Are we reaching some kind of critical mass this year in terms of queer content in books published by mainstream SFF imprints? Where queer people have a central role to play, and where, moreover, being queer does not end universally badly? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this year—including some novels I’ve read that aren’t published quite yet—is a banner year.
In the past, I’ve had short lists of works (outside niche presses with a romance focus) and of creators who included queer folk (who stayed alive! mostly) in their speculative fiction narratives. Every year since I discovered I was interested in this sort of thing, I’ve been adding to those lists, usually with a faint air of frustration that the selection wasn’t more varied (or in some cases, of a higher quality: it’s annoying to caveat with “it’s not all that well written, but at least it doesn’t bury its gays”). But this year is the first time I’ve come across an average of more than one new good book with at least one queer main character per month. Where things don’t end terribly badly.
This year, I’ve come across a whole eighteen new books with significant queer inclusion. (From mainstream imprints. This is important, because it means they are more likely to have bookshop distribution. People won’t necessarily have to go and specifically seek them out.) Five of them are novellas, but they’re substantial novellas. And this number represents only the new books I’ve read so far this year that represent worlds that aren’t almost entirely heterosexual. (And that aren’t genre romance. I like romance! Romance is fine. But sometimes I want other things to happen in the plot.) There may yet be one or two more. I have my fingers crossed for several—it’d be nice to have twenty-four as a number!—but that might be hoping for too much.
I have, it turns out, come across more books that include women who love women than those that include men who love men, and more of either than those that include trans characters—though there are a few. When it comes to nonbinary characters, the list is fairly short.
These books are good. They have queer main characters, for some variety of queer. And they’re here.
In no particular order, they comprise:
- Foz Meadows’s A Tyranny of Queens, sequel to An Accident of Stars, a post-colonial portal fantasy which revolves around who lives, who dies, and who tells the story.
- Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns, set in the same world as The House of Shattered Wings, taking place in a baroque and gothic Paris in the aftermath of magical war. A story of politics and betrayal and the chains you refuse.
- Ruthanna Emrys’s Winter Tide (the main character is asexual and the book is about found family), a reinterpretation of Lovecraft from the point of view of the so-called monsters.
- Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange, which is an ode to, and a love story set in, 1940s San Francisco.
- Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (tagline: lesbians in spaaaaaace), a weird and brutal and brutally inventive and intensely biological space opera.
- Sarah Fine’s The Cursed Queen, sequel to The Imposter Queen, about a young woman who discovers shocking things about herself. She has magic! She’s not who she always thought she was.
- Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars (forthcoming November from Angry Robot Books), a gloriously pulpy space opera adventure that recalls both Killjoys and The Expanse, and which may be my favourite new space opera this year, or at least tied for first place.
- R.E. Stearns’s Barbary Station (forthcoming November from Saga Press), is a story about space pirates, engineers in love, and murderous A.I. It ties with Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars for the title of my favourite new space opera.
- K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is a gloriously lush epic fantasy romance, set in a world inspired by China and Mongolia. It’s beautiful and striking and has characters who stand out.
- April Daniels’s Sovereign, sequel to Dreadnought, continues Dreadnought’s story of a superhero who also has to deal with transphobic bullshit.
- Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels is the latest novel in his Hugo-nominated Craft sequence, a caper through a split-personality city built on ghosts, with his usual interrogation of capitalism and colonialism.
- Adam Roberts’s The Real-Town Murders is a near-future locked-room murder that turns into an attempted political coup.
- Ann Leckie’s Provenance, a standalone novel in the same universe as her Imperial Radch trilogy, which combines comedy-of-manners with political caper and coming-of-age adventure.
- Melissa Caruso’s The Tethered Mage is a fantasy adventure set in a Venice-like city that may be on the brink of war.
- J.Y. Yang’s justly lauded The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, magnificent fantasy novellas in a rich and complex world.
- Ellen Kushner et al’s Tremontaine: Season One, the serial prequel to Kushner’s famous Riverside series.
The following novels also have nonbinary characters in various degrees of prominence: Ann Leckie’s Provenance, Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull, Corey J. White’s Killing Gravity, R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, J.Y. Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune, and Foz Meadows’s A Tyranny of Queens.
I find this development promising. Especially since several of these novels include queer characters who aren’t white. I want to see inclusive speculative fiction, and I’m glad to have evidence that I’m far from the only one.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.