I began this LGBT speculative fiction reading challenge a few months ago and it’s broadened my reading experience a lot. I started this and the women authors of color challenge for reasons that were political, a means to try to be an ally in one of the ways I’m most capable (i.e. reading books and talking about them a lot, something I’m well-versed in, ahem). The real boon of these challenges has been in the great books I probably never otherwise would have found; most of the time I forget the original purpose behind participating and frequently forget to mention that books feature LGBTQ protagonists when I review stuff. Hence this post.
I picked up Ammonite by Nicola Griffith before I began — in fact, it was the inspiration behind the challenge — because it looked so interesting, and this space opera rekindled my desire to read science fiction. All of its characters are female and so nuanced that the book was my final push beyond the assumption that sci-fi was dudebro territory. Malinda Lo’s Ash is a fairy tale retelling that is haunting and lyrical, as is Veronica Schanoes’ Burning Girls.
Three short stories — these would be random reads of mine that I didn’t seek out as LGBTQ lit, but are really memorable — with transgender protagonists merit a mention as among the five or so best shorts I’ve read this year (out of at least a hundred). “Colours Everywhere,” Nisi Shawl’s story from The Other Half of the Sky, is a beautiful character portrait about solidarity in the face of insurmountable power. Cat Rambo’s “Rappaccini’s Crow” from Beneath Ceaseless Skies #151 is a story of longing and renewal after identity murder. And there’s one from Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History that I can’t mention by title because it’d actually be a spoiler.
My favorite author that I’ve discovered as a result of this challenge — that I can now confidently name as my favorite author of the last decade or thereabouts — is Caitlìn R. Kiernan. Her books are dark and weird and literary. The author is a paleontologist; this theme shows up frequently, as do art history, mental illness, and sublime horrors of nature and myth. The Drowning Girl features one of my favorite literary relationships, between adorable India and her endearingly pragmatic girlfriend Abelyn, who is a font of strength that helps the protagonist endure the worst manifestations of her schizophrenia. I thought I was too old to ‘ship character pairings, but these two I ‘ship hardcore. The Ape’s Wife and Other Stories features a lesbian feminist retelling of Beowulf and a transhuman steampunk love story, amongst other delightful tales. The Red Tree is the creepiest horror novel and the most profound envisioning of sadness I think I’ve ever read, and is my favorite book I’ve read in the last year.
And from the TBR pile, in which books only reside once I’ve checked out an author’s writing and know I like the voice: Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, a retelling of The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus. Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road is a far-future story set in Ethiopia and India. And of course, Nicola Griffith’s Hild, a doorstopper of a novel set in the Dark Ages, is on that list.
I really meant at this point in time to have read more authors of LGBT fiction, but I’ve been increasingly distracted by the total awesome of ones I’m reading.