As you may know, every month, I contribute a Women to Read: Where to Start column to SF Signal. In the course of my reading, I keep coming across fantastic stories by non-binary authors, but lumping them in to a column focused on women would be nonsensical. While I do enthusiastically tweet about said stories, they deserve a series of posts all of their own – a sibling series, if you will. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, so here it is! That said, I would recommend these authors either way; their work should be read not because of how they identify, but because it’s fucking amazing stuff. One last note before I get on with the recommending, I use the term non-binary, but I realize that isn’t everyone’s preferred identifier. For the purposes of this post, please understand non-binary to encompass androgyne, genderfluid, gender neutral, and gender non-conforming, among other terms. Now, onward to the fiction!
Bogi Takács is a neutrally gendered Hungarian Jewish trans person. My recommended starting place for eir fiction is Forestspirit, Forestspirit from the June 2015 issue of Clarkesworld. The story takes place ten years after a devastating war, and centers on a young boy and an artificial consciousness that was a soldier once upon a time. As the story opens, the young boy, Péter, comes to ask the artificial consciousness for help in protecting the forest where it has taken up residence since the war. The imagery in this piece is striking, as the consciousness (given the name Gabi by Péter) takes on various forms: “In the following fifty-three minutes, I try out twenty-four animal shapes. My shapeshifting raises no alarm or consternation besides the localized electric shocks. Maybe it is time to sneak inside? I could soak a millipede with myself as a light autumn rain, evaporate from its body into a different shape once it’s safely indoors.” Along with the striking imagery, one of the most appealing things about the story is the deep characterization Takács manages in less than 4,000 words. Péter is being raised by his uncle who is described as a green man, a protector of the forest. Though the uncle appears only briefly, we see the way he’s shaped Péter’s worldview – instilling respect for nature, and infusing that respect with a sense of magic. At the same time, there is a hint of cynicism in the uncle’s character, he recognizes Gabi as a former soldier, and thus there is wariness in their interaction, even though their goals are the same. Péter is shown to have a much more fluid view of the world. He accepts Gabi as an artificial consciousness and a literal mythological spirit, not seeing a conflict between the two. Overall, it is a fascinating and lovely tale, well-worth a read, and an excellent starting place for Takács’ work. I should also mention, Takács regularly posts recommendations and reviews of diverse SFF fiction and poetry on eir blog and twitter account, so check that out too!
Sunny Moraine is a the author of multiple novels and short stories and there are many places I could recommend as a starting place because I love their work. However, I will go with eyes i dare not meet in dreams, published at the Society Pages in June 2015. Not only is it the kind of story that leaves you breathless, it also appears in a venue that doesn’t traditionally publish fiction, and thus I’m afraid of it sliding under many people’s radars. The story concerns dead girls climbing out of refrigerators, as spelled out in the story’s killer opening line: “At 2:25 am on a quiet Friday night on a deserted country road in southeastern Pennsylvania, the first dead girl climbed out of her refrigerator.” The story rests uneasily, as it should. Dead girls are not meant to be comfortable things. No explanation is offered for their presence. They return, eerie and uncanny, but more importantly – undeniable. The story calls to mind the trope of women in refrigerators, female characters killed off solely to forward the male hero’s plot. A current of anger seethes under the story’s skin. While the text states the dead girls ‘do not demand witness’, they will not be forgotten either. They won’t set your mind at east by explaining themselves. They will not do anything other than be, and in a world where dead girls return, we cannot pretend that girls are not used up, discarded, and broken every day. We cannot pretend that violence, in all its subtle and unsubtle forms, isn’t a problem. Moraine tells the story in a very straightforward manner, one that makes it seems almost plausible. Dead girls could return, and what will we do then? For all that the story grabs the reader by the throat, the prose is still lovely, but not in a kind or forgiving way. Once you’ve started here with Moraine’s work, please do go seek out the rest of it. Everything they write is wonderful.
A. Merc Rustad is a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker. My recommended starting place for their work is How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps, which was originally published in Scigentasy in March 2014. I’m a sucker for list stories, tales that offer up a series of bullet points, and slide the narrative in-between them like the sharp edge of a knife. Rustad uses the form brilliantly here, interspersing lists and steps and how-to guides with more traditional narrative sections. Together, the two forms tell the story of Tesla, who would prefer to be a robot, and who is also working to save the life of an ‘obsolete’ service robot from a coffee shop. Tesla’s has a boyfriend so they can mutually keep up the illusion of being a heteronormative couple. Tesla’s boyfriend has a boyfriend, and Tesla would like to start a relationship with the robot, but is unsure of how to save the robot’s life, or what the robot’s wishes in the matter may be. It is a painful story of longing and desire for transformation, of trying to find a comfortable place in the world when almost everything about the world is uncomfortable. It is also a story of friendship, unconventional relationships, and finding love, acceptance, and happiness outside the lines society traditionally draws around those concepts. It is a story that ends with hope, but it rips your heart out along the path to get there. From both a structural and content standpoint it is an excellent starting point for Rustad’s work.
Pear Nuallak is an androgyne author and food blogger, and the culture and lifestyle editor for MouthLondon Magazine. My recommended starting place for their work is She Shines Like the Moon from the Summer 2015 issue of Lackington’s Magazine. The story centers on a krasue (a female spirit with the head of a young woman, and her internal organs trailing down from her neck), living in London. It is a story of displacement, imbued with a sense of loneliness for a character far away from their geographic home, and being the only one of their kind. Feeling out of place among humans, the krasue turns to the foxes in the forest with their brief, flickering lives, but also seeks out the rumors of a witch living in a hollow oak tree. The story is soaked in rich sensory detail – the krasue’s wardrobe, the smells and tastes of various meals. It’s relatively short, but manages to pack a lot in – the concept of the monstrous feminine, the idea of the other, and cultural appropriation. The story is beautifully written, and given that it hits many of my fiction story spots (see foxes and witches), it’s hard not to recommend it as a starting place. I will, however, cheat a bit and also recommend keeping your eye out for Nuallak’s story in the upcoming Academia issue of Unlikely Story. It’s lovely and contemplative, and again deals with themes of self and other, finding friendship, and finding your place in the world, all wrapped up with gorgeous language and mythology.
So there you have it, four fantastic authors whose works you should be reading. I’ll do my best to get Part 2 up soon with more recommendations of work by non-binary authors. In the meantime, feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments.