Wed
Apr 14 2010 4:50pm

Queering SFF: Wanting, Searching, Finding

There seemed to be a common theme in the discussion of people’s first queer SFF: it wasn’t found intentionally. It was found by accident, by word of mouth, by luck. That got me thinking about the ways in which I search for new books to read. In turn, that made me think about how hard queer SFF can be to find sometimes, especially when you’re just browsing by shelves in a store. Why is that? Flap copy tends to be one problem—I can’t claim to be the most thorough researcher in the world, but once I had the thought, I read over the backs/inside flaps of all the queer SFF books I own and that are in the bookstore I work for. You would be surprised (or perhaps not) at exactly how few of them bother to mention the sexualities or gender differences within the text, even when they are the driving force of the plot. Examples follow below the cut.

If you can’t find a book by browsing the shelves on your own, how can you? After a while, it gets tiring to only find them by accident in golden picks here and there. I’m tired of having to be pleasantly surprised when a book has a diverse cast. I’d like to just start at the point where I know there is one.

Of course, I’m also internet-spoiled. I’ll readily admit that. I’m a youngster and by the time I was actively searching out the books I wanted, I could use the internet and the great big pool of wisdom available to me out there. But hey, it’s a handy tool, and one that’s helpful in this kind of search. (I can’t fathom not having it to find things now. This is probably a bad sign for me in a future devastated by sentient machines/nuclear warheads/zombies/your favorite internet-killing apocalypse.)

So, how do I find my queer SFF? How do you? There’s more ways than I can think of, I’m sure, and I want to know what I’m missing. Let’s figure this out.

I want to return to the flap-copy problem for a second, because I feel like it’s a debate I could chase my proverbial tail on for years and never find an answer. Why should it be necessary to include a character’s sexuality in the flap copy if it has no direct correlation to the plot? That bothers me. I don’t like the implications. On the other hand, I want to be able to find more books that have queer characters and leads because I enjoy them. They feel more like home to me, like less of the same-old-same-old. On this same side it bothers me, as I said at the beginning, that even when a character’s sexuality or the queer relationship between two character is important to the plot, it’s not mentioned or it’s brushed over.

The common tactic with gay male couples is to refer to them on the back like they’re just really close friends. Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series has this problem with its flap copy: it carefully skirts the fact that Seregil and Alec are lovers, even on the back of the third book, where it mentions the fact that they’re living in exile together—but not, you know, that they’re living together because they’re deeply in love. Why? This is one of the more popular series with queer protagonists; it’s not like it’s a dread secret!  Another classic with non-queer flap copy is Swordspoint: I put a little less blame here, though, because the actual flap copy is a single small paragraph. The rest is blurb-age. It doesn’t even mention Alec’s existence, let alone Richard’s relationship to him. One that made me grind my teeth actively was The Steel Remains by Richard K Morgan. In the hardcover edition’s flap copy, it says “Gil is estranged from his aristocratic family” but fails to say that it’s because he’s gay and out about it in a violently homophobic society. That’s one of the major, major plot points and there’s a definite opportunity to mention it, but no. Not a word. That is so not an accident or a lack of space. It’s a direct passing-over of one of the main themes of the book for the purpose of avoiding discussing the queer content in the flap copy.

I don’t want to be the one yelling, “Hey! Hey! These flap copies are hetereosexist!” I feel like I might be stretching myself a little thin to proclaim that. But really, what is the purpose in cutting those important details? It draws me back to a review I received once on the OWW from a young man claiming that I would never be able to appeal to a male 18-25 audience because my lead characters were “gay together.” (The special irony being that, you know, they weren’t.) Is it because of this childish viewpoint? Do the publishers actually think that they might lose their potential young male readers if they tell them upfront there are queer character in the book? That seems—sneaky at the very least. And a bit shortsighted. I have books returned to me regularly at my store because the reader in question didn’t expect the man-on-man or woman-on-woman or alien-on-human action therein. Even if the squicked-out reader doesn’t return the book, he or she isn’t likely to come buy another by the same author. So why the “straightening up?” It also makes assumptions about a crowd of readers that I feel aren’t necessarily true. I think they can handle it just fine. Being straight doesn’t somehow magically make you a homophobe. It just doesn’t. Being straight and young and male really doesn’t either; I had a bigger problem convincing a friend of such type to read A Companion to Wolves because it had, well, companion-wolves than I did because it had explicit queer scenes.

I guarantee I would buy more books, faster, if the flap copies actually told me the information I wanted to know and I didn’t have to do extensive at-home research first. On my home-shelves I only managed to find two decent examples of queer flap copy. The first is the typical type: it’s an oblique mention, not really directly stating the facts but hinting at them. The flap copy for the paperback of Melusine by Sarah Monette mentions Felix’s sexuality only in terms of his abuse at the hands of another man, but it’s a sideways mention that at least provides some kind of a hint. The book I found with direct flap copy was a reprint of Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany that contained the sentence, “Tackling questions of race, gender, and sexuality, Dhalgren is a literary marvel...” So the only book I found on my shelves that was open about its queer content was a reprint of a famous queer SFF novel. Hm. Why aren’t the others just as true to their stories? It would only help, not hurt, the sales of the book.

I can’t offer a solution there, to be honest, and I’m more interested in hearing what other people think about the flap-copy issue. I can’t decide if it’s intentionally trying to hide the characters’ sexualities or not. I can’t even say that the information should always be there because sometimes, honestly, it’s not relevant to the plot at all. Especially with secondary characters; where are they going to fit that info into a paragraph? I think that I, personally, would just like a little bit more effort at openness. I don’t think honesty will throw off a potential reader any more than casually not telling them, having them get angry about the secret!gay!agenda! and then return the book later.

Enough about that tail-chaser of a problem. Somebody smarter and wider-read and more religious with research can argue it better than I can. Let’s get down to the active part: the searching/shopping/finding.

The most obvious of obvious things is word of mouth, which has become word-of-blog and word-of-message-board. I have a much bigger list thanks to the first Queering SFF post (and I love you all for it so much) because we all got together and talked. I heard about Poppy Z. Brite from a friend who smuggled around a battered copy of Lost Souls at all times in our school years. I found Anne Rice’s books via a different friend’s mother. Word of mouth is powerful, but it’s frequently not enough if you don’t have a circle of other readers surrounding you. The internet is hit-or-miss here too—you never know if something will pop up under “queer SFF” or “gay SFF” or “lesbian scifi” or none of the above. Searches are not perfect. A chat on a blog post will get buried under the weight of the rest of the internet pretty quickly. I love the word-of-mouth stuff, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty close to the “by accident” route.

There are websites and awards devoted to queer literature (The Lambda Awards have an SFF category, for example.) GLBT Fantasy Resources can be a handy place to find lists of titles and reviews, though I find myself regularly disagreeing with the reviews themselves. (Honestly though, that can be the fun part of reading a review at all.) The lists of potential books for review are especially helpful. They also don’t seem to exclude scifi, despite the page’s name. For themes of gender as well as sexuality, Feminist Science Fiction, Fantasy and Utopias provides a pretty damned comprehensive set of lists. As much as I have a deep and fearful loathing of Amazon.com, their customer list/connection features can be handy. You can search what other people have tagged on the site as queer SFF.

One of my favorite ways to find new books is actually reading reviews that pan them for having “outrageous” content and then reading them—usually to find out that there’s hardly any hot queer sex at all. I can’t help but be let down by a review that promises me unrepentant nasty pornography and instead I get like, three paragraph-long gay sex scenes in a whole book. I mean, really. Again, this in specific reference to The Steel Remains by Richard K Morgan. (We’ll get there in the review-posts, I promise.) On the nicer side of reviews, there are several places that give the nod to queer protagonists: Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, for one. I’m looking forward to reading Nights of Villjamur after reading a review for it there that focused—but didn’t overfocus—on the sexuality of the lead.

Author blogs can be handy. Author recommendations, including cover blurbs, can be even handier. If you have an idea that writer A does a lot of excellent queer SFF, and they’re blurbing this other book by unfamiliar writer B, it is a good bet that you may want to check out the first few chapters and see if your assumption is correct. I found Elizabeth Bear that way, actually.

Overall—I guess it’s still word of mouth, in some ways, but a much more accessible and global word of mouth thanks to the internet. Lists and quickly accessible reviews are how I find most of the books I want; I buy them by ordering them if I’m particularly on fire for them or by simply searching for them on shelves. It feels like a reward to find them that way, you know?

Those are my favorite methods for finding good queer SFF, new and old. It’s not foolproof. I’ve missed a lot of books; I hadn’t managed to hear of Nicola Griffith until the first-reads post. I hope there are always more books, wider diversity in their characters, and more open treatment of those books by their publishers and marketing teams.

Now you tell me—how do you find your queer SFF? Do you go looking or just rely on luck?

 


Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

39 comments
Casey Seda
1. CaseyAtPI
I don't intentionally go looking for it, so I can't help there. But I thought that I'd post comment on a related topic. Expanded Horizons is a webzine of short fiction and includes "increasing the number of authentically portrayed transgender, transsexual, intersex and genderqueer?fluid people in speculative fiction" in their mission to increase diversity in speculative fiction.

-Casey from Port Iris Magazine
TJ Hutzol
2. bookloveaffair
I'm afraid all the links in this post are broken.
dwndrgn
3. dwndrgn
My first attempt at posting went kaboom.

I wanted to say that you can find reader created lists of GLB books on Amazon. I found that out by mistake too ;-)
Megan Messinger
4. thumbelinablues
All the links in this post are now fixed!

Brit, you make me want to go home and see what the back covers of The Last Herald-Mage look like.... I'll report from there.
Christopher Key
5. Artanian
It's interesting that you mention The Steel Remains. As a straight, 40 year old male, I avoided buying the book, despite having bought and read everything else by Morgan, for exactly that reason, so I wouldn't say that the publishers did a particularly good job of hiding it. Gay main characters, or minor characters don't bother me in the least, but I know what Morgan has done with his straight characters, and I know that I wouldn't enjoy that in the least. And I know that it's considered heresy by some, but I read for enjoyment. Expanding horizons and such is all well and good, but first and foremost reading is entertainment. Life's to short to read stuff that I know I won't enjoy.
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
Brit, you'll be happy to know that I am buying a lot of these books for my library (I'm a Reference Librarian who also handles a lot of the collection development) and intend to do both an in-house display in our Adult and YA Fiction rooms and several blog posts on our website (mvdogearedpages.wordpress.com) in the next few months on queer SF.

You've totally inspired me. Our county system lacks a lot of queer fiction (we only seem to have non-fiction, biographies, or YA fiction dealing solely with coming out to angry family members, as if those are they only experiences one has being gay) and I intend to fix that, at least as far as YA and speculative fiction go (two of the collections I currently buy for). So thanks from a librarian and the future readers who aren't going to know what's hit them :)
Brit Mandelo
7. BritMandelo
@thumbelinablues

Thank you! (And yes; I don't have those on my home shelf, so I'd be curious to know how they phrase things too.)

@Artanian

It's not about hiding it as a whole--it's hard to hide that Gil's a gay man. He's pretty out about it. It's about the fact that there's almost always an effort to make the flap copy straighter than the book. (Alternately, I would say that the publicity you've read about it wasn't really accurate and might have cost you a really entertaining book. There is nowhere NEAR as much or as graphic sex as Morgan normally has. It's actually a relatively tame book. The violence is just as over the top, but the sex isn't. That's why I found so much irony in the reviews that panned it for being too outrageous.)

@Milo1313

That makes me unbelievably happy. Giddy, even. I would have loved to have a librarian who was so cool when I was a teenager. (My library was very small and rural.) Super thumbs up and thank you for doing what you're doing! I would hug you through the internet if I could.
Alex Brown
8. AlexBrown
Brit @ 7: I'm a big fan of getting kids to read stuff they normally wouldn't pick up. I'm always handing kids copies of H2G2 and "Good Omens" and what have you...in fact, for Black History month I made sure we had a good handful of Octavia Butler up for display :) I'll get them reading SF if it kills me!
Brit Mandelo
9. BritMandelo
@Milo1313

I love Butler. Just finished reading the Xenogenesis saga, actually. And Good Omens! Oh, how I love that book. (I have my suspicions about Crowley and Aziraphale. Ahem. *g* It's not like Neil hasn't made jokes...) I try to do that same thing at my bookstore--gently nudge people away from the typical fantasy books toward something different, new, out-there.
Matthew Brown
10. morven
My gut feeling about back cover or jacket-flap blurbs: they're censored so that closeted readers don't have to hide the books from their families, work colleagues, friends and whatnot.

These people aren't so worried about those people actually reading the book -- they generally won't have the chance to look at it for that long -- but they don't want a quick glance over the book left on their desk or whatever to give away that it has gay content.

No research or anything, just my instant gut reaction.
dwndrgn
12. william Heus
You should check out Joan Lyn Slonczewski's "Door into Ocean" (1986) about a tropical water race where blue skinned women live on rafts (lesbians). Very good.
Patrick Garson
13. patrickg
I confess I'm kinda torn on this one. One the one hand, what you're talking about is clearly pandering by publishers to a largely homophobic public (though I guess, to be more accurate, publishers feel there are more readers to be gained by eliding queerness than highlighting it). Publishers would, no doubt, argue that they are simply booksellers, not moralists, advocates, etc. This is a weak argument in my opinion.

On the other hand, a character's sexuality, age, race etc. is something I truly don't give a shit about when looking for a book - fantasy or otherwise - to read; there's a million other things I care about. In this respect, I feel like making a book's selling point a demographic one does both books and authors a disservice, regardless of the social utility in highlighting particular minorities. There are plenty of shit books with gay characters, and plenty of shit books with heterosexual characters, so - for me - it's not a particularly useful metric.

I guess my conflict comes to that eternal debate between reader-response theories, and those based more around a new critical view: Can we (should we?) trust readers to approach texts with an open mind and leave ultimate interpretative responsibility with them, or do we believe that responsibility rests ultimately (or predominantly) with authorial (in this case, publisher) intent, and thus the ethical and textual responsibilities lie with a publishing house?

As a reader, obviously, the former view appeals to me more. If being gay is an important part of what the novel is about, by all means please mention it on the cover, but if being gay is just part of the story like other relationships or personalities, it's not necessarily worth the call-out.

As a left-leaning political citizen, however, I feel more strongly in the opposite direction. Publishers have a responsibility - as we all do - to encourage a world of tolerance, diversity and even, perhaps, curiosity. By keeping non-hetero sexualities a love that dare not mention its name (on the back-flap, at least), they are contributing to a discourse that says these lifestyles and feelings are secret, elliptical, hidden; perhaps a bit distasteful. Not mentioned in the polite confines of the bookstore fantasy section.

Trying to dodge accusations of discrimination by pointing out the main function of back-flaps is to sell books is specious; not mentioning it is just as political an act - especially when placed into the context of how often heterosexual sex is used to sell fantasy novels.

I would be really, really interested to hear from some of the Tor folk who frequent this site (Megan, Irene, Patrick Nielsen Hayden) on their thoughts about this, and I would _love_ to hear from some of the authors (like Morgan) who have to grapple with the possibility that highlighting the sexualities in their books may cost them sales. Interesting stuff.
dwndrgn
14. ofostlic
For "A Companion to Wolves" I think there's also a spoiler issue in putting more information on the flap copy.

The opening scene with Njall's father ranting at and about the habits of the wolfheall reads very differently if you don't know that, stripped of the prejudice, everything he is saying about them is true.

It might be that the real motivation was OMG TEH GAYZ, but even so I'm glad I got to read the opening twice, once knowing and once not knowing what came later.
Brit Mandelo
15. BritMandelo
@morven

Huh. You know, I hadn't thought of that, but... It makes a kind of sense.

@Patrickg

Yes, this. It's really hard to decide what side of the potential debate to be on because there are so many factors. It's not so much that I feel queerness should be commodified in and of itself (though, obviously I like to search out books with narrators who aren't straight white men--which isn't to say I don't love books with SWM also; I just get tired of the same-old same-old) as that when it is such a major part of the book, and you find out the character is queer in the first five pages, it shouldn't be hidden. It's eyebrow raising when it is.

"By keeping non-hetero sexualities a love that dare not mention its name (on the back-flap, at least), they are contributing to a discourse that says these lifestyles and feelings are secret, elliptical, hidden; perhaps a bit distasteful. Not mentioned in the polite confines of the bookstore fantasy section." This, especially, is my problem. Because this is what it feels like to me, sometimes. Not all the time. It's only when it seems like the publisher is intentionally brushing it under the rug that I'm pissed off.

@ofostlic

I'd agree with that. That was one of the flap copies that didn't bother me because you're right--it would be a spoiler. It's so dependent on what book, what time, what plot, etc. how the flap-copies come off.
Noneo Yourbusiness
16. Longtimefan
I appreciate all of the effort you make in your posts. That being said I am not really sure where to go with this in a way that would feel productive.

I am disappointed by the way "society" has moved forward and yet still remains as insistent that certain things remain "over there or unspoken".

This also, to me, creates a problem of writers making "gay" characters to suit accepted societal norms. Being outcast from their family or being in abusive relationships or having their partner move on to "being normal" while the character remains queer and struggling. Not all writers do this but I have come across far to much fiction that does.

It is "selling gay to the straights" which has its own detriment to evolved fiction.

Well now I am just rambling and this is not really going anywhere.

Thanks for all of your work and I look forward to your columns.
Alex Brown
17. AlexBrown
morven @ 10: I think you're right on there. I read a lot of *ahem* yaoi and it's totally the opposite. It's nothing but bright pink and two or more half-naked cuddling men on the covers, so it's hard to not know what you're getting into. I'm not suggesting Western publishers go the same route, but if it's important enough for the author to mention it then they should mention it as well. Not saying they should add a "gay disclaimer" or anything like that, but if it's a plot point then mention it as such, other wise let the character's sexuality develop on page like their personality.
Wesley Parish
18. Aladdin_Sane
Well, FWLIW, the first queer SF I ever read - as opposed to queer classical lit - was by Sturgeon, that story where the two alien lovebirds turn up on Earth and their planet wants them back, and Earth decides they must go back, and sends them back in a starship run by two men ... one of which is as straight as a fence post, the other being sensitive - and predictably gay.

I found it in an anthology of his short stories which has disappeared in the meantime ...

Seriously, I would say, if the sexuality of the characters is an important part of the story, then by all means it should be mentioned in the blurbs. If the dapper Mr X is still distraught over the loss of his lover, Mr Y, in a plane crash a few years ago, he probably won't be looking for solace in the arms of Miss Z, his stunning secretary ... however much she may resent his indifference .... But if it is a minor part of the scenery - Mr X occasionally meets up with his teenage flame, Mr Y, but he's somewhat happily married to Mrs X, and loses his parents in a terrorist bombing one Easter, when the United Terrorists and Crack-Whores For Christ Incorporated, blow up the passenger terminal at George Bush International Airport in Outer Podunk ... it's so much irrelevant verbiage ....
Wesley Parish
19. Aladdin_Sane
Now you tell me—how do you find your queer SFF? Do you go looking or just rely on luck?


You can always simply sit down and write it yourself, when there's an absence of anything you like ... myself, I took most of the ways I handled Tyeari and Ieghan's relationship in "Tsiero'aii Se-Tibu'e - The House of the Gods" from either Tobias Schneebaum's book "Asmat: Life with the Ancestors", or "Where the Spirits Dwell: An Odyssey in the Jungle of New Guinea " - I don't remember which book it was I read, it was so long ago.
Brit Mandelo
20. BritMandelo
@Longtimefan

I understand your point, but I don't see having abusive relationships or being kicked out of the family to be somehow "easy" gay issues for the straights if they're handled with compassion and depth. I wish more books actually dealt deeply with emotional and physical abuse in relationships, straight and queer, because it's such a common part of our lives. I believe the statistic is one in three or one in four women will be assaulted in their lifetime. The male statistic suffers from under-reporting. (Ex: Melusine/Doctrine of Labyrinths, which I mention, doesn't just deal with the abusive relationship that the gay man is trying to get out of--it also deals with a deeply icky and horrible abusive relationship the straight character was in. With a woman.)

@Aladdin_Sane

That potential plot summary made me laugh. Thank you. *g* But yes, that's what I mean. It's all about how integral it is to the story.
Samantha Brandt
21. Talia
There's no mention at all of Stefen or Vanyel's sexuality on any of the 'Magic's Pawn/promise/price' covers, incidentally.

Mercedes Lackey's 'Valdemar' books have quite a few gay characters actually, though Vanyel I believe (I could be wrong here) is the only one who takes center stage for a trilogy.
Christine Evelyn Squires
22. ces
Well, I can't really comment about the topic of flap copy.

You see, I never read the flap copy of a book. Why? Because it gives a totally inaccurate picture of the book.
[da ve]
23. slickhop
Sometimes I have a sixth sense for picking up queer books. I'll be reading, maybe get an inkling, and then burst out laughing because OF COURSE the heroine is a lesbian. I love it when that happens. The Child Garden was a great moment like that.

Another thing I do is check out all the finalists, not just winners, of awards like the Tiptree. Or find an author that does things right, like Jo Walton, and then read books she likes (its helpful when they're in the business of reviewing books).
Brit Mandelo
24. BritMandelo
@ces

True, true.

@slickhop

I love it when that happens!
Noneo Yourbusiness
25. Longtimefan
@ 20BritMandelo

There are always valid points to dramatic fiction dealing with issues that people face in real life. I was just rambly. Sometimes it just bothers me because I am never sure if I am observing social behaviors based on a persons development or behaviors based on a person mimicking fiction because that is the only connection to a social group they have not met yet but feel they will join.

I remember being the only gay kid in a school of 3,000 and having no idea there was gay fiction in the world. I did read but apparently I missed the gay books. A teacher gave me "The City and the Pillar" by Gore Vidal and it was the most depressing book I ever read. I know things are a bit better now but I really like positive models of behavior in fiction. It just makes for a boring story sometimes. :)

Often I know I read too much into fictions role in society but it has some impact.

Also your columns are awesome because you take the time to read the comments and then respond to your commentators. That is just a very nice extra effort.
Brit Mandelo
26. BritMandelo
@longtimefan

I see what you're saying--I also like to sometimes read books that don't make me want to cry. *g* (The Steel Remains actually gave me nightmares. Literal nightmares. I needed something light after that.)

And thank you so much--I really want to talk about this stuff and I feel passionate about it, so I love responding to comments and having a dialogue with everyone.
Alex Brown
27. AlexBrown
longtimefan @ 25: I agree...Brit and Teresa (and now Torie) are my fave bloggers precisely because of what you said, engaging directly with commentors. And it keeps the trolls away, which is always a good thing :)
Estara Swanberg
28. Estara
Well, there are quite a few ebook publishers that specifically cater to the m&m loving crowd, but maybe to gay people (I'm heterosexual myself) those read like Yaoi manga - in any case there are true gay writers writing there as well as women writing for fujoshi and everything in between.

For my mind a lovely epic fantasy series that has a gay couple at the centre (maybe you would compare the dealing with gayness to Mercedes Lackey here, because in that world it's also simply a choice, with the caveat that you have to take care of having children at some point - similar to the word of Diane Duane's Door Into), not always as the protagonists but always around (the main characters of each book are also always part of a romance, so maybe it's epic romantic fantasy with gay, straight and lesbian people) - are the Darshian Tales by Ann Somerville (4 books in all).

You can read them all for free on her site or buy the ebooks at Smashwords. She has a strength in plot and character-work, dealing with war, guilt and redemption for crimes, healing, date rape (3rd book), different concepts of society, forgiveness, family, loyalty, paths in life, being a widower, coming of age...

well it is an epic series...
Darshian Tales
Chapter 1 of Kei's Gift

War brings Kei, a gentle healer from an isolated village, into collision with Arman, an embittered, honourable general, a man trapped in a loveless marriage and joylessly wedded to duty. The fate of two nations will rest on these two men–and somehow they must not only learn to overcome their own personal difficulties, but bring peace with honour to their countries. If they fail...many will die.


She also writes sf m&m romances for Samhain, but I think the Darshian Tales are particularly strong.
Robin McLaughlin
30. RLM
Interesting conundrum in regards to flap copy. I think there are legitimate arguments made for being subtle and more out. I think the point about not making it obvious to others who may see the book in a person's hand is actually an excellent one that I'd never thought of. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if it actually has a lot of weight. Think about how many people bring a book to work to read on lunch break or while commuting who may not want it made obvious.

One thing about less obvious flap info is that it allows people who might otherwise shun a book to pick it up and read it, and discover that what really matters is if a book is a good read, and not the sexual preference of the characters. I think a lot of people who are not prejudiced still won't actively choose to read a book about gay characters because they think it won't interest them or they won't be able to relate. A "sneak attack" might get them to see otherwise. Queers already know that the reverse is true, we can enjoy books about straight people. (And thank goodness too or there wouldn't be much to read!)

On the other hand, everything said in the original post rings true for me. It is very hard to find books with queer characters because so many of the books that do actually have them aren't obvious about it. So it makes it into this whole sleuthing game. Which I admit can actually be fun at times. You know, "read between the lines and interpret the clues of book blurbs successfully to find the hidden queers". It's always a thrill when you play the game right and get rewarded. And I think most of us have probably developed an extra sense to help us out, kinda like gaydar, but for books.

But in the end though, yes it's frustrating and daunting to have to pretty much always play that game. Unless you're dealing with a publisher who specializes in queer fiction. And of those, most have very little to no queer speculative fiction.

So I guess in answer to the main question, for me it's been word of mouth (from a friend, from a booklist, from a blog) or cover copy sleuthing. Of the two I think I've found more via sleuthing actually. Even when I've tried to look for lists online, they seem to be pretty lacking. Many times they include books with any queer character, even minor ones. And that's generally not what I'm looking for when I'm looking. Or they include a lot of badly written books because they have queer characters, but that hardly makes them worth reading. And then of course, we all have our own tastes as to what we enjoy, further limiting our means for finding new reading material. I'd rather read a book with straight characters that is my type of book than to trudge through a book with lesbian characters that isn't.
Rob Munnelly
31. RobMRobM
This is not a comment about flaps but about the main subject of these posts. Has anyone read the Lord John stories from Diana Gabaldon?

I've read two of the novellas (one in the Legends II collection by Silverberg, one in the recent Warriors collection by Martin and Dozois); have not yet read any of the 2 or 3 novels. The novellas were good - focus on a brilliant homosexual British army officer in Revolutionary War times. Compelling and interesting main character who has to deal with issues of finding love at a time when such things dared not speak its name. The two stories I read are more historical novel/action/social manners genre than SFF although they tie into Gabaldon's Outlander series, which centers on a time travel conceit.
dwndrgn
32. SMD
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned this yet. A great place to look is the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for novels and short fiction. Not only are the short lists filled with LGBT SF/F, but the lists also show you how many publishings are dealing in the stuff. There are a lot out there; some are more on the romantic or erotic side, and others are producing SF/F with a more mainstream or literary flair.

So, yeah. That's where I've found most of the LGBT SF/F I've enjoyed.
Nic Castillo
33. NicNac
Sadly enough, I've never even considered this genre (and I'm gay!). Needless to say, I'll be hunting down some of the books you've mentioned. :D
Jeff Kozzi
34. kozzi24
I think the idea of the blirb is to sell books. Publishers are aware that the gay reference will dissuade more straight buyers than encourage sales to gay buyers.
One recent excellent gay SFF title is the anthology Things We Are Not from M-Brane Science Fiction.
dwndrgn
36. Nici McCown
Thank you so much for this series, it's such a valuable resource for me! I work at Bookshop Santa Cruz, and I have a good amount of control over the SFF section. I always try to highlight SF&F that addresses queer issues in positive and nuanced ways--especially near Pride. I'm always frustrated by how hard it is to identify wonderful new GBLT titles from publisher marketing.

I read A Companion to Wolves, and loved most of it. However, there were some scenes that felt a lot like rape. I'm fine with explicit gay sex, in fact I really enjoy it, but the whole having to have sex with someone you really dislike turned my stomach and made me worry about hand-selling the title. When promoting it in the store, I felt like I had to mention that aspect just like the way I feel I need to mention intense violence in any form when writing shelf-talkers.

When it comes to pick out books to read, word of mouth and internet research really helps for me. I'm proud to say that I'm the source for many people’s suggestions and I'd encourage anyone to talk to their local booksellers. Recommendations developed in a real-life conversation about what you like are usually the BEST. I have several customer/friends who love the genre and talking to them about what they've read and enjoyed always puts great titles on my horizon.


Thanks again!
dwndrgn
38. enkelien
I have great gaydar when it comes to finding queer content. Pro-tip: TORSOS!

But in all seriousness, I've certainly noticed the straight-washing of queer fiction and been alternately amused and dismayed by it. It will never stop being funny though, that the Japanese translation of Swordspoint bills it on the back cover as the story of "legendary swordsman Richard St. Vier and his bishounen boyfriend Alec!" Oh, ::headdesk:: In a way, that's nearly as misleading as the English flap-copy that omits reference to homosexuality entirely -- but they're both playing to their perceived audiences, and in Japan there is a huge market for m/m content.

Looking at who blurbed something is helpful, but has led me astray many times. Lynn Flewelling blurbed Carol Berg's Transformation series (or whatever it's called), which features two male leads who have intense chemistry for the whole book, but each get a two-dimensional, pasted-on female love interest at the end. Fuck that noise.
Brit Mandelo
39. BritMandelo
@enkelien

Oh, wow - I hadn't heard the Japanese flap-copy. You're right, that's both amusing and dismaying.
Michael Burke
40. Ludon
Another reason, which seems to have been overlooked in the comments, is the problem of getting books with gay material into the stores and libraries. Today we do have the national book sellers and the on line shops like Amazon which can set their own course, but when I was a kid the individual bookstore was more common than the chain store. The owner of the local store knew where the powers were in their area (the churches) and feared doing battle with them. When maybe 80% of your customer base attends a church or at least claims to be part of a congregation, a few words from the pulpit can do a lot of damage. If the publishers wanted to get their books into as many stores as possible, they'd look to offend the least number of people. It was always a toss-up. Word could still get out about a book treating gay characters in a less than disgusting light but many times word didn't get out.

I was an AV geek in high school and that had me spending time in the school library every morning and afternoon. The librarian had gotten to know me and one afternoon she gave me a handful of books. She said "You like reading science fiction. Take these. These looked all right in the catalogue but now that I've looked over them I don't think the school board would like me having them on the shelves." While I don't remember the titles, I do remember that two of them had gay characters, one of the others had very descriptive sex scenes and the last one featured Satanic characters. Otherwise, none of them made a lasting impression on me.
Jamie Foster
41. JamieFoster
I know this is from roughly one hundred years ago (in internet terms, anyway), but I just discovered this series and was binging on its unadulterated excellence, and felt obliged to mention that the first volume of Tanya Huff's absolutely wonderful "Smoke" series has a pretty straightforward portrayal of Tony Foster's sexuality on the flap copy, since it mentions him having an "unrequited crush on the show's handsome costar, Lee Nicholas." I'll give you that Lee's gender isn't actually directly there, but "Lee" skews male, and so does "handsome," and Reader, I bought it.

I also just wanted to drop in to say that although I have no idea whether you'll even see this comment or not, my knowledge of such things being approximately nil, this series is terrific, and you've expanded my library list to even more impossible lengths.

[Edited to mention that the quote was on the flap copy. Obviously the book is specific about Tony's orientation, since there's, you know, sex and everything. *facepalm*]
Brit Mandelo
42. BritMandelo
@JamieFoster

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it. (I try to keep some track of the old stuff, too.)

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