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Lee Mandelo

Fiction and Excerpts [5]
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Fiction and Excerpts [5]

Queering SFF: 12 Authors, Critics, and Activists on What’s Changed in the Last Ten Years

At the start of a new decade, and as this column also reaches its tenth anniversary, I wanted to offer readers a bit of a retrospective with some folks who have been part of the broader field of queer SF/F across that same timeline. And by “a bit of a retrospective,” I mean a big ol’ roundtable discussion with some of the finest individuals our field has to offer—critics, organizers, writers, and occasionally all of those at once.

Whether you’re a convention-goer or a short fiction devotee, a home cook or a Twitter fanatic, a novel reader or a nerdy poet, you’re likely to have run into some (or all!) of our conversational partners today at one point or another. Their interests are diverse, as are their engagements with the field of Queer SF/F at large.

[Onward!]

Series: Queering SFF

Ten Years of Queering SFF: The Scream, Queen! Podcast

For the penultimate post of our ten-year retrospective, I thought I’d recommend something fresh… which also happens to (sorta-retrospectively!) cover a genre I don’t often tackle: Scream, Queen!, the horror film podcast. With the finale for season two coming up, this podcast has cemented itself as a hands-down favorite for me, because I too was a weird kid who cut their teeth on horror VHS tapes smuggled out of the Blockbuster or binged at friends’ houses. Scary stories, strange happenings, and things that go bump in the night hold a visceral, endless fascination for me—which, anecdotally, resonates with a ton of other queer folks across the world too…but I don’t often see these movies explored from that angle.

So: Scream, Queen!

[Read on!]

Series: Queering SFF

Ten Years of Queering SFF: Five Series From the Last Decade That Can’t Be Missed

I’ve had a couple of opportunities to write about whole series in this space before—for example, the four-post sets that discuss Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle and Laurie Marks’s Elemental Magic series in depth, or the longer run on “Reading Joanna Russ.” But what usually happens is something more along the lines of… I happen to review a book or two (or if we’re really lucky, each separate book in a series over several years of coverage!) in this space, on a pretty individual basis. Some of those were great and I reflect on them fondly, like Chris Moriarty’s Spin trilogy or Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder novels, but I can’t get to everything.

So, what better opportunity than our special retrospective month of QSFF am I going to have to talk about a handful of queer book series I either haven’t reviewed at all, haven’t considered as a coherent whole, or just want to give a nice solid “remember how cool this was” bump to? I can’t think of a more perfect moment. For several of these, my awesome colleagues wrote reviews at the time of publication, and in those cases I’ve included links too!

[Onward!]

Series: Queering SFF

Ten Years of Queering SFF: The Five Queer Comics I Remember Most

Since I’m feeling reflective, what with the turn of the decade coinciding with the ten-year anniversary of Queering SFF, I wanted to take a look back. Specifically, I wanted to look back at some comics that stuck with me from my reading over the past long while… things that I didn’t actually review, or talk about at length here so far. So, what five queer comics am I carrying out of this last decade with fond memories?

These comics don’t make up a definitive top five, or a best of the decade, or anything like that. In fact, how I chose the five to write about was this: I sat cross-legged in front of my comic book shelf and thought, “Which ones still give me a jolt to remember—that huh maybe I’ll read that again tonight feeling, after all this time?” And the results are as follows, from the past ten years of my queer life in words & pictures.

[Read on!]

Series: Queering SFF

Looking Back on Ten Years of Queering SFF, From 2010 to 2020

To quote a favorite writer of mine, theorist José Esteban Muñoz: “The future is queerness’s domain.” There’s something about speculation, about the natural process of thinking but what if it was different, that lends itself to queer people’s art and artistry. He goes on to say, “Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing. […] Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility of another world.”

Potentiality, futurity, and imagination set to the purpose of thinking about a better future, critiquing our present, and understanding our past. Sounds kind of like SFF as a genre, right?

The first post in the Queering SFF series went up on March 16th, 2010 and since then we’ve had almost one hundred installments—including a lot of reviews of queer SF that aren’t officially tagged in the series but are part of the ongoing conversation. We’ve talked about writing about sex, about violence and language, about comics and movies and novels (as well as the occasional outlier like a book of theory or poetry) by and about queer people. Along the way, linked series like Reading Joanna Russ and Reading Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic have potentially snagged your readerly attention, as well.

[Let’s get a little reflective.]

Series: Queering SFF

Wormholes and You: Finna by Nino Cipri

Dating a coworker then breaking up with a coworker presents one very specific, very unfortunate hitch: being forced to see each other too soon after the dissolution of your relationship, at the low-wage exhausting job both of you can’t stand but can’t survive without… and that’s how Nino Cipri’s sf novella Finna opens. Ava and Jules are both employees at the (Ikea-clone) LitenVärld store and have only been separated for three days, so the wounds are still fresh.

However, on their first shared post-breakup shift, an older woman goes missing in their store—because she stumbled through a wormhole. Which, as it turns out, happens not infrequently.

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

Breaking News (Livestream): The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper is a queer young adult novel set in the near-future, centering equally on a blooming teenage romance and the national romance of space travel. NASA and reality television program StarWatch have paired up to garner public support for the first manned trip to Mars, intended to begin a survivable colony on the planet—and Cal Lewis Jr., an up-and-coming social media journalist who recently scored an internship at BuzzFeed, has been covering it as well… until his father is selected as the twentieth and final person on the Orpheus project team to go to Mars.

Cal must uproot his entire life, give up his chance at the internship, and step onto the national stage not just as a digital journalist but as a reality-TV participant. The Shooting Stars show is designed to replicate the perfect astronaut families of the ‘60s with added manufactured drama and an updated approach to diversity, but little focus on the actual science of the mission or its purpose. Cal refuses to give up his own media coverage, to the consternation of StarWatch, while he also begins a budding relationship with Leon, the son of another astronaut. But the real problem is the ethical question of what StarWatch is up to and where their loyalties lie: with the program, with the families, or with their own ratings?

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

The Pennyroyal and the Fléchette: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

At thirteen, Anna Darvulia stumbles into a chance street-meeting with the freshly wedded Countess Elizabeth Bathory during her wedding processional—and then at sixteen, she is summoned in her role as a town healer to attend to the countess’s illegitimate son. These two encounters, rife with tension and mutual interest, lead Anna to the imposing hulk of Nadasdy keep where she works first as a scullery maid, then as a companion and more. However, Elizabeth is not the woman she appears to be on the surface. Her violent tendencies begin to spill over into every aspect of their life together—but once Anna realizes she’s trapped, it’s far too late to escape, and she must save herself through other means.

Lana Popović herself was born in Serbia and lived in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania before moving to the US, where she studied psychology and literature at Yale University, law at Boston University, and publishing and writing at Emerson College. Her background shows through in the intriguing balance of social commentary, historical context, and outright sexy horror fiction that Blood Countess strikes for. Lesbian young adult fiction set in eastern Europe is already a bit of a rarity, let alone the scary kind.

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

Enjoy Life: The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep arrives on our planet, and everything changes. It is an alien entity that seeks symbiotic communion with life on earth—human and nonhuman animals, plants, objects—and in return for sharing our embodied being, it collapses distinctions, hierarchies, and systems into one shared experience. Capitalism falls; so, of equal import, does human mortality (except in cases of extreme physical misfortune or the personally-made choice to die).

Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka is a fifty year old trans woman, married to the love of her life Deeba. Until, that is, Deeba decides to be recreated into a baby to live a whole new life: to be parented well, to give up her histories of trauma, to no longer hold the baggage of the pre-Seep past. Trina refuses to be that parent and the two, necessarily, split up—leaving Trina mourning, wounded, and unsure of the costs of a world without a connection to experiential histories.

While The Seep is a debut novel, Chana Porter is also a playwright and education activist with a number of achievements in her fields, including the receipt of an Honorable Mention for the Relentless Prize and a MacDowell fellowship. She is currently writer-in-residence at The Catastrophic Theatre in Houston.

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

For That Was What Bodies Wanted: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

There shall come three humans across the burning sands… Into the City, hoping to take down the Company, arrive three dead-alive people: Moss, Chen, and Grayson. A triad in all senses of the word, they repeat the same tasks over and over in different timelines or realities toward different outcomes—hoping, eventually, to find the right combination and destroy the Company entirely. However, these three aren’t the only ones involved in constructing potential futures, as there are foxes, and sea-monsters, and other creatures huge and small as well. The human clock has ticked to a near-stop; what comes next?

While Dead Astronauts is a companion novel to Borne—returning to the three titular dead astronauts at the city crossroads—it functions as a standalone text. There are calls to narrative moments in the other book, and images certainly, but it’s entirely possible to read as a cohesive work all on its own (so that’s what I intend to do, here). Themes and questions familiar to other novels by VanderMeer are present in this book as well: animality, technology, destructive human hubris, and an unimaginable but possible future of melding-merging-evolution that connects them all in a sometimes ugly, sometimes breathtaking dance.

[A review, spoilers.]

Frontiers of Gender: Transcendent 4, Edited by Bogi Takács

Speculative fiction allows us to ask why and how and why not about the world surrounding us—in ways that can often be used to tell unique stories about gender and society. The Transcendent series from Lethe Press (a longtime publisher of queer sff of all stripes) collects a yearly roundup of best transgender speculative short fiction in this vein: stories that push on those gendered boundaries in productive and interesting ways to tell stories for and about trans folks.

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

On the Edge of Ambition: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Jude is the exiled, mortal Queen of Faerie: married to Cardan in exchange for releasing him from his vow to her but betrayed not long after, sent to live with her siblings in the human world outside of the court. She’s left reeling and embarrassed by her own foolishness, unsure of how to regain her throne, when opportunity arrives in the form of her desperate twin sister Taryn. As it turns out, Taryn finally had enough of her awful faerie husband Locke and murdered him, but she can’t lie under glamour like Jude can so she begs her to intercede in secret.

Eager for the chance to slip back into faerie against the terms of her banishment, Jude agrees to help Taryn. However, when she returns to Elfhame it’s clear that war is brewing between her father Madoc and Cardan, resting on uncertain alliances with Undersea and the other Courts. It doesn’t take long for her to become caught up once again in the fight for succession, except this time, she’s not just defending Cardan’s throne. She’s defending her own.

[A review, spoilers.]

Of Cruel Princes and Wicked Kings: Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air Series

The third and final book in Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series, The Queen of Nothing, is due to land on bookstore shelves later this month—and we’ve all been waiting patiently (or not so patiently!) to read the conclusion to Jude and Cardan’s saga of power, desire, and manipulation. But since it’s been some time since the publications of the last two books, The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, a little refresher course on the happenings therein seems appropriate to both whet our palates and bring us up to speed again.

After all, Black has a real hand at staging conflict over multiple arenas: personal and political, familial and state, across both the realms of human and faerie. Plus, there’s all the history of lovers and liars, death and desire, children and their parents: who’s on who’s side, and why, and for how long are all complicated questions that keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

[Class is in session, let’s review.]

Portraits and Forgeries: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk is the first of the Dreamer Trilogy, a spin-off series from Stiefvater’s critically acclaimed Raven Cycle quartet. Ronan Lynch, the dreamer, returns as one of our protagonists; the other two significant narrators are a thief, Jordan Hennessy, and a hunter, Carmen Farooq-Lane. All three are driven by separate motivations, but the approaching end of the world—and a terrible nightmare that looms large in the dreamers’ worlds, plus the appearance of a dangerous deterioration of their bodies that comes if they pause dreaming—will shove them onto a collision course with each other.

Sins of the father and lies from the past pull Ronan and his brothers into a world of black market art and services, into the underbelly that Declan fought to keep Ronan free of for so long. Hennessy is searching for the solution to a dreaming problem using her own forgeries as an in-road on her quest. And Farooq-Lane, she’s hunting for dreamers themselves and their dreamed creatures, for unpleasant and deadly reasons.

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

Safe as Life: Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle

Having recently finished reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys for the second time in the course of a month—and if we’re being honest, I think it was less than a month—I feel like it’s high time for me to write about the experience. Because I loved it. I mean, I loved it. I went in suspicious, because the flap copy is truly inadequate to the books these actually are, but within a handful of chapters The Raven Boys had knocked the bottom out of that casual disinterest. As I’ve been saying to everyone whose hands I’ve been able to press these books into for the past few weeks, with a kind of mad joy, “I’m in it now.” There’s a weirdly intense place in my heart that is currently occupied by the complex web of love and devotion and loss that the young folks herein are wrapped up with.

[Read more]

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