Tor.com content by

Bogi Takács

QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Nearly Roadkill by Caitlin Sullivan and Kate Bornstein

Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure by Caitlin Sullivan and Kate Bornstein is a novel that is not widely known today; at the time I’m writing this column it has only six reviews on Goodreads. In some ways this is understandable. Published in 1998, Nearly Roadkill is a cyberpunk adventure and erotic romance set in a future so near, it is in many aspects indistinguishable from the late 1990s. But if we can get past the technical details of an almost entirely text-only internet, where the term “website” still needs to be laboriously explained, we find some of the most groundbreaking discussions about gender and sexuality in speculative fiction—discussions that are still just as powerful as when they were written.

This is no accident: Nearly Roadkill is, as far as I’m aware, the first speculative fiction novel with trans characters (co-)written by a trans author.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 is one of the early, short novels of SFWA Grand Master Samuel R. Delany, first published in 1966 and winning the Nebula Award the following year. Sexuality—including various queer and/or polyamorous sexualities—is one of Delany’s main themes, but people more commonly discuss this topic in relation to his later works even though it is present very early on. Several readers have asked me to review Babel-17, a novel which is possibly one of the earliest mainstream SFF works with casual queer inclusion—including bisexual inclusion, which is still comparatively rare.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Mindscape by Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston’s debut novel Mindscape, published in 2006, won the Carl Brandon Parallax Award and was shortlisted for both the Tiptree and Philip K. Dick awards. It’s also a very explicitly queer book by a queer author, and its Afrofuturist approach pulls no punches. I was surprised that, given all this, there still seems to be relatively little discussion of Mindscape. I can’t speculate whether this is because the book was released by a small publisher (Aqueduct), or if it was ahead of its time, or some other possible reason—but I can provide my own thoughts about the novel, here. I enjoyed it and felt it was original and groundbreaking—but I also had some difficulty with the work, especially with its transgender aspects.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Empress of Earth by Melissa Scott

In this instalment of the QUILTBAG+ SFF Classics series, we reach the final volume of Melissa Scott’s science-fantasy trilogy The Roads of Heaven: The Empress of Earth. As I mentioned in the previous two reviews (Five-Twelfths of Heaven and Silence in Solitude), this book exists in two considerably different variants, because the author extensively revised it 26 years after its original publication.

For this column, I have read both versions in order to compare them. If you are confused which version you have, an easy way to tell them apart without any spoilers is to search the ebook for the string “Ciel”—this minor character only exists in the newer release. If you have a print book, you have the original text. (I am very grateful to the author, who helped me sort out the versions after I mistakenly purchased two copies of the old version, instead of one of each.)

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Silence in Solitude by Melissa Scott

Silence in Solitude is the second volume of Melissa Scott’s The Roads of Heaven trilogy, the first volume of which I reviewed in my last column. This is one of the few early science fiction series built around queer characters, published at a time when most books with QUILTBAG+ themes were standalone releases. The adventures of space pilot Silence Leigh and her two husbands continue, but the story doesn’t quite go where I would have expected it to go… In order to find an ancient tome that could help the characters reach the long-lost, mythical Earth, they need to rescue a planetary governor’s daughter from the heart of the empire.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Five-Twelfths of Heaven by Melissa Scott

Melissa Scott is one of the biggest names in queer SFF, having won multiple Lambda Awards (with even more nominations), a Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and more. Yet I feel that her writing is not as well known today as that of more recent authors, despite her uncommonly wide range: she has written books with a variety of speculative themes, from cyberpunk to space adventures to fantasy police procedurals. She is also still actively working, and she even has a Patreon where she posts serial fiction related to one of her fantasy series, Astreiant—recently covered here on Tor.com in Liz Bourke’s column.

Out of Scott’s oeuvre, I chose Five-Twelfths of Heaven to start with, for multiple reasons. First, it is one of the rare works of classic queer SFF that are not standalone books—it’s the first volume of a trilogy titled The Roads of Heaven. Second, it makes use of one of my personal favorite themes: magical spaceflight. Third, this trilogy hasn’t been reviewed on Tor.com yet, even though many of Melissa Scott’s other books have been.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk

Nalo Hopkinson’s “Fisherman” was the first trans story I ever read where the trans character wasn’t an extraterrestrial or the product of futuristic biotechnology. The story made a significant impression on me, and so it occurred to me to take a look at Skin Folk, the collection where it first appeared.

Nalo Hopkinson is a cis queer Afro-Caribbean writer of speculative fiction who has lived in Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Canada, and is currently living on the West Coast of the U.S. Besides many novels, she has had multiple short story collections published, most recently Falling in Love with Hominids—while this book, published in 2015, is too recent for me to include in this column, I would like to warmly recommend it. Skin Folk was Hopkinson’s first collection, yet it doesn’t come across as immature—the stories are confident, written with a strong and determined voice.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo

Johanna Sinisalo’s Tiptree Award-winning Troll: A Love Story (also available in the U.K. as Not Before Sundown), translated from the Finnish by Herbert Lomas, is one of the earliest works of translated QUILTBAG+ speculative fiction that I could find, originally published in 2000. I enjoy Finnish SFF, and read it whenever I can both in English and in Hungarian translation. So I was especially looking forward to reading this novel—but in the end, it didn’t win me over.

In Troll, Angel, a young, gay photographer and designer rescues a strange male creature from the hands of teenage louts in a scene reminiscent of a gay bashing. Angel takes the dark, furry creature home and realizes that it is a juvenile troll, a being from Finnish mythology. The troll indisputably exists in the novel’s present-day setting, albeit as a rare animal that was assumed to be fictional until recently.

[This sounds like a setup for classic urban fantasy, but instead, Troll offers something else…]

QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Unquenchable Fire by Rachel Pollack

Unquenchable Fire is an unconventional contemporary fantasy novel, one that pushes against the limits of narrative and genre. It won the Clarke Award in 1989, it has been reprinted in the prestigious SF Masterworks series, and it is also one of the earliest major speculative novels by a trans woman author.

Rachel Pollack is probably just as well known for her nonfiction as her fiction, if not better; she is a prolific author and lecturer on occult topics, especially the Tarot and other forms of divination. She has had over forty books published, and she is also known as a comic book writer and a visual artist. Pollack is still actively writing; her latest fantasy book The Fissure King came out just last year. Many younger trans writers cite her as an influence, and the recent trans SFF anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett was dedicated to her.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Woman Who Loved the Moon by Elizabeth A. Lynn

I started the QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics series with books I really enjoyed, but I want to cover as much terrain as possible, and be honest about what did or did not age well. I expected to likewise enjoy The Woman Who Loved the Moon, Elizabeth A. Lynn’s first short story collection—with the title story a World Fantasy Award winner in 1980. I’d heard good things about this book, and while it has been long since out of print, it is generally recognized as a queer classic.

I had mixed feelings. I felt this book was uneven (even beyond the unevenness that can be expected from a collection). While the secondary-world, epic fantasy stories were striking and memorable, the science fiction fell short in unexpected ways.

[The collection starts on a high note…]

QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories by Craig Laurance Gidney

Craig Laurance Gidney has been writing queer Black speculative fiction for about two decades now, with two adult short story collections out (Sea, Swallow Me from 2008, and the 2014 Skin Deep Magic) and a young adult novel (Bereft, 2013). He writes primarily dark fantasy, weird fiction and horror, with a finely-crafted literary touch. I have previously read and enjoyed Skin Deep Magic and Bereft, and his most recent work: his chapbook The Nectar of Nightmares was given an ebook release last month. For this installment of the QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics reviews series, I was happy to go back to his first collection, which was new to me.

A 2008 book also brings us nearer to the present than the titles we’ve previously covered, and almost to the cutoff of 2010. This choice has its own challenges, especially since many of the stories feature contemporary settings. Will this make them more relatable, or just a little bit strange?

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter

In the last installment of the QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics series, we discussed The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez, recently rereleased in a 25th anniversary edition. This week, we will tackle a book that hasn’t yet gotten a rerelease, and despite accolades and a steady trickle of reviewers rediscovering it over time, is still conspicuously missing from bookstore shelves: Raphael Carter’s The Fortunate Fall.

Raphael Carter was one of the earliest bloggers, maintaining the Honeyguide Web Log from 1998 to 2002, but despite this, it can be remarkably difficult to find personal information about zir. (Carter doesn’t have a current public online presence, but in the early 2000s, zie was using zie / zir / zirs / zirself pronouns.)

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

Welcome to our new series, which will focus on reviewing QUILTBAG+ classics of speculative fiction—you can read the full introduction here. Today, we will begin by taking a look at a vampire novel with a time span ranging from slavery in the American South to the science fictional future: The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez.

The Gilda Stories is a Black / Indigenous lesbian vampire novel from 1991; it has recently seen its twenty-fifth anniversary reissue, in an expanded form. Gilda, the vampire heroine of the novel, also appears in a number of standalone short stories—I first came across a Gilda story when it was reprinted in one of the Heiresses of Russ lesbian SFF year’s best anthologies. (Specifically, the 2013 volume edited by Tenea D. Johnson and Steve Berman.)

Gilda is a fascinating character: she uses her superhuman strength and quasi-magical powers to support humans and fight for them, and also to build and defend her vampire family. Despite the grim subject matter, this is a very comforting book. Several of the vampires are genuinely kind—which is even more striking if you consider that the novel was written and published well before the trend of humanized vampires became widely popular. But where did this kindness come from?

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Un-suppressing Minority Writing

In this series of columns, I will review classics of QUILTBAG+ speculative fiction—often out of print, little-known and seldom discussed. Even novels which were acclaimed in their day are frequently ignored now, creating the false impression that all QUILTBAG+ SFF is very recent.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, QUILTBAG+ is a handy acronym of Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual / Aromantic / Agender, Gay and a plus sign indicating further expansion. I find that it is easier to spell and remember than other variants of the acronym like LBGTQIA+.

Before we move on to specific books, I want to discuss exactly what I’m going to be covering and why, as I feel that every decision of inclusion or exclusion has a set of underlying assumptions and aims. Being explicit about my underlying assumptions will ideally prove helpful for everyone, and it might also be revealing about speculative fiction in general.

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