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Queering the Genre: A Personal Project

QTG 05

Science fiction and fantasy – “genre” – fiction has, over the last few years, increasingly been the subject of a number of conversations about the dominance of the kyriarchy not in telling stories so much as deciding what stories are worthy; women have always written, to paraphrase Kameron Hurley, but their writing, like the writing of queer people and people of colour, has been erased. The same has happened to characters who break out from the unmarked default; novels centring on women, on people of colour, on queer characters, on people who sit on multiple arcs in oppression, have been erased from the canon, whether conciously or not.

Joanna Russ is, of course, both an exception to this rule (The Female Man is one of the few non-straight, white, cis male centred novels published as a Gollancz Masterwork) and the most cited descriptor of it (How To Suppress Women’s Writing is a classic of feminist critique of literary conservatism, and incredibly readable to boot). But what of the queer, the female, the non-white narratives that have been erased? As a sexually queer and genderqueer genre reader, I rarely see myself reflected in the novels I read; and so, I am embarking on a project to follow in the footsteps of others, and try to read (and possibly unearth or resurrect) some of these erased works.

This isn’t a novel project, of course. Tor.com has published, and continues to publish, similar quests by both Alex Dally MacFarlane and Brit Mandelo, both more widely read and more incisive than myself, and I intend to use those resources as recommendations for my own reading; similarly, Liz Bourke’s BSFA-nominated column Sleeps With Monsters has also touched on the topic, as have any number of other projects elsewhere both online and off. I am not breaking new ground with this project, and the only reason it is even slightly radical is because, as a genre, we continue to embrace the unmarked default; from behemothic publishing companies down to the level of individual readers, we aren’t working hard enough to overturn it, to queer the genre, and this will be my own small contribution to that effort.

So, for a little while I’ll only be reading “queer” genre fiction – that is, featuring either genderqueer and/or non-heterosexual characters; and I’ll be reviewing and discussing those works. I also hope to get some guests in to write about the topic, and as I go I intend to write a few more discursive pieces of my own on the topic. We kick off tomorrow with a review of Shadow Man by Melissa Scott, followed on Wednesday by Stephanie Saulter talking about ‘Gender, Language and Understanding’, and we’ll see where it goes from there – preferably with your help and recommendations! For now, keep queering the genre; D out!

Oh, and if anyone is willing to do me a logo design for this series – a basic rocket in the pride colours, say – I’d be incredibly grateful! Thanks to Alyssa Hanson for a fantastic logo, as seen at the top of this post!


11 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Have you read any of Samuel Delany’s SF? He has been publishing since the 60s and is perhaps the most well known African American SF author, whose protagonists are almost always very autobiographic i.e. about transient young gay men. He’s highly recommended — also, I’m almost positive that one of the main character’s John Crowley’s seminal Beasts (1976) is gay as well.

    I should point out that Russ is not the only strong feminist voice in SF — Suzy McKee Charnas, Attwood, Le Guin, Butler, etc all come to mind.

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    (obviously these examples are far and between but are definitely worth seeking out!)

  3. heatherosejones says:

    It would be delightful if you could include a consideration of sff published by LGBTQ small presses and the ways in which the choice of publisher shapes and reflects how queer stories and characters are made available. As someone who was really torn between pitching queer characters to a major sff press versus pitching sff stories to a small lesbian press, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. (And I’m being very very good and not plugging my own book here.)

    • Plug away – and while I don’t know enough about publishing’s ins and outs, or the specifics of small presses, to say much without a lot of research I’m not sure I have time for, if you’d be willing to write something for me I’d absolutely put it up here as a guest post!

      • heatherosejones says:

        Thank you for permission to plug. 🙂 I’d be delighted to write a guest post (depending on schedule requirements) though I’d probably have to confine myself to relatively impressionistic discussions of thematic differences between sff from lesbian small presses and sff with lesbian characters from major presses. Anything more rigorous would take, as you say, a lot of research. Let me know about timeframe/format etc.
        Oh, yes, the plug. My novel “Daughter of Mystery” (Bella Books) is a historic-fantasy but in terms of literary stylistics it falls more on the “mainstream sff” side than the “lesbian press” side and I went through a lot of research and soul-searching to decide which bet to make. I suspect a lot of other authors have done similar evaluations and pre-filtered which queer-themed books each subset of the publishing industry even sees. In the end, I found no evidence that major sff publishers were interested in lesbian-centered stories unless by established big-name authors, and then only as an occasional indulgence. It makes me wonder how many lesbian-themed stories are simply not being written by established Big 5 authors because they (authors and publishers) consider them hard to sell. Conversely, the small presses often have their own established literary “dialects” which affect the types of authors and stories they see (and therefore publish).
        When I see lists compiled of big-press lesbian sff, it’s always the same very short list of names (and many of them not at all recent). As if we should be satisfied because there are at least 10 authors in all of time who speak to us. How many readers ever work their way past Russ, Charnas, Tiptree, Butler and more recently Griffith and Lo?

      • Well, I’m certainly trying to read past them into a more wide view – so any small-press recommendations would be very welcome! I’ll certainly see if I can lay hands on Daughter of Mystery before I’ve finished Queering the Genre!

        As for timeframe and format, anytime in the next month, six weeks, two months would be preferred, drop me a .doc to dttfranklin (at) gmail (dot) com & I’ll drop you an email giving you details of when it’ll go up. I’ll handle all the formatting, too! 😉

  4. Rabindranauth says:

    I’ll be following with special interest! Always on the lookout for non-formulaic genre books (yea, I know, that’s probably a paradox but they exist). I’ll have to second Dhalgren, and add three big ones to the list:

    -Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl, which is a sorely under-read insane masterpiece.

    -Jennifer T. Loring’s Conduits, a novella that you need to lock yourself in a room to read just so you can marinate in what she does and how she does it.

    – Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, an SF that’s on par with Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem as the best SF release of 2014, and the first book I’ve read that does diversity so, so right.

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