Looking for queer science fiction.
August 4, 2011 9:31 AM   Subscribe

So I need more science fiction by and/or about queer folks. Special snowflake request details follow.

I know there's some literary theory about "queer" narratives, but I haven't read it and won't even try to go that route. By queer narratives, you may take me to mean depictions of actual non-heterosexual relationships and societies or writing about gender and sexuality that does not assume a gender/sexuality binary. Optionally, you could include narratives that don't privilege/center straight families, patriarchal living arrangements or the nuclear family.

Like, Samuel Delany's writing seems very queer to me, less for the sex than for the internal lives of his characters. He doesn't naturalize "femininity" or "masculinity"; these characteristics are always social, fluid, contingent, relational, partial - a character may act in certain "masculine" or "feminine" ways without those actions totally determining every aspect of their characters and without those actions being natural/inherent, also a male character may act "feminine" (nurturing or whatever) without necessarily displaying other "feminine" traits, or may act "feminine" (talking about feelings, etc) in relation to one character but not to another. He writes plenty of straight people, nuclear families and heterosexuality, but his stories do not privilege or center these relations.

Some books that meet these conditions that I have enjoyed: Nicola Griffeth's Ammonite and Slow River, anything by L Timmel DuChamp and most books from Aqueduct Press including Centuries Ago and Very Fast, virtually everything by Delany, Angela Carter's Wise Children and Nights At The Circus (few actual queer people, lots of decentering of the patriarchal family), Joanna Russ's work in general and particularly the stories in Extraordinary People (which is really kind of a reworking of and apology for the transphobia in The Female Man, I think. I don't have much SF by queer men, now that I think about it.

A straight writer - I believe L Timmel DuChamp is straight, for example - can certainly write successful depictions of non-straight relationships and can have sort of a "queer" perspective about gender and sexuality. Octavia Butler's tentacle aliens certainly "queer" the sexual relationships involved in her books, although I remain a little bit unhappy that everyone in her futures has heterosexual relationships.

I tend to like more experimental and "literary" science fiction, although I tend to like science fiction that is clearly SF - I may like Borges or Margaret Atwood or Doris Lessing but they're really non-SF-writers who write some SF tropes (no, seriously, there's a whole theory of genre that is very useful here). A good metric would be "SF by writers who have produced mostly SF and whose work is mostly shelved in the SF section".
posted by Frowner to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I also like putting things in quotation marks, apparently.
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

By queer narratives, you may take me to mean depictions of actual non-heterosexual relationships and societies or writing about gender and sexuality that does not assume a gender/sexuality binary. Optionally, you could include narratives that don't privilege/center straight families, patriarchal living arrangements or the nuclear family.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Significantly The Left Hand of Darkness
posted by infini at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

You'll be wanting to read Ursula K. Le Guin.

Her stories are non-heteronormative, and as a bonus, she's one of the best Sci Fi writers of all time.

You may want to start with Birthday of the World - it's a collection independent short stories in the same universe about various fictional civilizations on other planets. Most of them feature non-traditional sexuality (including some that are biologically fictional).

The Left Hand of Darkness is an excellent novel.

My personal favorite is The Dispossessed, which is a novel more about class conflict, but it also is based on a non-heteronormative perspective.

On preview, damn, beaten to the punch.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:47 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not sure if this will hit your sweet spot, but there is at least one genderqueer character in Elizabeth Bear's Jacob's Ladder series.
posted by trunk muffins at 9:48 AM on August 4, 2011

Previous AskMe on 'lesbian SF books'
posted by infini at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Salvor Hardin, yes, its a tough choice between The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness as favourites go and I do have two copies of Birthday... so perhaps nthing those books as exemplary in this category and in SF says something...
posted by infini at 9:54 AM on August 4, 2011

Yeah, Elizabeth Bear writes a lot of queer characters.

is the book where gender issues are most obviously explored, but there are also queer characters in the Jenny Casey series (Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired) and the previously mentioned Jacob's Ladder series (Dust, Chill, Grail).

Maureen McHugh has queer protagonists in China Mountain Zhang and Mission Child
posted by creepygirl at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

An important character in the venerable Gaea trilogy by John Varley is a lesbian, and the main character isn't totally conventional herself. In fact, most of the human characters are unconventional in some way (often concerning their sexuality), and the nonhumans are satisfyingly strange. Lots of different types of relationships here, from covens to symbionts to too-complicated-to-describe-concisely-but-queer-in-the-broadest-sense.
posted by Quietgal at 10:12 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Even more than The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula LeGuin's short story "Coming of Age in Karhide" is a really interesting take on what it means to live in a world where sex and gender identity are really different -- I loved Left Hand, but the outsider perspective distanced it, I think.
posted by Jeanne at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2011

Raphael Carter's amazing, underrated The Fortunate Fall.

Everything by James Tiptree Jr, plus the excellent biography by Julie Phillips. Plus all the winners of The James Tiptree Award, "given to the work of science fiction or fantasy published in one year which best explores or expands gender roles."

Which reminds me oh oh oh oh! Sarah Hall's The Carhullan Army! Published in North America as The Daughters of the North.
posted by rdc at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

And for queering the nuclear family, Mary Ann Mohanraj's "Jump Space" (although you'll have to forgive the partial self-link as I helped fund the anthology in which it appeared. Yay!)
posted by rdc at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ted Sturgeon's Venus Plus X explores a future one-gender world with some twists at the end. His short story "The World Well Lost" was one of the first to treat homosexuality in the mainstream of SF. Robert Heinlein is known for exploring sexuality a lot in his books, though I don't know if he is what you're after (tending to be lecturing, filled with gender stereotypes, and going off into territories like incest too much for many tastes). Time Enough for Love particularly advocates (but as I recall in a pretty pedantic way without any realization in the proper story) the acceptance of homosexuality and I Will Fear No Evil features a male protagonist whose brain is transplanted into a female's body and undergoes transformations in sexuality as a result. Though not quite what you're looking for I do think there is value in revisiting these pioneering expeditions into pushing the sexual boundaries of SF.

William S. Burrough's science-fiction-leaning stuff (The Naked Lunch and the Nova Trilogy) goes all over the place sexually.

Tom Disch was openly gay, I think some of the attitude you're looking for is reflected in his excellent (but depressing) On Wings of Song. I haven't read anything else by him.

John Varley's "Eight Worlds" books posit a future where elective gender-transition is widely available and relatively consequence free and casual bisexuality becomes more or less a human norm as a result. It isn't the main focus of the books but it is a significant theme.

I know you're not just looking for "gay SF" but maybe resources here?
posted by nanojath at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and if you haven't read Delaney's memoir The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village it's good and fascinating.
posted by nanojath at 10:59 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing the works of John Varley, especially his "Eight Worlds" stories.
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:03 AM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: The Farthing trilogy. Alternate history.
posted by freshwater at 11:15 AM on August 4, 2011

Marge Piercy doesn't quite fit your final qualification, but Woman on the Edge of Time is clearly SF and includes a society where omnisexual/polyamorous love/sex is normal and widespread.

Seconding Tiptree.

Also, check out Suzy McKee Charnas.

posted by anotherthink at 11:41 AM on August 4, 2011

Matt Ruff's Set This House In Order: A Romance Of Souls won the Tiptree award in 2003, and deservedly so. The relationships in it aren't exactly queer, as such, but there's definitely a genderqueer thing going on. (To say more would almost certainly be a spoiler.)
posted by hades at 12:48 PM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: Melissa Scott's Shadow Man is the queerest of her books that I've read (they're all queer). Culture clash in a universe with 5 biological sexes (human evolution caused by drugs used to make FTL travel tolerable), 9 sexual orientations, and a lost colony that still expects everybody to conform to straight male/female roles.
posted by expialidocious at 12:54 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Arthur C. Clarke was gay, though his writing never emphasized it.
posted by foursentences at 2:33 PM on August 4, 2011

Asimov's "The Gods Themselves" features a species with three sexes, which I guess is queer by definition? Don't expect enormous progressivity from it, though; "he" is used to refer to the Rationals and the Parents while "she" is used to refer to the Emotionals.
posted by foursentences at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2011

Thirding Tiptree. Just about my favorite writer, after Delany (and with a screen name of Bron Helstrom, I've read some Delany). Tiptree's whole writing persona was tied up with gender issues, delightfully messing with the old guard of science fiction writers -- I'm sure you've heard the story about Robert Silverberg declaring that 'no way was this stuff written by a woman.'

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever collects most of her best short stories; her novels didn't do much for me. Maybe start with 'The Women Men Don't See.'
posted by Bron at 6:38 PM on August 4, 2011

Many of the books in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover world explored alternative gender roles. There were what you might call lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters, although those particular labels don't quite work in her context.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:59 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frowner, I highly recommend WisCon, Bending the Landscape, the queer section of the Feminist SF wiki, any of the collections from The Tiptree Award, and there is also Gaylacticon which I have not yet attended.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 8:52 PM on August 4, 2011

Frowner, also memail me if you want more information about this because this is a significant part of my fan library and intellectual interest!
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 8:53 PM on August 4, 2011

Geoff Ryman has written some excellent novels exploring (among other things) gender and sexuality - The
Warrior who carried Life
is about a woman transformed into a
man, and The Child Garden centres around a lesbian romance and an opera.

Elizabeth Vonarburg's Maerlande Chronicles explores a world with very few men in a more realistic (and interesting) way than most - lesbianism is, of course, normal, but straight sex is weird.
posted by jb at 9:08 PM on August 4, 2011

nthing Ursula LeGuin, that was the first thing I thought of when I read the question. The Dispossessed is my personal favorite.
posted by _DB_ at 11:14 PM on August 4, 2011

Ethan of Athos - Lois McMaster Bujold
posted by stompadour at 8:21 AM on April 6, 2012

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