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Lee Mandelo

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

The Expectations That Travelers Carried: The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun (trans. Lizzie Buehler)

The Disaster Tourist is a trim near-future speculative novel from Yun Ko-eun, the first of her novels to be translated and published in English. Ko Yona, our protagonist, has been an employee of the travel company Jungle for around ten years; Jungle creates “ethical” vacation packages to locations of catastrophe. Tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, radiation, prisons and asylums, mass killings: the humans involved and the sites of their trauma become the consumables offered in trade for tourists seeking that authentic experience and a bit of moral righteousness to assuage the guilt of rubbernecking.

But when Yona begins to experience sexual harassment from her boss and assumes this means she’s gotten an informal “yellow card”—implying she’s on her way out of the company—she attempts to resign. Instead of her resignation being accepted, she’s offered a ‘working vacation’ to check out one of their failing packages on the island of Mui and review it for cancellation. However, all is not as it seems on Mui, and Yona’s own complicity in the broader systems at work in Jungle’s interventions on local spaces begin to dreadfully evolve.

[A review.]

There Was and There Was Not: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is Melissa Bashardoust’s second novel, a lush stand-alone fantasy inspired by the courts and lore of ancient Persia.  Woven through with conflicts of desire and power, loyalty and self-interest, the novel presents a coming-of-age tale that is subversive, queer, and rife with danger. As the intriguing cover copy starts, “There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch.”

Soraya is the twin sister of the shah of Atashar, but their lives run on opposite courses. She has kept to untouched seclusion in the palace through her entire life for the safety of herself and others, as one glancing brush of her skin is lethal. Her lush rose garden and occasionally her mother, brother, or childhood friend Laleh are her only companions—until Laleh stops visiting. However, when her brother brings a captured demon home with him to Golvahar, Soraya sees a chance to bargain for a cure to her curse… except bargaining with devils for knowledge comes at a high cost, and the consequences of Soraya’s actions far exceed the scope of her imagination.

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

Return to the Hollows: American Demon by Kim Harrison

Rachel Morgan might have hoped that fixing the source of magic would earn her a vacation, but instead, she finds herself mired in a swamp of fresh trouble: wandering zombies, a mysterious demon and a teenage elf loitering around her church, a series of violent but inexplicable crimes cropping up throughout Cincinnati and the Hollows. If the question posed by American Demon is “What happens after you’ve saved the world?,” the answer seems to be: start cleaning up the mess the ‘saving’ made, because your work is far from finished.

I had thought, as I figure most readers of Harrison’s Hollows series did, that 2014’s The Witch With No Name was the final novel: the main couple get together, the family unit feels secure, magic is recreated, demons are freed from their elf-arranged servitude and must find their way in the real world. Imagine my surprise, then, when American Demon was announced! Worlds as thoroughly fleshed-out but narrow in scope as Harrison’s are the easiest kind to slip into though, and despite the six-year gap, picking up where we last left off was no challenge.

[A review.]

Queering SFF: The Weird, Wild Fun of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula

Attention fellow queer nerds and weirdos: if you dig boundary-pushing drag, general gender-fuckery, and also alternative culture… well, have I got a recommendation for you. While seeking comfort this June—resting the body from protest marching, or the heart after reading the news, or the soul that longs for Pride festivals cancelled—might I suggest diving into The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, with all three seasons currently available for streaming?

[Let’s get weird.]

Series: Queering SFF

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.]

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