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The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson, Laura Miller
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Kameron Hurley
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Jack Weatherford

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction

Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction - Brit Mandelo, Ellen Kushner, Tansy Roberts, Delia Sherman, Claire Humphrey, Catherynne M. Valente, Sonya Taaffe, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Sarah Kanning, Keyan Bowes, Sandra McDonald, Liu Wen Zhuang, Kelley Eskridge, Terra LeMay, Nalo Hopkinson, Katie Sparrow, Richard  Larson Is expecting a book subtitled "Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction" to provide speculative fiction stories about genderqueer characters too much to ask for? Apparently so, if this collection is any indication. It's not that I didn't enjoy any of the stories. It's that almost none of them lived up to the book's label. (Bisexuality is not the same thing as sexual fluidity. Being transgendered is different from being genderqueer.) This is particularly frustrating because this is a collection of reprints hand-picked by the editor. Surely there are others she could have picked instead? How about something of LeGuin's, to start?

I was going to go through all of them, but honestly, I don't have much to say about most beyond "meh." I enjoyed "Sea of Cortez" as a solid atmospheric romance about a transwoman serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, but it had no speculative content--a poor opener for the collection, or perhaps an accurate herald of what was to come. "Fisherman" was a strong piece of erotica with an interesting voice but, again, no speculative content. "A Wild and Wicked Youth" worked for me because I'm familiar with the characters from Kushner's novels, but I suspect it would fail as a stand-alone piece, and it lacks any genderqueer content.

"Prosperine When it Sizzles" was enjoyable science fiction, but it handled its aliens in a way unpleasantly reinforcing of gender binaries. (In general, I was baffled that a collection of genderqueer speculative fiction featured not a single story about multi-gendered aliens. It seems an obvious place to go. The editor apparently choose to privilege more "realistic" stories, but--the strength of speculative fiction is the way it can make us rethink our society from the outside by showing us societies utterly alien to us, the tools it has that can serve as metaphor. Why waste that toolkit?)

I like the language and world in "Palimpsest"--I think Valente is at her best in short stories--but, again, there's nothing here I would consider genderqueer. "Bonehouse" was solid cyberpunk, but--are you sensing a theme? "Sex with Ghosts" was a fun twist on sexbots (a trope I thought was worn to the bone) and one of the few fictional treatments of asexuality I've encountered that hasn't felt overly preachy to me, but--yeah, that again. "The Metamorphosis Bud" was possibly the only genderswap story I've read where the character's first thought on waking up with an unexpected set of genitals was not "Oh no!" or "Huh, I wonder what sex is like" but "Cool, I've always wondered what it's like to pee as a dude" which was...a little odd to plot an entire story around, but worked out surprisingly charmingly.

I have nothing positive to say about the other stories, so I think I'll stop here. Not recommended.