This year and last year, Melissa Scott has curated an LGBT+ offering for Storybundle for Pride. This year’s offerings are many and varied, but there are three that stood out for me. (Well, four, but I’d already read Scott’s own Trouble and Her Friends—queer cyberpunk from the 1990s, and still really good.)
Melissa Scott’s Mighty Good Road (first published in 1990) employs a world-building conceit that other authors have used since: a railway among the stars, stations linked by permanent wormhole gates. From these stations, less reliable FTL ships head off to planets outside the “Loop,” but in the stations of the Loop, interstellar corporations have their offices, and people live and work and transship cargo.
Gwynne Heikki (known to her friends and acquaintances alike as Heikki) is a salvage operator, in business with her partner and lover. She’s approached to bid on a salvage job for a corporation on the planet where she grew up: a lighter-than-air craft carrying special cargo crashed on an inland massif, and the first salvage company the corporation hired broke contract. Heikki knows there’s something off about the contract, but the money’s good, and even if the craft went down due to sabotage or a hijacking, it’s been long enough that it shouldn’t matter to the salvage team. Heikki travels to Iadara, encountering storms and corporate politics, and discovers that there’s more to the matter than just a downed aircraft. The conspiracy that’s afoot may do more than ruin her business and her reputation: it may disrupt the Loop itself.
While some technological aspects of the world-building have aged poorly, the social aspects haven’t. Heikki’s partner is a woman, and they’re in a stable, long-term relationship. The characterisation, as usual with Scott’s work, is alive and full of nuance, and while the plot isn’t enormously complicated, it’s compelling. Mostly because one really wants to see how Heikki deals with things as they come up.
Mighty Good Road is an understated sort of science fiction novel, focused on professionalism and professional relationships, concerned with people and logistics. I really enjoyed it. (Also, trains in space. Trains in space are seldom not cool.)
A.C. Wise’s The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again is very different from Scott’s Mighty Good Road, but just as good. The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron is queer as in fuck-you, drag queens and kings, roller derby and glitter, and they’re basically superheroes with the superpower of dressing fabulously. The book comprises linked short stories, and they’re as full of humour as they are of pathos: well-characterised, with an eye for the outrageous that suits the title.
The Ultra-Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again is pretty fabulous. And fun.
Perhaps I should have expected sexuality and sensuality from Jo Graham’s Cythera, given that its title, and the name of its eponymous main character, is also one of the names of Aphrodite. Cythera reminds me a little of Jacqueline Carey’s work, lush and rich and very personal, concerned with sex as art and calling—quasi-religious calling.
Years after passing a very entertaining night with a Calpurnian captain, the eponymous Cythera is sent as an advisor to a diplomatic mission: a young man from a very modest culture is being sent to marry an Empress (and several of her daughters and granddaughters) in a marriage that is designed to secure peace and end a war. The young man in question, Hereu, has never so much as spoken to a woman before in his life, and Cythera is supposed to ease him into his new role. She has twelve days to do it.
It turns out that the captain of the ship she and Hereu are travelling on is the same captain that she spent such an entertaining night with, seven years before: a captain that Cythera has thought of often. With enemy ambushes in the way, and Hereu’s own upbringing to contend with, it seems unlikely that Cythera and the captain will chaperone a successful mission to completion. But they have to try…
…while having a good deal of sex with each other.
This is an entertaining book, and a good one. Well-characterised and easy to read, I was expecting a little more politics and a little less of the personal matters, but I still enjoyed it very well indeed.
What are you guys reading lately?
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, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It’s a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and is nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. 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.