Science-fiction dominates media. Glance at the top-grossing movies? Look at bestseller lists? What’s on television? Of course, science-fiction can be broken down into all sorts of sub-genres from science-fantasy to superheroes. Science-fiction is about wanting tomorrow today, right now. For so many people who fall in the wide spectrum of queer identities–and I will use the term queer because a) I like reclaiming a dirty word; b) it has the additional meaning of odd or strange; and c) the alphabet soup is ungainly and does not adequately cover everyone so I need an element of grace to simply the complex—tomorrow has been not only a realm of new scientific advances but also about recognition. And equality. And respect.
Whenever I see someone queer in a science-fiction television show or movie, my heart swells. It doesn’t have to be the same gender, the same identity as my own, but there’s relief, there’s pride, in seeing someone who once was so much the outcast, the outsider, that she or he or they or ze was invisible, inaudible.
In the months to come I’ll do my best to bring attention to queer speculative fiction. I welcome comments. I welcome suggestions and corrections and recommendations. I’m human and I’ll be talking about the metahuman, the superhuman, but not the inhuman treatment of queer people in stories. I want to share the wealth—and yes, Virginia, there is a lot of great stories out there for you and me—of queer spec fic.
I’m starting with science-fiction because of some recent discussions about another post here at SF Signal. Consider this my response. I know that when I speak about queer spec fic on panels at conventions people in the eager audience either want recommended reading lists or to voice an omission eighty percent of the time. So I will begin with recommended titles and vary going forward.
After I type this I will more likely be taken to task because there are so many and this list can go on and on. Please consider these as launchpads to your reading in the field.
The fairy godmother to feminists in the spec fic field in my mind is Russ. If she had only written How to Suppress Women’s Writing—sadly as true today as it was when it came out in 1983—she deserves acclaim. But thankfully she left us a wealth of novels, short stories, and non-fiction. The Female Man is a must-read for anyone who wants insight into the ways to work gender into science-fiction in intelligent and passionate ways. Her short fiction collections are powerful reservoirs that I return to often.
Like Russ, Delany has written incredible works of science-fiction as well as important essays, memoirs, short stories and novels for gay readers and African-Americans. I was fortunate to have him as a Clarion mentor for one week and found him to be incredibly inspiring. For a generation, reading his surreal novel Dhalgren was a badge of honor (literally: I have seen old buttons that said I finished Dhalgren or something akin to this). The number of awards he has been nominated for, let alone won, is likely longer than his literary output. As a lover of short fiction, I heartily recommend his Return to Nevèrÿon series. I adore his non-spec fic novel Dark Reflections. But you cannot go wrong with picking up a book with his name on the byline.
Another author who broadens the notion of gender identity is Sheldon. Recently all the talk about releasing neutered mosquitoes to help curtail the Zika virus reminded me of her chilling story “The Screwfly Solution”—aliens decide the best way to conquer the Earth is by changing the sexual drives of men into homicidal misogynist urges. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” is another favorite of mine and won the Hugo award. Sheldon’s life was incredibly fascinating and Julie Phillips’s biography James Tiptree, Jr.:The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon is highly recommended.
Yes, he is the man behind Trouble With Tribbles, but Gerrold is more than a comedic Star Trek writer. His War Against the Cthorr series offers an alien invasion through transforming Earth’s environment into something terrible and deadly for us Terrans. The Man Who Folded Himself offers time-travel. His moving autobiographical novel about adopting a boy, The Martian Child, is a sad reminder of what Hollywood does to queer people—the film adaptation makes the adoptive father heterosexual!
Cyberpunk still lurks on the ‘net…if only that the wonderful novels set in the time of glorified hacking are available on Amazon. Trouble and Her Friends by Scott is a delight. Scott may have tied with Nicola Griffith for most Lambda Literary Awards for her speculative fiction novels that continue to offer adventures to readers. She created a space faring universe of expanded genders (seven I believe) in Shadow Man.
Griffith’s Ammonite should be required reading for anyone who wants to write great science-fiction. A colony of women, the men long-dead from a viral outbreak, find themselves fighting for their lives from those seek to exploit their planet’s resources. This is more than simply the lesbian equivalent of Avatar. This is fine storytelling. Griffith, like many of the other named authors on this list, has written outside of science-fiction, and I found that whether she writes historical fiction (the novel Hild) or horror (her short story “Cold Wind”), I am entranced.
I am not going to go into Butler’s personal sexual identity. I never met her (sadly). But she wrote so often about sexuality and being the other, the outsider–in terms of ethnicity, community, and socially constructed power dynamics oppressing individuals–that I feel safe to say she belongs on my Canonical list. As an African-American and a woman, as an intellectual, she felt discrimination. Her novel Kindred is yet one more proof that there are diverse voices in time travel tales–and Butler achieved what many genre writers hope for: a book that is considered a work of literature. Butler won a MacArthur grant. All of her stories deserve to be read.
Mishima is not usually considered a science-fiction author. But John Clute does list him in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia. His novel Utsukushii Hoshi is rife with unreliable narration, paranoia, and possible aliens posing as humans. Kamen no Kokuhaku is my favorite book by Mishima, because I can identify with its tortured protagonist who hides his homosexuality. Mishima’s life story, while tragic, is also fascinating reading.
Well, this is my inaugural list. I can think of many more names even as I type this but I hear the gong of the Masters calling me back to the word mines. I hope you explore the work of these authors and that you find in their stories characters that you can identify with, care for, grow fond of.