[GUEST POST] Catherine Lundoff on LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1990s


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 www.catherinelundoff.com, facebook and Twitter as @CLundoff.

LGBT Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in the 1990s

by Catherine Lundoff

The 1990s saw a huge increase in positive portrayals of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters in all parts of the genre: literature, anime, manga, comics, and even some television and movie characters. Character-driven fantasy and science fiction became more popular, as did game-inspired fiction and fandom. The Internet fueled increased interest in and access to different kinds of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Cyberpunk-influenced science fiction with out queer characters, urban fantasies with LGBT characters and queer horror as well as television, movies and comics which celebrated queer subtext, all made LGBT characters and stories more visible to mainstream society.

A number of LGBT and allied authors saw works with LGBT protagonists published by large genre publishers over the course of the decade. Author Melissa Scott’s best known novels, Trouble and Her Friends (1994), Point of Hopes (1995), co-written with Lisa Barnett, and Shadow Man (1995), ran the gamut from cyberpunk to science-influenced fantasy to science fiction exploring ideas about sex and gender. Trouble was one of the few early cyberpunk novels to feature a queer protagonist, while Shadow Man is still one of a minority of science fiction novels to explore the cultural impacts of moving beyond a binary gender system.

Other out authors included Gael Baudino, whose fantasy novel Gossamer Axe (1990) featured a bisexual, polyamorous female rock musician trying to rescue her lover from the Sidhe. Laurie Marks created a post apocalyptic fantasy with a lesbian couple as the protagonists in Dancing Jack (1993). Nebula Award-winning author Severna Park saw three critically-acclaimed science fiction novels with lesbian protagonists published in the 1990s: Speaking Dreams (1992) and Hand of Prophecy (1998) both deal with issues of slavery, captivity and freedom while The Annunciate (1999) ventures into virtual reality, drug use and the conflicts born of social stratification.

Authors like Rachel Pollack, Richard Bowes and Anne Harris created new kinds of urban fantasy in their novels. Pollack’s Temporary Agency (1994) and Godmother Night (1996) were set in a myth-influenced near future city, with demons, ritual magic and queer protagonists. In contrast, Bowes’ novel Minions of the Moon skirted the edge of literary fiction with its contemporary city setting and its gay alcoholic hustler protagonist trying to gain control of his shadow alter ego. Harris went in still another direction by creating a cyberpunk version of Detroit as the backdrop for her novel about two female mutants who fall in love while dealing with the consequences of bioengineering in Accidental Creatures (1998).

Nicola Griffith made a significant contribution to LGBT SF/F with her acclaimed science fiction novels with lesbian protagonists, Ammonite (1993) and Slow River (1994). She also co-edited the Bending the Landscape anthologies with Stephen Pagel, who went on to co-found Meisha Merlin Publishing. Bending the Landscape consisted of three themed anthologies of stories with LGBT protagonists: Fantasy (1997), Science Fiction (1998) and Horror (2001). The books featured stories by such writers as Robin Wayne Bailey, Tanya Huff, Rebecca Ore, Keith Hartman, Ellen Klages and Jim Grimsley.

The impact of AIDS and HIV reverberated through many of the LGBT-focused stories published during the decade. Author Geoff Ryman’s fantasy novel Was (1992) featured a gay male protagonist with AIDS who was drawn to revisit the sites and people who inspired Frank Baum’s novel The Wizard of Oz. Horror author Clive Barker also dealt with the devastation of the disease as experienced by his gay protagonist and those around him in his novel, Sacrament (1996). Novelist Peg Kerr’s The Wild Swans (1999) took a different direction with a split narrative, one following the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, the other telling the parallel story of a young gay man trying to build a life for himself in a contemporary gay community hard-hit by the disease.

Other authors focused on unconventional LGBT-focused stories within more conventional genre narratives. These included Pat Murphy, whose novel Nadya (1996), about the adventures of a bisexual female werewolf, was set in the American West in the 1800s. Nancy Springer created a fantastical take on small town life in Larque on the Wing (1996), in which the protagonist, a heterosexual female artist, shares her psyche with a young gay man. Robin Wayne Bailey’s Shadowdance (1991) is a fantasy with a disabled gay protagonist given the “gift” of being able to walk at night as long as he performs a dance that drives his audience to act out their darkest desires. Author Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer series, beginning with The Devil in the Dust (1998), featured a gay protagonist in a world modeled on the Crusades. Eleanor Arnason’s Ring of Swords (1993) challenged the tropes of military science fiction while setting the story within an alien culture where same-sex partnership is the norm.

Small presses published more science fiction and fantasy with LGBT protagonists than in previous decades. Cleis Press released three anthologies of lesbian horror and dark fantasy, edited by Pam Keesey: Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Tales (1993), Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Erotica (1995), and Women Who Run with the Werewolves (1996). Cleis also published a companion volume of gay vampire stories, Sons of Darkness: Tales of Men, Blood and Immortality (1996), edited by Michael Rowe and Thomas Roche. Alyson Books published several fantasy titles, including the fantasy anthology, Swords of the Rainbow (1996), edited by Eric Garber and Jewelle Gomez.

Seal Press published Ellen Galford’s The Dyke and the Dybbuk (1993) about an ancient Jewish demon sent to haunt a contemporary lesbian cab driver. New Victoria Publishers released Chris Anne Wolfe’s romantic lesbian fantasy series, the Amazons of Aggar, beginning with Shadows of Aggar (1991). Rising Tide Press published Jean Stewart’s Isis series of romantic fantasies, beginning with Return to Isis in 1992.

Circlet Press was founded in 1992 by publisher and editor Cecilia Tan, with a focus on erotic science fiction and fantasy. 1990s Circlet Press titles with LGBT protagonists included The Stars Inside Her: Lesbian Erotic Fantasy (1999) and Wired Hard: Erotica for a Gay Universe (1994). Other presses that published sfnal erotica included Belhue Press, which published Perry Brass’s erotic cyberpunk novel The Harvest (1997), along with his other work.

Mainstream comics began to include a few lesbian or gay characters. Marvel Comics allowed the writers of Alpha Flight to have the superhero Northstar publically come out as gay in 1992 (his orientation had been implied previously). DC Comics had already outed the Pied Piper (Flash) in 1991 and the characters Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet in 1990 (Legion of Superheroes). In manga and anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena (launched in 1996) and Sailor Moon, first broadcast in 1992, were two of the best known series with sfnal content to feature same-sex romantic relationships between their female protagonists.

Television shows like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 flirted with subtextual bisexuality, but Xena: Warrior Princess took the subtext and ran with it. The show first aired in 1995 and quickly began cultivating its lesbian and bi fan base by suggesting that its protagonists, Xena and her partner Gabrielle, were lovers. This, in turn, inspired a sizable online fan fiction community; a number of Xena/Gabrielle fan fiction writers went on to establish new LGBT presses such as Bold Strokes Books, as well as to write original science fiction and fantasy novels.

In comparison to the previous decades, the 1990s were something of a “Golden Age” for positive portrayals of LGBT protagonists in sfnal contexts. LGBT writers and their allies within the genre achieved new visibility and had greater access to a larger audience and LGBT fans became much more visible in fandom. One aspect of this visibility was the founding of the first LGBT-focused convention, Gaylaxicon, in 1998.

Gaylaxicon is an annual convention with an emphasis on LGBT fandom and creators. It is hosted by member chapters of the Gaylactic Network in different cities. The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, also founded in 1998, are fan-based awards for fantasy, science fiction and horror with positive portrayals of LGBT characters; they are often awarded at Gaylaxicon. There are also Lambda Literary Awards for LGBT science fiction, fantasy and horror, which merged the previously separate gay and lesbian categories in 1993. All of these events continue to help provide greater visibility for LGBT characters and storylines in the genre.

For further reading:

3 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Catherine Lundoff on LGBT Science Fiction and Fantasy in the 1990s”

  1. As I have said elsewhere, it was Nicola Griffith, really, that set me to rights as far as LGBT fiction in fantasy. (Yes, I had read Swordspoint by this point, but Griffith? A Wham with the cluebat!

  2. Excellent! I’m sure she’ll be pleased to hear it! :-)
    Speaking of Nicola, my info was a bit off. “Slow River” was pubbed in 1995, not 1994.

Comments are closed.