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Bogi Takács

QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

In this ongoing survey of QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics, I want to try to go back to the very firsts—even risking the possibility that those works have not aged well. The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You was, to my knowledge, the first English-language speculative book that featured neopronouns: gender pronouns that are distinct from he, she, or singular they. It is a book that is unique in another respect as well: it was a massive self-publishing success, which was almost entirely unheard of in the 1970s when it first appeared.

The book was originally published under the title The Comforter: A Mystical Fantasy by Evan Press in Berkeley in 1971, then republished by Dorothy Bryant’s own Ata Press, until it was picked up by Random House in 1976. (I could not find out much about Evan Press; this might have been an earlier name for Ata Press as well. Interestingly, Edvige Giunta’s monograph on Italian American women writers points out that Italian American women like Bryant turned to self-publishing early on due to a preexistent cultural tradition.) The book is still in print and seems to have a following; for this review, I read a copy of the 1988 printing.

The novel begins with a detailed murder scene of a naked woman; the murder is committed by the protagonist, an up-and-coming Anglo-American male writer. (From here on, I’ll call him “Protagonist” with a capital P.) The Protagonist attempts to flee from justice, but after a mysterious event, finds himself on an island inhabited by “the kin of Ata”—a calm, quiet people of various races. Here, he experiences an entirely different way of life, and eventually achieves a spiritual awakening. But can he stay there forever?

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Up the Walls of the World by James Tiptree, Jr.

James Tiptree, Jr. (also known as Alice Sheldon and Raccoona Sheldon) is primarily known for gender-bending, boundary-pushing work in short-form SFF—but Tiptree was also a poet, as well as a novelist with two published novels. My Patreon backers voted to pick Tiptree’s first novel, Up the Walls of the World, for me to read and review this week!

But first, a note: Readers voted on this book and I wrote this review before the current controversy related to the end of Tiptree’s life, which involved a murder-suicide and/or suicide pact. The Tiptree Award is currently in the process of being renamed (a decision I support—and I also don’t think awards should be named after specific people or novels in general, either). I feel that the review contributes to the overall discussion of Tiptree’s contributions to the genre, focused on a topic that is perhaps more easily approachable: critiques of Tiptree’s own published work; so I haven’t changed the column besides adding this note and changing the name of the award at the end.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: A, A′ [A, A Prime] by Moto Hagio, Translated by Rachel Thorn

Sometimes I start reading an older book, and it turns out to have QUILTBAG+ themes that no one mentioned. Over a year into doing the QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics reviews column—a lot of spreadsheeting and gathering books later—this still keeps on happening. I’m starting to wonder if it will ever be possible to run out of eligible work to review. And I don’t mean “this book has a possibly queer couple in the background” moments—I just came across a science fiction graphic novel with an intersex main character (!), originally published in 1984 and translated to English in 1997.

A, A′ [also written as A, A Prime] is a one-volume manga by Moto Hagio, one of the groundbreaking classic creators of shōjo manga, Japanese comics aimed at teenage girls. The book has three long chapters, which were originally published in serialized form both in Japanese and in English. I will discuss the loosely connected chapters separately.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Imago by Octavia E. Butler

Imago is the third and final volume of Xenogenesis, Octavia E. Butler’s groundbreaking science fiction trilogy about alien contact and its consequences. I have already reviewed the first and second books, and now it is time to finish the series! I will also conclude this set of reviews by quoting from Butler’s own reflections on the trilogy, and taking a brief look at how it influenced her later work.

In Imago, the merging of humans with the alien Oankali, and the creation of “constructs” (Oankali-human hybrids) reaches a new stage. After the appearance of female and then male constructs—in this order—the time has come for the emergence of constructs who share the Oankali third sex, ooloi. Ooloi are neither men nor women, but have unique reproductive characteristics and a biological aptitude for healing and genetic manipulation. Oankali only develop their sex upon puberty, and this is true of constructs as well; though in the previous volume, we have seen that some Oankali and constructs both often have an idea of their future sex, and can influence it to an extent.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler

Usually when trilogies feature a coming of age story, it takes place (or at least begins) in the first book. The young, plucky hero goes through various trials to mature into an adult… and in speculative fiction, often saves the world in the process. Then in the following volumes, we see where things go from there. Adulthood Rites, and the whole of Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, turns this typical plotline upside down. In the first volume, Dawn—which I previously reviewed in this column—humans find themselves in a first contact situation with the extraterrestrial Oankali, and the book ends just as the Oankali-human coexistence on Earth is becoming a reality.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

Today we’ll start discussing our second trilogy for the summer: Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis, also published as Lilith’s Brood. (The first trilogy featured was Daniel Heath Justice’s The Way of Thorn and Thunder.) Even though there have been a variety of science fiction books with three- or more-gendered aliens before this novel, Dawn—originally published in 1987—is one of the most prominent works to feature this trope before the current wave of trans speculative fiction.

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The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice (Part 3)

So far in this column, I’ve already reviewed the first and second parts of The Way of Thorn and Thunder, and now we’re getting to the finale. I chose to review this book in three parts because it was originally published as three separate books, though I read the more recent re-release, which molds the trilogy into a one-book whole that is around 600 large-format pages long. Whew!

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice (Part 2)

In my previous column I reviewed the first third of The Way of Thorn and Thunder, Daniel Heath Justice’s massive epic fantasy novel originally published in three volumes. Now I will be discussing the section roughly corresponding to the second volume, Wyrwood, that comprises Cycles Three and Four in the new edition.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice (Part 1)

Daniel Heath Justice’s Indigenous epic fantasy trilogy The Way of Thorn and Thunder (The Kynship Chronicles) was originally published between 2005 and 2007 by Kegedonce Press, in three separate volumes: Kynship, Wyrwood, and Dreyd. The revised and expanded 2011 reissue from the University of New Mexico Press appeared in one huge omnibus volume: one novel now divided into seven cycles. I only have the re-release, but I decided to review it in three installments roughly corresponding to the original three volumes—there is simply too much material otherwise to fit into one of my standard-size columns.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: A Matter of Oaths by Helen S. Wright

A Matter of Oaths is Helen S. Wright’s first and—so far—only novel, originally published in 1988 and re-released in 2017. It is a traditional space opera book with the mindbending, baroque elements characteristic of 1980s SF, but also with very clear queer themes: Two of the male protagonists and point of view characters are in a relationship with each other, and there are other queer characters as well. The gay elements are very matter-of-fact, and both clearly spelled out and treated as completely ordinary in the setting. A Matter of Oaths is not an issue book of any kind, but rather something that’s very much in demand right now: a space adventure with characters who just happen to be queer.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

This week I’m reviewing the first book that was picked by my Patreon supporters! I have been accumulating eligible books for the QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics series at a steady rate at local library book sales, and at this point I have a small heap of them. (One of the good things about reading classic SFF is that the books can be more affordable!) So I asked people to vote, and they picked Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring. This makes her the first author featured to be in my column twice: my first review was of her short story collection Skin Folk.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Fireflood and Other Stories by Vonda N. McIntyre

I initially picked up Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1979 collection Fireflood and Other Stories—the author’s first—because it included a novella featuring magical spaceship pilots, one of my favorite themes. I was surprised to find engagements with shifting gender and sex, polyamorous families, and thoughtful, emotionally resonant discussions of embodiment and shape change. In retrospect, this should not have been as surprising, because McIntyre’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel Dreamsnake was many readers’ first introduction to polyamory in fiction. (Samuel Delany’s Babel-17, which I previously covered, was another common entry point from the same era). Fireflood contains three novellas and a number of short stories, including the novella which was later expanded into Dreamsnake.

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Hybrid Child by Mariko Ōhara

Hybrid Child by Mariko Ōhara is one of the few Japanese science fiction novels by a woman author that have been translated to English. It was originally published in 1990 and won the Seiun award the next year. The Seiun is the longest-lived and most prestigious Japanese SFF award; I’ve seen it called “the Japanese Nebula” because “seiun” means ‘nebula,’ but it’s more similar to the Hugo in that it’s an audience-voted award.

The translation (by Jodie Beck) just came out earlier this year, in the Parallel Futures series published by the University of Minnesota Press and edited by Thomas Lamarre and Takayuki Tatsumi. There aren’t that many university presses that have ongoing speculative fiction series, and I was intrigued by the previous starter volume of Parallel Futures: The Sacred Era by Yoshio Aramaki, even as I had some issues with it. So I picked up Hybrid Child too, and I was very surprised to find that it had very explicit transgender themes. In this novel, characters change gender, beings affect each other’s genders when they merge, and one character performs impromptu top surgery on herself due to dysphoria. There is also various moments of gender confusion in the narrative, even related to cisgender people—one of the early scenes features a woman general mistaken for a man until she shows up in person, for example. Let’s dive in!

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QUILTBAG+ Speculative Classics: Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre

Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre is considered one of the major works of 20th century Haitian literature—when I picked up the new English translation by Kaiama L. Glover, however, I wasn’t aware that I would also be able to include it in my QUILTBAG+ SFF Classics column. Yet the title character, Hadriana, displays attraction to people regardless of gender, and at a key point in the novel, she describes her sexual awakening with another young woman. This wasn’t the book I had been planning on reviewing this week, but I was very happy that it fit into the column.

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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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