Spoiler Warning: I tried to avoid spoilers, but if you want to be really careful you might want to skip some of the story descriptions.
Trigger Warning: I didn’t really go into detail about those elements which are likely to be triggers, but there are some stories in the anthology which have potential triggers. Of the ones I read, I think “Trickier With Each Translation” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam describes sexual assault in some detail (though it does not progress beyond that), and “Nothing is Pixels Here,” by K.M. Szpara, while a fantastic story (which I discuss more below), could be triggering for someone with dysphoria.
A Note on Language: I use the word “queer” throughout this post, partly because that is the word used in the anthology. However, I wanted to warn for that because I recognize that for some people it is still a slur. (I’ve categorized the post as lgbtqia+, however, since that is the most widely recognized term).
Image description: Cover of Queers Destroy Science Fiction!. Image from Lightspeed Magazine. In the foreground is a head, split down the middle, one side feminine, the other masculine. Set just behind that, in the upper left and lower right of the image, are two couples, two women and two men respectively. In the background is a spacescape.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States made a historic decision, striking down the remaining state bans against same sex marriage. In honor of this decision, this week I’m going to talk about a very exciting anthology project called Queers Destroy Science Fiction!.
Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is actually a special issue of Lightspeed Magazine, however you can buy the 400+ page volume on its own, either as a paperback or as an ebook. The special edition was funded by a kickstarter. They far exceeded their original goal of $5,000, raising a total of $54,523 by the time the kickstarter closed. Because of this, they were able to reach all of their stretch goals, which means that, among other things, Queers Destroy Horror, Fantasy, and Filk are also on their way. This is Lightspeed’s second Destroy Science Fiction project–their first, Women Destroy Science Fiction!, also raised enough money to put out a horror and fantasy version.
Not only does this anthology have original short and flash fiction and reprint fiction (including “Skin Folk” by Nalo Hopkinson, an excerpt from Something to Hitch Meat To), it also includes author and artist spotlights and an artists’ gallery, as well as nonfiction pieces and personal essays. Now, full disclosure: I haven’t actually read everything in the book. Between the Supreme Court decision on Friday and the fact that the books only shipped recently, I wanted to make sure I got a review up, but I wasn’t able to go through the entire book. I definitely will–what I’ve read so far has been great–and I may post some more reviews of the book in the future. For this post, though, I’m going to focus on highlighting some of the original writing in this book that really stuck out to me.
“Plant Children” by Jessica Yang
I would say there are three categories of story in this book: ones that deal with queer issues, ones that deal with personal issues queer people have, but which are not “queer issues” (that is, they are not political, and they are related to individuals more than the community as a whole), and ones that are about characters who are queer. “The Tip of the Tongue” is an example of the last category, while “Plant Children” sort of straddles the line between that and the second. On the surface this is a story about a young woman doing a botany experiment for her thesis, and the way that the memory of her Great Aunt influenced this. In the background, filling in the spaces between pieces of that story, is the relationship between that young woman and her roommate–first friendship, and then, as the story of the experiment reaches its end, something more. But there’s another issue which is being addressed in this story: the issue of having children. This issue is expressed explicitly–the story is, after all, called “Plant Children”–but there’s also a hint of something lurking in the conversation the story ends on, something that goes deeper than what is being said.
It is entirely possibly for a same sex couple to have children. It’s even possible for sex-repulsed asexuals to have children. But to have children when you’re not in a sexual, heterosexual relationship (where one of you can bear children) is…difficult. It takes work, almost always a great deal of it. And often, when a person comes out and isn’t immediately accepted by their parents, it’s the desire to have grandchildren that their parents talk about.
“Nothing is Pixels Here” by K.M. Szpara
This story…I don’t know what I can say about this story. I really liked the science fiction aspects–virtual reality and virtual worlds are both very topical subjects, and they’re handled well here. It actually seems a little silly to separate the various “aspects” from the rest of the story like that–they are the story. I don’t know that you can really separate the characters from their setting and their decisions, which are both reliant on the science fiction. Still, it’s the best way I can think of to talk about this story. As for the queer aspect…well, that is a little hard to talk about without spoiling the premise. I’ll just say that this story has a transgender character, and that what they go through is incredibly painful to read. If you can read it, I highly recommend it, but I also suspect that it could be triggering for someone with dysphoria.
“In the Dawns Between Hours” by Sarah Pinsker
I read this story on Sunday, and it was the perfect story to read after Friday’s court decision. The history of LGBTQIA rights in America is a huge part of this story. It’s a time travel story, but one that spends most of its time going the long way round, from 1943 to the 1980s. The story ends in 2015, with a mention of marriage. I would say it falls into the first category of stories that I mentioned, but contrary to what one might expect from a story about queer issues, it’s a hopeful story. It’s also one that acknowledges how much work was done to get we where we are today. And it’s important to remember, I think, that any decent fictional story about queer issues is also going to be a story about queer characters. The people who have fought, who are fighting for their rights–not just the right to marriage, but the right to life, the right to work, the right to not be discriminated against for who they are–aren’t doing so because of politics or hypothetical moral issues. When we fight for our rights, we’re doing it because they are our rights. We’re fighting for our lives, and for the lives of our friends and the strangers who we may never know, but who share with us the connection of oppression. This story, I think, is a wonderful example of that, of a person who finds she has to fight, because this is the world that she and her friends have to live in.
“Not Android, Not Alien, Not Accident” by Cedar Rae Duke
It can be really hard to find asexual representation, explicit or not, even in science fiction. It’s even harder to find good representation, representation which doesn’t reduce or dehumanize you. This essay talks about that. It’s one of the few things that I found in this book which talks about asexuality, but it was really great to see. It also touches on some gender issues, and it’s definitely worth a read.
“Diversity in a Ghetto” by Pablo Miguel Alberto Vazquez
When I hear people talking about how accepting fandom is, I often feel…irked. It’s true that fandom is, in many ways, a more accepting place than a lot of others. But it’s also full of prejudices. Racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism…fandom isn’t immune from these, and acting like it is both erases the people who experience these prejudices and stops the community as a whole from becoming a better, safer place. This essay addresses the problems in fandom, and reminds the people at whom prejudice is aimed that “if there’s one thing to be learned from Traditional Fandom […], it’s that we shouldn’t hide who we are” (pg 340).
“When We’re Not There, We’re Not Here” by Jerome Stueart
This is a great explanation of one of the reasons why representation is important, from a man who didn’t know he was gay until he was 34. As someone who grew up in a pretty liberal town, my personal experience has been very different from Jerome Stueart’s, and it was great to read about his experience. Even growing up where and when I did, though, there were aspects of my sexuality that I didn’t even begin to understand until college, not just because they were still developing but also because it didn’t really click that they were an option for me. Even once I personally knew someone who was asexual, it took a year or two before I really began to realize that that was a part of me, too–and that’s one reason that representation is so important.
You can also read this essay on the Kickstarter site.
“Destruction is What Creation Needs” by Sunny Moraine
There are several essays in this book on the importance of the title Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and what it means. This one, which talks about the act of destruction and of deconstruction, the act of questioning and breaking down boundaries, and how that is so inherent in both science fiction and queerness, is one of my favorites.
This essay is also available to read on the Kickstarter site.
Despite not having read the whole book, I still had a lot of trouble picking which stories and essays to include in this post. There were so many others that I loved: the first story in the book, by John Chu, has a Chinese title that I don’t know how to reproduce, followed by the English parenthetical “(Influence Isolated, Make Peace)” and tells a wonderful story about two people who are out of place in their world–but not because they are gay. I loved Felicia Davin’s “The Tip of the Tongue,” a story about the triumph of the human spirit and the written word, and found “Madeleine,” by Amal El-Mohtar, which deals with memory and doubt, both painful and enthralling. Susan Jane Bigelow’s “Die Sophie Die,” which deals with the extremely topical subject of internet harassment and even specifically references GamerGate, was very interesting. I loved JY Yang’s “Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife” and its artistic expressions of grief and love. And the essay “Acceptance,” by Arley Sorg, expressed beautifully the issues that I have with the concepts of tolerance and acceptance.
This is a wonderful collection, and the concept behind it is great. It represents one of the really wonderful things about Kickstarter. And not only are the writers and characters diverse in gender and orientation, but in race and background too. Queers Destroy Science Fiction! is exactly what science fiction should be.