Here we are, Part 3 of my series highlighting non-binary authors (including agender, androgyne, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, genderfluid, etc.) whose work you should read and recommending a starting place. These authors are fabulous, their work is fabulous, and I’m delighted to share it with you. I’m also pleased with the new-to-me work I’ve discovered through the recommendations in the comments, so keep it up! Now, onward to the next round of stories…
A. Stiffler is an agender artist who co-creates the excellent webcomic, Chaos Life, with their wife, K. Copeland. My recommended starting place is, as you may have guessed, Chaos Life. All of it. It’s a delightfully geeky webcomic, which the creators describe as semi-autobiographical. There’s no overarching story, other than day to day life. You can dip in and out of the archives at pretty much any point, and find anything from one-panel thoughts about queer life, to a multi-panel musing on the inner life of cats, to an info graphic concerning various kinds of cheese. It’s delightful and sweet, and did I mention queer and geeky? Plus sometimes there’s cake or Batman or horror movies or sex toys. It’s really hard to go wrong. In fact, I keep getting distracted from writing this post by flipping back through the archives and snickering at things like Homo Hint and User Unfriendly. So go forth and enjoy!
Polenth Blake is a speculative fiction author who likes mushrooms. My recommended starting place for Polenth’s work is Never the Same, published at Strange Horizons in September 2014. The story concerns human colonists on an unnamed planet, centering in particular on the world’s only psychopath. The story provides a fascinating look at neural atypicality and society’s perceptions of such, including the narrow boxes society likes to put people in. There are literal boxes in the story as well, one which holds the world’s only murderer, a scientist who killed a fellow terraformer, right before the world’s ecosystem failed. Throughout the course of the story, the main character no only has to cope with the negative assumptions and stereotypes heaped upon them , but also works to solve the mystery of the sludge that may or may not be the cause of the failing ecosystem. On top of that, the main character’s sister is running for president, and the main character’s brother has murderous intentions toward her. This is a threat to the main character not only from the perspective of losing a sister, the one person who seems to love them unconditionally, but if she dies, they know they’re like to be blamed. No one believes a psychopath, because everyone knows psychopaths are inherently violent, untrustworthy, and not fit to be part of society. Many people in the colony don’t even view the story’s protagonist as human, despite the fact they are far better at following the rules than others and, as they point out, violence typically involves passion, anger, emotion, or at very least caring – things they are without. The family relationships are at the heart of this story, but there’s a lot more going on here – enough that it could be unpacked into a longer work, but which amazingly works perfectly at the short story length. It’s not an easy balancing act, but Polenth manages it, which makes this a very worthy recommended starting place.
A.C. Buchanan is a New Zealand author, and the editor of the new speculative fiction magazine, Capricious. My recommended starting place for their work is Blueprints from the wonderful anthology, Fat Girl in a Strange Land published by Crossed Genres. The story centers on a member of the staff at a facility dedicated to the care of children who are left behind when their parents sign up to move to Terra Nova, leaving behind the polluted and dying Earth. The reasons, or excuses, for the children being left behind are various – medical conditions, developmental issues, and so on. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are overweight. There are government regulations about weight limits on the ships transporting passengers to Terra Nova, but most of those left behind assume those rules to be arbitrary at best, and bullshit at the worst. The story takes a painful look at the idea of inclusiveness. There’s a better, bright world out there for humanity, but it isn’t for everyone – those who are ‘inconvenient’ or ‘aesthetically unpleasing’ might just be left behind. Blueprints explores the harmful stereotype that people who are overweight simply aren’t trying, they’re lazy, unhealthy, etc. That they are people who don’t deserve a better future the way everybody else (who can pay) does. Another thing the story touches on is the idea of the refugee experience. The protagonist is able to pay to be smuggled to Terra Nova, but is immediately jailed, and again experiences the harsh truth that the future isn’t for everyone. Despite the darkness, Blueprints is still a story filled with hope, making it a worthy starting place for A.C. Buchanan’s work.
Michael Matheson is a genderfluid Canadian author and editor. My recommended starting place for their work is Jenny of the Long Gauge from Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse. This story is soaked in style. It has a weird west feel, but set, as the anthology’s title suggests, in a post-apocalyptic world. A sample of the prose, the killer opening lines in fact, give the reader a hint of what’s in store: His heart hangs from the gallows where she left it. His skin and bones she took with her, and his name he traded away long ago. In this grim world, Jenny is a trader, traveling through dust storms and offering hides for gold. But in properly post-apocalyptic style, the hides she’s trading just happen to be human. She also has bones on offer that medicine men use, but there are fewer and fewer medicine men around. Jenny’s people, the Nakota, are being driven away in the fight over scare resources. Jenny doesn’t take kindly to this new exploitation of the First Nations, just as she doesn’t take kindly to people trying to steal from her, or the suggestion that women are good for nothing but whoring in this new world. So Jenny travels the ruined land with her trusty long gauge, searching for a better life, and refusing to let anyone take anything away from her. Despite the bleak setting, the story is fun in its own way – playing on the archetype of the tough, lone survivor. The visuals are striking, and as mentioned, the stylish language alone makes this a worthy starting place for Matheson’s work.
I hope you will seek out work by all of these authors, and please keep making your own suggestions for non-binary authors to read in the comments!