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Alex Brown

Queers! In! SPAAAAAACE!!! Emily Skrutskie’s Hullmetal Girls

Aisha Un-Haad is out of options. Her parents are dead, her brother is dying of a terrible disease, and her sister is about to start working in the dangerous dyeworks. Without money, their lives will get exponentially worse. Aisha does the only thing she can: surrender her freedom to become a mechanically enhanced soldier. Called Scelas, they are living weapons for the oppressive regime that rules the fleet of generation ships on which the last humans live.

Key Tanaka has little memory of her life before becoming a Scela or what drove her to undergo the life-threatening procedure. Aisha wants to protect her family, and Key to unlock her missing memories. In order to do that they and their teammates, willful Praava and awkward Woojin, must join the ranks of the Scela elite. But what happens when they’re ordered to kill, maim, and conspire against citizens at the behest of a corrupt leadership? Body horror, issues of consent, and body dysmorphia abound in this tense novel.

[“I was human. You’re better now, the exo insists.”]

What Is, What Could Be, What Should Be: Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah

After nuclear war and global instability, Green City seems like a utopia, a place of hope and growth in the middle of a vast Southwest Asian desert. When a Virus decimates the female population, the Agency creates Perpetuation Bureau to repopulate the region. Men hold all the power, but must share a Wife with up to five other men. Women are stripped of their rights and made into “domestic scientists” whose sole purpose is to breed with their Husbands. The Bureau assigns marriages, monitors women’s fertility, and executes anyone who resists.

Not long after the establishment of this patriarchal authoritarianism, two women disappear from Green City. In its underground tunnels they build the Panah, a secret community of women who refuse to be Wives. They survive through a kind of prostitution, offering powerful men not duty-bound sex but chaste intimacy. Sabine hates working with Clients and carries so much fear of being assaulted by them that she barely sleeps. On her way home from a Client she passes out on the street in severe pain and ends up in the hospital. Lin, the woman who runs the Panah, begs for help from Reuben Faro, a high-ranking man in the Agency who also happens to be her lover. A kindly male doctor keeps Sabine alive, but the longer she stays in the hospital, the more precarious her situation—and the future of the Panah—becomes.

[“Remember, we only survive because of the rules we’ve made, Sabine.”]

Science Fiction and Cultural Identity: Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti Series

One evening, Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib runs away from home. She is a teenager and Himba, a people from southwestern Africa. They believe in staying close to their native land and that women should cover their bodies and hair in otjize, a mixture primarily comprised of “sweet smelling red clay.” Otjize in hand, Binti climbs aboard a living spaceship called the Third Fish as it heads off to Oozma University. Most of the passengers are Khoush, the dominant people in Binti’s country, and they look down on the Himba. But Binti is the first of her kind to be accepted into the prestigious uni and won’t let anything stand in her way. That is, until the Meduse, a jellyfish-like alien species engaged in a centuries-old war with the Khoush, attack the ship. Binti’s people didn’t start this war, but she may be the one to end it.

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Pull List: Queering Canon with Doctor Aphra

Hey you! Yeah, you! Do you love Star Wars? Are you eager to explore the non-Skywalker part of the EU? Do you wanna read stories starring a badass queer woman of color? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then it’s time you picked up Doctor Aphra. She’s cool, she’s tough, and she can out maneuver anyone at anytime. Aphra will flirt until you swoon, then pick your pocket. Oh yes, my friend, you’re gonna love this comic.

[“Evil’s just a measure of how much your choices take away other people’s.”]

Impractical Magic: Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang

Mila Flores is miserable. She’s an outcast at school because she’s fat, grumpy, and Mexican American in a town of skinny white people. She abides by Wicca instead of Christianity, much to the chagrin of her community. She is drowning in a sea of unrequited love for a boy who barely notices her. But mostly she’s miserable because her best friend Riley is dead. It was not, she’ll have you know, a suicide, no matter what the incompetent police say. They also declared the hangings of two other schoolmates, June and Dayton, to be suicides as well, despite the suspicious circumstances. No, someone killed Riley, and Mila is going to find out who no matter what it takes. Especially if that “whatever” means raising her BFF from the dead.

[“Ry, you died. You’ve been dead for almost an entire week.”]

Sorry to Bother You Is This Summer’s Must-See Dystopian Satire

What Get Out is to horror, Sorry To Bother You is to satire. Writer and director Boots Riley has put together a deliriously punk rock and intensely Oakland film with a bark as vicious as its bite: It’s an exhilarating dystopian work of science fiction, a scathing critique of American ideals, and a love song to the Bay Area. Riley is about as subtle as a baseball bat to the face, but that made me love the movie even more.

[“Stick To The Script”]

Colonizers’ Comeuppance: Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry

Science fiction and fantasy blur together in this rolicking space opera about a half-unicorn and a down-on-her-luck spaceship captain. In the future, the US, India, and Oceania band together out of the ashes of a ruined Earth to form the Reason. With the help of omniscient alien beings called the Pymmie, Reasoners launch generation ships into space and “discover” the Bala, alien beings that inspired our mythological creatures. Unicorns, fauns, dryads, necromancers, and more inhabit the worlds around Earth… that is, until Reason colonizes the hell out of them.

Technically, Gary Cobalt is only half-unicorn, but it’s enough to send him to a harvest center after he’s released from prison on a murder rap. He escapes the clutches of Reason with the help of Jenny Perata, his nemesis who once held him captive and used his horn to power his ship’s faster-than-light drive. They’re joined by her cantankerous co-pilot, Cowboy Jim, and rebellious roustabout, Ricky Tang. Jenny and Gary have plans of their own, but when the Sisters of the Supersymmetrical Axion conscript them into making a delivery come hell or high water, they have no choice but to comply. They better get those boxes to the Century Summit before the Pymmie return to judge humanity … or else!

[“Humans were never more persistent than when they were in the wrong.”]

Girls Rule In This Season’s New Young Adult Fiction

SO. MUCH. SCIENCE FICTION. There must be something in the water, because science fiction is crawling out of the woodwork this season. There’s some great fantasy as well, but space is apparently where it’s at right now. Luckily, it’s not just the same old, same old, but a lot of cool premises and tons of racial, gender, and sexual diversity.

Something not on my list but high on yours? Share with the class down in the comments.

Books marked with an asterisk will be reviewed on Tor.com in the coming months.

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Gods, Monsters, and Wicked Men: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

When the sea levels rose and the world was flooded, the Diné built a wall around what once was the Navajo reservation, now called Dinétah. As the Fifth World was drowned by the Big Water and the Sixth World rose up, so too did creatures from Diné legend. That wall keeps enemies out, but monsters in. Which is where Maggie Hoskie comes in. She takes on the monsters terrorizing her people using her clan powers, the speed of Honágháahnii (“one walks around”) and the killing prowess of K’aahanáanii (“living arrow”). When we first meet Maggie, she’s stuck in stasis. Abandoned by the man she loved and her only family dead, she’s alone and pretending not to be lonely. She’s hired to rescue a young girl and finds instead a whole new breed of monster.

Maggie cautiously accepts the help of Kai Arviso, the grandson of Tah, the only person in the whole of Dinétah who cares for her, and the two head off to investigate. Kai is a healer and medicine man, but something else, something Maggie can’t quite put her finger on. Soon, enemies, mortal and immortal alike, are hemming in on all sides, and Maggie and Kai are dragged in over their heads. Maggie’s survival depends on great sacrifice. She must fight for her life, literally, to save a world that has shunned her.

[“But I’m no hero. I’m more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy.”]

A Different Shade of Magic: Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Welcome to Witchmark, C.L. Polk’s masterful debut about a magical Edwardian-esque world still reeling from a deadly world war. One of those battlefield survivors is Dr. Miles Singer. In the war he experienced terrible acts of violence, and perpetrated a few of his own. Now back home, he treats injured veterans at a local hospital. Did I say treat? I meant cure. With magic. Miles is a healer, although no one is supposed to know. Years before, he was a recalcitrant Secondary, a second-class mage destined to be magically bound to his magically superior sister. Grace is a Storm-Singer and she and the other elite mages use magic to keep Aeland temperate and fertile. But Miles ran away, escaped from a live of captivity and servitude. And he might have remained undiscovered if Nick Elliot hadn’t died in his arms.

Something terrible is driving vets to kill their loved ones, but what does it have to do with imprisoned witches and Nick’s bizarre travel habits? All of a sudden Miles is yanked into a murder mystery turned national conspiracy, with his very identity at stake. Helping him is Tristan Hunter, a charming, enigmatic man who, like Miles, is far more than he lets on. As the two men grow closer, Miles’ family threatens to rip them apart. In order to save the world, he might just have to destroy it.

[“I wanted to be free.”]

Falling in Love with the Enemy: Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez

When she was little, Lady Branwen’s life was blown apart when her parents were murdered by Kernyv raiders. The king and queen took her in and raised her as one of their own. Now at nineteen, she a lady-in-waiting to her cousin Princess Eseult. Essy is fiesty yet fragile, a girl determined to live a life she chooses even if it means disregarding all her responsibilities. Branny, on the other hand, is content to be in her cousin’s shadow, but beneath her wallflower attitude is a fire waiting to be lit. The boy with the match is Tristan, a Kernyvman who washes up on Iveriu’s shore. After Branwen saves his life, the truth of his past comes out and threatens the passion welling up between them.

For years, longer than anyone can remember, Kernyv and Iveriu have been enemies, but Tristan’s arrival and the message he brings from his king offer a chance at peace. Yet when Essy insists on marrying for love rather than for political control, as is her duty as princess, the fate of two nations is put at risk. All the while, ancient magic calls to Branny, pushing her to discover the depth and breadth of her gods-given abilities. The gods have a vested interest in her and her true love, but it may not be for the reason she thinks. As a healer and liaison between humans and the Land, Branwen is destined to heal anything and everything from people to the monarchy to her own damaged heart. If Branwen can’t get Essy to play her part—and keep Tristan alive long enough to make it back to Kernyv—all hope is lost.

[“Not you without me, not me without you.”]

“Death Cannot Tear Us Apart”: Brooklyn Brujas Series by Zoraida Córdova

Do you love engaging characters, heart-pounding plots, intriguing worldbuilding, and compelling narratives? Are you eager for supernatural suspense with a Latinx twist? Then I’m pleased to introduce you to Labyrinth Lost and Bruja Born, Zoraida Córdova’s firecracker of a young adult fantasy series. Brooklyn Brujas features the three magically-inclined Mortiz sisters, cataclysmic supernatural happenings, and a whole lotta enticing Latinx influence.

[“Destroy the heart and make the sacrifice.”]

The Queer Webcomics Revolution

Webcomics are full of untamed creativity, experimental stories, and wholly unique casts, not to mention creators ready and willing to tackle subjects generally avoided by the mainstream. A few webcomics have made the transition to print (the big one in recent years is, of course, Nimona), but most stay online. The freedom a creator has online to do whatever they want doesn’t even come close to Image’s creator-friendly environment. Which is why I love webcomics so much.

I’ve been dying to do a webcomics edition of Pull List for ages, and the combination of Pride Month and needing a break from Big Two comics finally gave me a good excuse. Trouble is, there are so many great webcomics out there that it was impossible to choose just one or two to talk about. After winnowing my very long webcomics library down by series that have recently updated (as in not sporadically or on hiatus) and are not being published in print by major or small/indie presses (excluding self-pub), I offer you a list of some of my current favorite queer SFF webcomics While a few are managed by working comics creators or artists, most are from newbies or non-professionals. Some series are fairly new, others have longer running arcs, but all offer something mainstream comics don’t: a broad range of queer and racially/ethnically diverse characters written and illustrated by creators just as varied.

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Extraordinary ExtraOrdinaries: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

As college students, Victor Vale and Eliot Cardale were close friends with a competitive streak and an undercurrent of disapproval and frustration. They were friends more because the complemented each other in ways no one else could rather than any real affection. For their culminating project, they focus their research on EOs, ExtraOrdinary people with superhuman abilities. Most people are skeptical of the existence of EOs, and so are they until the science starts to make sense. Soon enough, they unlock the secret to becoming an EO, and everything goes south. By the time they are both powered up, a bunch of people are dead, Eli has disappeared, and Victor is locked away in prison.

Ten years later, Victor breaks free with the help of his supremely unlucky cellmate Mitch. While Victor spent the last decade honing his painful powers, Eli used his to kill other EOs. With the help of Serena, a mind-controlling EO, Eli uses the police to hunt down rogue EOs, including Serena’s twelve-year-old sister Sydney. After a botched murder attempt, Sydney escapes into the night and unexpectedly runs straight into Victor’s arms. Victor wants revenge on Eli, and when he encounters Sydney, a plan percolates. As the nemeses consolidate power and prepare for the final strike, everyone else is swept up in their wake.

[“ExtraOrdinary. The word that started – ruined, changed – everything.”]

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