ellen Kushner and Mercedes Lackey created very different gay protagonists in Swordspoint and Magic’s Pawn, both published in 1989. Lackey’s novel takes a more traditional fantasy route in the first volume of the Herald Mage series, creating a coming out story focused on a young gay magic user with psychic abilities. In contrast, the influential fantasy Swordspoint depicts established lovers, a swordsman and a young scholar, caught up in political intrigue in a European-style city that never existed.

Joanna Russ, Storm Constantine and Delia Sherman were amongst the authors who created stories and characters dealing with gender liminality and how alternative genders are perceived by others. Joanna Russ’ story “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman” (1982) features a protagonist who presents as a young gay man, but is, in fact, not as he seems, traveling with his teenaged female protégée, who is something else entirely. Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books, which begin with The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (1987) is focused on a telepathic intersex species that presents as male. Delia Sherman’s Through a Brazen Mirror (1989) is based on the ballad “The Famous Flower of Serving Men” and features a protagonist compelled to disguise herself as a man and hide at the king’s court. Complications ensue when the king and the ladies of the court fall in love with the man he appears to be.

The decade also saw a series of new interpretations of vampire legends, often interpreted as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Anne Rice’s popular Vampire Lestat novels and related works with their queer supernatural creatures were the best known, but writers like Jewelle Gomez were also creating their own takes on the tales. Gomez’ African-American lesbian vampire, Gilda, appeared in a number of her early short stories. Author Jeffrey McMahan introduced his gay vampire, Andrew Lyall, in several stories that appeared in his collection Somewhere in the Night (1989) and again in his novel, Vampires Anonymous (1991). Author Jody Scott featured a bisexual vampire who falls in love with a highly memorable alien in her novel I, Vampire (1984).

The Gomez and McMahan stories appeared in a small number of LGBT science fiction, fantasy and horror titles released by such LGBT presses as Alyson Press and Firebrand Books. Alyson also published the anthology Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Eric Garber, Camilla Decarnin and Lynn Paleo (1986). Naiad Press published Katherine Forrest’s lesbian science fiction novel Daughters of the Coral Dawn (1984) and her mystery and science fiction collection, Swords and Dreams (1987). Meanwhile, in the UK, Onlywomen Press published Carolyn Forbes’ lesbian science fiction collection The Needle on Full (1985) and Anna Livia’s lesbian SF novel, Bulldozer Rising (1987).

The LGBT presses primarily marketed books to the gay and lesbian communities, generally through specialty gay and lesbian bookstores. As a result, some of these books and authors never achieved recognition in larger science fiction and fantasy fandom. In contrast, authors Melissa Scott and Geoff Ryman, achieved mainstream success and won a number of awards for their portrayals of LGBT characters. Scott’s novels of the decade: A Choice of Destinies (1986), The Kindly Ones (1987), the Silence Leigh series and Armor of Light (1988), co-written with Scott’s then partner, Lisa Barnett, all feature queer protagonists ranging from Alexander the Great to starship pilots and Christopher Marlowe. Ryman had several novels and short stories out during the decade, of which his Campbell-winning The Child Garden (1989) features a lesbian protagonist

I’ve been focusing on LGBT portrayals in books above but wanted to end by mentioning a couple of works in other mediums. The Hunger (1983) is a horror film staring Catherine Deneuve as an immortal vampire and David Bowie and Susan Sarandon as her lovers. Love it or hate it, it remains one of the most glamorous vampire films with LGBT protagonists ever made. Also worth watching is Born in Flames (1983), in which filmmaker Lizzie Borden creates a documentary about a feminist/queer/people of color revolution that never was.

I also wanted to put in a plug for Mike W. Barr and Brian Boland’s limited series from DC Comics, Camelot 3000 (1982-1985). Camelot is about the return of King Arthur and his knights in the year 3000 when Earth is threatened by an alien invasion, led by Morgan Le Fay and Mordred. Arthur’s knight, Tristan, is reincarnated as a woman, as is Isolde, and one of the subplots focuses on their relationship and conflicts, making it one of the first positive portrayals of a lesbian relationship in mainstream comics.

This is, of course, a high level overview, and some aspects of what we now associate with the science fiction and fantasy of the 1980s didn’t include LGBT protagonists until the 1990s. Early cyberpunk, for example, is remarkable for its absence of LGBT characters. Overall, the decade saw a remarkable growth spike in depictions, positive and negative, of LGBT characters in SF/F/H and for reasons of space and time, I haven’t touched on secondary characters or short fiction or fan fiction or characters who were incidentally bisexual, however positive the portrayal. For those interested in reading more, here are some resources and references:

9 Comments on [GUEST POST] Catherine Lundoff on LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1980s

  1. Paul Weimer // April 3, 2014 at 10:22 am //

    Thanks, Catherine!

    While Swordspoint’s choice of protagonists did not “surprise me”, I remember I was rather surprised when I read the 5th Millennium novels!

    (And why aren’t they available in ebook? Cranky Paul is cranky)

  2. David Lenander // April 3, 2014 at 10:57 am //

    Thanks for your article. I was surprised that you didn’t mention Eleanor Arnason’s 80s novel, To the Resurrection Station, which featured lesbian &/or bisexual characters. It wasn’t a significant focus of the novel, though, I guess.

    • Catherine Lundoff // April 3, 2014 at 11:34 am //

      My focus is on primary characters so her name won’t come up until “Ring of Swords” unless you’ve got something else earlier that I might be forgetting about.

  3. Catherine Lundoff // April 3, 2014 at 11:25 am //

    Thanks for reading and boosting, Paul!
    I still have a pb of “The Cage” and probably have the rest of the series in the original, so I didn’t realize it’s not in ebook. They were put out from Baen, so you’d think. But then, they are all pretty lengthy so perhaps they didn’t try converting them. Shame, since they’re interesting reading.

  4. Thanks for the article. It brings me back to when I first found Storm Constantine’s books; I snatched them right up.

  5. Thank you for this article! I have a couple of these books, and I’ve read the Herald Mage series which I loved. But I’m excited to have even more to add to the list!

  6. Good to hear, Erica! Hope you find something you enjoy. 🙂

  7. Hi Catherine, i love reading SF & F (SF & Fanasty) but i have never heard of any LGBT SF & F before lol

    Thx for providing a list of LGBT SF & F, i would like to read of all of them XDDDD

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: