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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 10

Welcome to another edition of Non-Binary Authors to Read, wherein I highlight non-binary authors and recommend a starting place for their work. If you’d like to catch up on the other entries in the series, you can find them here. For the purposes of this column, I use non-binary as a catch-all term to include authors identifying as genderqueer, agender, queer, neutrois, gender non-conforming, and other genders not aligned with the male/female binary. Now, on to the recommendations!

Fiyah Issue 3Danny Lore is a queer writer based in the Bronx. My recommended starting place for their work is appropriately enough their first professionally published story – The Last Exorcist from Fiyah Issue 3: Sundown Towns. As the editors write in their Letters from the Editors: “Sundown Towns were towns with curfews that applied to black people –essentially, black visitors had to exit the town before the sun set, or else they would face the wrath of the town’s white citizens. Authors were charged with submitting stories that discussed this painful history, but we also asked for stories that examined concepts of belonging, community, and of place.” Lore delivers a story that pushes the concept of sundown towns to the extreme, an extreme that sadly feels like it could logically grow out of the racism of our present day society. Naheem is an exorcist in a world where many white people have opted to offer themselves up as Residences for demons, voluntarily being possessed in exchange for protection and special privilege – i.e. things already granted to them in the real world by virtue of being white.  On a small scale, a white student feels slighted by what they perceive as a black student unfairly taking “their” place in college, and turns to demons for help. One a large scale, entire Helltowns are created where black people literally cannot go without the ground smoking under their feet and demons tearing them apart.

When Naheem gets worked up, he gestures emphatically, fingers twitching with every word. He tends toward lecturing, and his topic of choice is the accessibility of exorcism in a post-possession America. He is unimpressed by those who say the art is too complex, too archaic to pass on to the common man. On the contrary, he believes that becoming an exorcist is a task both necessary and easy, if we are to survive as a people.

The story is related through a reporter who begins by interviewing Naheem and ends up filming what turns out to be his last exorcism. The reporter is conflicted, having a white mother and a black father, never knowing which side the demons will see if they step into a Helltown. Lore gives a supernatural twist to the very real and ugly face of racism, scapegoating, fear of the “other”, and clueless privilege. At the same time, amidst the ugliness, it is a story about fighting back, about making the world better for others, and speaking out against oppression and power. It’s an excellent story, an excellent starting place, and I look forward to more of Lore’s work.

Shoreline of Infinity 9

Leigh Harlen is a writer of dark speculative fiction. My recommended starting place for their work is The Last Days of the Lotus Eaters in Shoreline of Infinity 9. Lita is the only one in her village who believes the world is changing. The stars are going out, trees are dying, and winters are lasting longer than they should. When she tries to warn people of this, no one believes her, not even her parents, except for one priest. He knows the truth, but believes it is better to keep the status quo, let people lead happy and ignorant lives. When Lita refuses to stay quiet, he poisons her, burying her alive in a ritual that feeds a dying tree whose blossoms bring forgetfulness, allowing people to be truly oblivious to the doom coming for them.
The earth and the creatures in it ate her flesh, but the tree kept her bones, its roots wrapped around and entwined every remaining bit of her.
While Lita’s body dies, her consciousness remains, forcing her to be the means that allows the other villagers – even her parents – to forget everything she tries to warn them about. In eating the lotus blossoms, the villagers’ memories transfer to Lita, so even in death she must bear the burden of knowledge alone. In time, however, another little girl comes along who refuses to accept common wisdom and sets out to force people to see the truth before it’s too late. With this story, Harlen offers an interesting twist on the trope of the buried child, the sacrifice that bears the sins of a people in order for everyone else to lead happy lives (e.g. Le Guin’s Omelas, or the story of Jesus Christ). Like Christ, the consumption of Lita’s transubstantiated flesh is literally the key to the rest of the village’s peace of mind. However, in this case, rather than salvation, the villagers only gain ignorance of their own destruction. Harlen weaves other elements into the sacrifice story, such as the idea of climate change denial, and the dismissal of women’s voices. It’s a wonderful story and an excellent starting place for Harlen’s work.

R.J. Edwards is a writer, librarian, and podcaster. My recommended starting place for their work is Riot Nrrd Comics, an online webcomic. While the comic is currently on hiatus, the good news is there are four years worth of comics currently available to catch up on. Riot Nrrd Comics is about all things geeky – comic books, video games, Star Wars, scientists, astronauts, and other delightfully nerdy stuff. But it’s also about being a marginalized nerd – being female, non-binary, black, fat, neurodivergent – basically being the type of person who doesn’t often get to see themself reflected in mainstream media. On the rare occasions when they do get to see themselves, those reflections are often problematic. For example, the first few comics call out Joss Whedon specifically for his depiction of “empowered women”. The comics tackle the questions of whether it’s still possible to love the things someone creates, while recognizing them as imperfect. Among the geekery, Riot Nrrd also touches on friendships, relationships, religion, work, stress, life, and every day problems and triumphs. Elements of it remind me of Chaos Life in its wide-ranging scope, touching on all aspects of life big and small, while reveling in nerdiness. At the heart of Riot Nrrd are characters who care about each other, who share geeky passions, and genuine friendship. It’s a lovely comic, and an excellent starting place for R.J. Edwards’ work.

That’s it for this installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start. As always, I’d love to see your recommendations in the comments, and I’ll be back with additional recommendations of my own soon. Happy reading!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 9

Hello, my lovelies! It’s time for another installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. If you’re looking to catch up on the series, you can do so here. And now that you’re all caught up, onward to new recommendations!

Anathema Issue 2Wen Ma is a queer, non-binary, author, editor, and translator  from Hong Kong who also dabbles in illustration. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything You Left Behind from Issue #2 of Anathema Magazine. The story takes place in a city where time is frozen. An event called the Nothing stopped it, and no one within the bubble can die or grow old. The protagonist’s lover disappears, and all they know about the disappearance for certain is that the last person to see their lover was The Pain Merchant, a man who takes hurts big and small away from people in exchange for a piece of themselves. The protagonist knows exactly what pain their lover sought to get rid of – the death of the couple’s daughter just before the Nothing froze time. Looking for answers, they seek out the Pain Merchant themself, and make an odd request – they want to take their lover’s pain rather than pain of their own taken away. A trade is agreed upon, and they drink the pain their lover gave up.

But this isn’t my pain, isn’t my grief. It’s yours, at once alien and achingly familiar. I’m drowning in it, trying to keep my head above the waves even as the storm threatens to pull me under.

By consuming it, the protagonist comes to understand the rift between them and their lover, the doubt and guilt their lover felt, the questions they couldn’t stop asking. If they’d never adopted Fara, if they’d lived somewhere else, would things be different? They see how their lover came to resent them in a way for processing grief differently, and come to understand why they left. It’s a lovely story, beautifully written, and despite the subject matter, it’s not without hope. While it is a story about grief, it’s also a story about finding a way through grief, and learning to see the world through someone else’s eyes. The story meditates on loss, family, and the fundamental isolation of humans. No matter how well we know someone, we can never see and feel and experience the world exactly as they do. This is echoed in the story by the unchanging nature of the city, cut off from the world, and bringing into question what the point of anything is in a world without time. However in this story, the protagonist is given the rare opportunity to understand at least one aspect of their lover completely, and that brings hope. It’s a gorgeous story and an excellent starting place for Wen Ma’s work.

Latonya Pennington is a queer essayist who regularly contributes to Black Girl Nerds, The Mary Sue, Beyond Words, and BuzzFeed. My recommended starting place for her work is actually two essays, which I see as being thematically linked – What Magical Girls Taught Me About Being Queer, and When Will Black Coming-of-Age Films Leave the Hood. The first article is more personal, discussing how Sailor Moon helped the author realize her queerness, and deal with coming out to her friends and family. The second article is more general, questioning the way many black coming-of-age movies follow the pattern of Boyz n The Hood rather than presenting a wider range of black, teenage experiences. Although their subject matter differs, similar themes resonate across both articles. Both pieces underline the critical importance of representation, and being able to find yourself in fiction and film. They also  highlight the importance of portraying a diversity of experiences. Growing up black is not a monolithic experience, nor is being female, queer, disabled, etc. Marginalized voices are already erased and dismissed, and presenting only one model of femininity, queerness, blackness, or anything else, only further erases individuals. It’s othering and alienating. Both articles also make the point that the more representation there is out there, the more likely we are to see ourselves reflected on the page and on the screen, and that can literally be a life changing and/or a life saving experience. They’re both excellent articles and a worthy starting place for Pennington’s work.

SunvaultT.X. Watson is an author, activist, and the co-founder of Solarpunk Press, a short fiction magazine celebrating the solarpunk sub-genre. Appropriately enough, my recommended starting place for their work is the opening story from the anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. The Boston Hearth Project is written as an admissions essay from a prospective student, Andie Freeman, who is applying to X.S.U. The question in particular zie is answering is “When have you worked well as part of a team?” The answer may be slightly illegal, but after being assured that application essays are confidential, zie relates the story of working with a team of activists to take over a first class hotel and turn it into a homeless shelter. Andie is an e-sports expert, and takes on almost Oracle-like role on the team, guiding Juniper, an urban explorer and parkour practioner, through the building – avoiding guards, and security cameras – in order to stage the takeover.

Practicing with AugR was like learning to operate another body. I learned new limits for what was physically possible. I know how far back Jupiter’s arms can go before they hurt, and how much farther before they’ll keep hurting afterward. I know how high she can jump. I know how soft she can land.

One of the defining characteristics of solarpunk is its hopeful nature. It imagines a better future, one that embraces diversity, and where people work together toward the greater good. Andie’s team can be seen as a kind of future version of Robin Hood and his merry men, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, and making innovative use of technology to do so. The structure of the story is clever, opening with an email exchange between Andie and an X.S.U. admissions counselor before going in to the essay. Because it’s written as a personal essay, the story doesn’t lose any immediacy, so Watson remains free to show us the friendship between Andie and zier team, along with the tense action of the break in and occupation itself. In a time when it’s all too easy to imagine a grim future where corporations and profit are valued over individual people, and hate-speech is given free rein, The Boston Hearth Project offers hope. It is a story of camaraderie, resistance, and working for a greater good, all of which make it an excellent, and timely, starting place for T.X. Watson’s work.

As always, please leave your own recommendations for non-binary authors to read in the comments, and I’ll be back with more recommendations soon!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 8

It’s time, past time really, for another installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. For those unfamiliar, this is a sibling series to Women to Read wherein I recommend work by non-binary authors, along with a starting place for their work. I use non-binary as a term of convenience, but the series includes agender, genderqueeer, gender fluid, neutrois, and more – essentially, authors who do not identify along the male/female binary spectrum. If you want to catch up, the other entries in the series can be found here. Onward to the recommendations!

K.C. Alexander is a genderqueer author whose SINless series begins with the novel Necrotech. Many of her works revolve around the theme of transhumanism, and so my recommended starting place for her work is her first transhumanist story, Four Tons Too Late (written under the name Karina Cooper). Four Tons Too Late follows Frank Mooney, a police officer who is part of an experimental program that has made him both more and less than human. As the story opens, Frank is near the end of his life in a nursing home, watched over by nurses who can barely be bothered with him. He’s an obsolete piece of tech, trapped in a failing body. All he has left are his memories, and even those offer little solace. His ex-wife remarried his partner, Jenkins. His colleagues on the force called him derogatory names like scrap squad and bucket head. The one bright spot in his memories is a young girl he saved from the streets, who he tried to raise as his daughter, but even that ended poorly, and now they’re estranged. There are comparisons to be made with RoboCop, but Four Tons Too Late is a story on a much smaller and more intimate scale. Frank’s least human qualities serve to underline his humanity. His struggle with simple things, like trying to pick up a coffee cup with his augmented hands without shattering it, or opening a refrigerator door without ripping it off the hinges, convey a sense of isolation, a loss of dignity, and a vulnerability, can be seen as a metaphor for aging or sickness. Frank’s servos and sensors that he wills to cooperate could just as easily be arthritic joins, or muscles impacted by a stroke. At the heart of the story is the reminder that sometimes is the loss of elements of our humanity that reminds us most sharply of who we are at our cores. Four Tons Too Late is a powerful story about family, the complicated nature of love, and the cost of being alive, and it’s an excellent starting place for K. C. Alexander’s work.

Hunger Makes the WolfAlex Acks is a writer, reviewer, and a sharp dressed sir. I have long been a fan of their short fiction, but my recommended starting place is their debut novel, Hunger Makes the Wolf (written under the name Alex Wells). Acks immediately drops readers into a world that feels lived in, with characters whose lives extend beyond the page. By the time we meet Hob Ravani, she already has a strange encounter with a phoenix in her past, and is imbued with witchy power she doesn’t fully understand. She also has a fall from grace in her past, which has left her clawing her way back up to a respected position within the Ghost Wolves, the mercenary biker gang that makes up half of her adopted family. As the story opens, the other half of Hob’s adopted family is in the process of being torn apart. The man who raised her is found murdered in the dunes, and her sister Mags is missing. Hob sets out to find the truth, and help her sister if she can, even though she’s been estranged from that side of the family for years. The story is set against the backdrop of Tanegawa’s World, a hardscrabble mining planet controlled by the TransRift Corporation. There’s a mysterious and not-quite-human being called the Bone Collector, who may or may not be Hob’s ally, and there are Weathermen, genetically engineered creatures under company control who are definitely not on Hob’s side. People with Hob’s powers are being hunted, and TransRift is tightening its grip on the people of Tanegawa’s World to a chokehold. Hunger Makes the Wolf is gritty in the truest sense. There is dust and dirt everywhere, and you can practically feel it between your teeth as you read. Elements of the novel are reminiscent of the best parts of Firefly, with a band of underdogs fighting back against a faceless central authority. The story feels more embedded though, showing the daily struggle of the miners’ lives, and their quiet acts of resistance alongside the more dramatic ones. There’s a cinematic quality to the novel, which would make it brilliant source material for a television series or mini-series. It’s full of action, and there’s even a train heist! Acks doesn’t skimp on character however. Hob’s relationship with her family, including the Ghost Wolves, is complicated and messy, making it all the more real. They don’t always get along, but they fight fiercely for each other, and new layers to the characters unfolds as the story does. The characters and worldbuilding are unique, and in the Weathermen, Acks offers a truly unsettling and intriguing new monster. The fact that it is reminiscent of Firefly makes it the perfect book for those still holding out hope for the series to be resurrected, and either way, it is an excellent starting place for Acks’ work.

Raven Kaldera is an intersex author, Pagan shaman, and an activist. My recommended starting place for his work is CyberFruit Swamp, originally published in Genderflex: Sexy Stories on the Edge and In-Between, and reprinted in Queers Destroy Science Fiction. CyberFruit Swamp is a decadent story about hook-up culture in a future where gender, sexuality, and physical bodies are more mutable than they are today. The protagonist is a nachtlei, trans and mostly male-presenting, but not rigidly fixed to one gender or sexuality.

I used to call myself pansex, but men and womyn think you’re great at first, and then they get to thinking. Thinking. Wondering what they are in relation to you. Queer. Straight. Husband. Wife. Then they get uncomfortable. So when I fill out for the forms for the Net personals now, I check off NQ – Nachtlei Queer. I only sleep with my own kind. It’s safer that way.

GenderflexOn the hunt, they leave the house dressed to kill, packing two of their seven APPles, also known as Artificial Penile Prosthetics, or CyberCocks. They have one for each situation, each mood. They wear chains signifying their preference, reminiscent of real life dress codes used within the queer community in the time when it wasn’t as safe to be out in the open. In a bar the protagonist meets a Boy, one who seems naive but also irresistible, and with a way of getting past their defenses. The story is short, but manages to cover a lot of ground along the way – exploring questions of gender, sexuality, consent, and control. On top of those themes, the story also touches on questions of who is protected by the law, and what gaps are left by a limited understanding of sex and sexuality. There’s a BDSM element to the story, and the question of the law and who it protects arises as the second half of the characters’ consensual encounter gets mistaken for attempted rape, which, within the world of the story can only be considered rape if it’s committed with a “real” penis. It’s a fascinating story, stylishly told, and sexy to boot. Overall, it’s an excellent starting place for Kaldera’s work.

Three excellent authors, three recommended starting places for their work. I’ll be back with more non-binary authors to read soon, but in the meantime, please leave your own recommendation in the comments, and happy reading!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 7

Today is Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re into the holiday or not, around here it’s all the excuse I need to show some non-binary authors a bit of love. If you’re unfamiliar with the Non-Binary Authors to Read series, it’s a sibling-series to Women to Read wherein I recommend an author along with a starting place for their work, simple as that. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up here. Now, on to the recommendations.

Hidden YouthA.J. Odasso is a queer/intersex/neutrois author, poet, and poetry editor at Strange Horizons. My recommended starting place for her work is Feet of Clay from the anthology Hidden Youth, the follow-up anthology to Crossed Genres’ Long Hidden. Kleia is a young slave girl living in Byzantium, using clay figurines and sympathetic magic to try to make her ailing mistress well. Kleia’s master is also her father, and though he knows this, he doesn’t acknowledge her as a daughter. With his wife, Ireni, on her deathbed, he has his eye on Kleia as his next wife as she reminds him of her mother, a slave who died in childbirth. Elements of the story, particularly Kleia’s relationship with her father, call to mind the fairy tales Silver Hands and Donkey Skin. However all the relationships in the story are complicated. Ireni could never have children of her own, and thinks of Kleia as a daughter. The dynamic between mistress and slave, master and slave, and master and mistress results in a complex story of love, lust, and loyalty. The power imbalance between Ireni and Kleia means their relationship will always be tainted by their respective stations in life. This is true of almost all the characters in the story. For example, Laksa and Zakarias, two other servants in the household, treat Kleia like family, but Laksa also thinks of Ireni as a daughter. The story never shies away from the darker side of these relationships. Despite familial feelings, the knowledge that Kleia is property in the household is always in play. Odasso does an excellent job of showing people in the margins working together and protecting each other while also exploring their vulnerability. The characters are at the heart of this story, and the speculative elements add an extra layer of richness. Within a strong anthology, it was one of my favorite stories, and an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

JY Yang is a genderqueer author, and an editor at Epigram Books. My recommended starting place for their work is Secondhand Bodies, published in Lightspeed Magazine.

I have bad genes. My mother’s mother had a round face and a body that bulged like a beehive, a victim of bad metabolism that spared my mother but resurfaced in me, her wayward daughter. Much as clinicians have tried to iron out the kinks in my DNA, each body they generate still goes soft and gelatinous within months. This is my fourth body since I turned twenty. Nothing sticks, not diets, not exercise. Only overhauls.

Agatha lives in a world where the rich can afford to move into new bodies whenever their old ones become aesthetically unpleasing. Her family – particularly her obnoxious cousin Aloysius – is pressuring her into a new body. He has connections at company that can set her up with a permanent solution, eliminating the need to constantly switch bodies, but since the company only grows a limited supply, Agatha has to be willing to illegally sell her current body. While consulting with the doctor, Agatha sees a picture of the woman who wants to buy her secondhand body. Maryam is beautiful and Agatha can’t understand why she would want to trade for a less than ideal body. She immediately becomes fascinated by her – attracted in a way that combines desire, with a desire to possess and subsume. Agatha initiates a relationship, even though donors and buyers aren’t supposed to meet; money can circumvent a lot of regulations. Like Odasso’s story, the relationship between Agatha and Maryam is complicated. There is an imbalance of power, wealth, social status, and Agatha has something Maryam desperately wants. Yang manages to make Agatha both an unlikable character, and sympathetic. There’s a lost quality to her; she genuinely doesn’t seem to know what she wants, and the societal and familial pressure she’s been under her whole life leads her to lash out at others in ugly ways. The story explores class, desire, beauty standards, and more, linking them all together to show the ways the world can make monsters of people and trap them at the same time. The story also explores the ethics of scientific and medical advances, and the divide been the haves and the have-nots when it comes to access. Overall, it’s an excellent story, and an excellent starting place for Yang’s work.

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll close out my recommendations with a bit of kink. Corey Alexander, who writes under the name Xan West, is a queer transgender erotica author. My recommended starting place for their writing is A Wolf’s Yearning, published on the author’s website as a Valentine’s gift to readers. While it’s more of a story snippet than a full tale, it’s still highly effective. Rocky is a sadist who also happens to be a werewolf, imagining taking hir new lover for the first time. As one might guess from the set up, the story involves pain play and dominance, and it is explicit. While the story itself might be brief, West/Alexander builds a lot into the character of Rocky, and the story is important for several reasons – it embraces kink unabashedly, and not only that, it embraces queer kink, non-binary kink, gender fluidity, and features a fat, middle-aged character of color enjoying sex. All too often in fiction of any genre, these identities are erased. In mainstream media especially, there is a narrow definition of what is considered attractive and thus what types of characters get to fully embrace their sexuality. Those characters are largely white, thin, young, and heteronormative. Everyone else is pushed to the margins. Fat characters, queer characters, and older characters are supposed to be sexless unless their sexuality is played for comedy, an outside gaze, or is strangely chaste, limited to hugs and the briefest of kisses. Pushing back against these norms, Rocky revels in hir sexuality and is unapologetic about it. West packs a lot into a short space, also exploring dominance, consent, and animal nature. Rocky doesn’t want to simply control Frankie; ze wants to possess her and mark her, the way a wolf does, for all others to see. The desire isn’t about claiming Frankie as exclusive property, but celebrating their relationship visibly and publicly, which circles back to the idea of pushing back against marginalized sexualities and identities being erased. It’s also a story of anticipation, of the act of wanting and desiring being fundamental to sex. There is a sense that both parties are entering new territory in this relationship; it will require trust, consent, and a willingness to give up a certain degree of control in order to obtain it. The story perfectly encapsulates the tipping point of setting off into the unknown, whether that’s embarking on a new relationship, or going on an adventure – anything and everything is possible. Yet gratification is delayed, leaving everything in the realm of imagination. Not only is this story an excellent starting place for the author’s work, it’s an excellent way to treat yourself to a bit of Valentine’s Day kink.

That’s it for this installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. Spread the love and leave your own recommendations for non-binary authors to read in the comments.

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Non Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part Six

It’s been a while, far too long in fact, so now it’s high time for another Non-Binary Authors to Read post. If you’re new to the series and catching up, the first five installments can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I use non-binary as a term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, neutrois, and other genders that do not align with the male/female binary. I do my best, but if I ever fuck up a pronoun, or misgender anyone, please let me know. I will make changes with my sincere apologies!

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer, and poet, and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe in 2014. My recommended starting place for her work is Ten Days’ Grace, published by Apex Magazine in 2014. The story describes a reality that feels all too frighteningly possible, where family structures are mandated by law, for the ‘good of the children’. Each child must be raised by two parents, one male, one female, regardless of whether they love each other. Single parenthood is not an option, nor is same-sex marriage, or abortion. A parent who finds themselves widowed receives ten days grace to mourn before they must marry again. Julia, the protagonist of Meadows’ story, finds herself in just such a situation. Twelve years into a loveless marriage, her husband dies in a car crash. Julia’s daughter, Lily, was the result of an affair with a married man, leaving her little choice but to marry a stranger in order to protect her daughter. Now, she’s forced into the situation again. Meadows shows the emotional impact such laws might have on women and children, those who have the least say and power in the situation, and it is heartbreaking. The story is not hopeless however. Julia develops a relationship with the agent assigned to ensure she remarries, and they strike a deal. He is gay and has no more interest in marrying than she does, but a marriage will protect him, and help his career. It’s still a relationship of convenience, but one that seems like it could develop into a genuine friendship. Sora and Julia are both taking a risk, trusting each other when they barely know each other. By having Julia and Sora follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit, Meadows shows how useless said laws are. After starting with her fiction, I highly recommend checking out Foz’s non-fiction on her blog and elsewhere.

Lora Gray is a writer, illustrator, and dance instructor. My recommended starting point for their work is Shadow Boy, published in Shimmer’s September/October 2016 issue. Shadow Boy is a take on the story of Peter Pan, specifically one of its darker and more disturbing aspects – the idea of a boy whose shadow needs to be forcibly reattached. The focus is not Peter here, but PJ, whose family believes her to be a girl, but whose shadow is a boy. PJ’s shadow fights PJ from within, further adding to their struggle to decide who they are and who they want to be. PJ doesn’t fully identify as a girl, but doesn’t fully identify as male either. Their family is less than supportive, and when Peter comes into their life, at first it seems like a blessing. He scorns traditional gender norms with his clothing, and propriety in general, stomping around funerals and wearing dead pigeons as jewelry. PJ envies his freedom, but there’s something sinister about him as well. When PJ’S shadow escapes, Peter offers help, but he wants to keep PJ’s shadow in return. I’ve always been a sucker for Peter Pan stories, especially ones that touch on the darker side of his nature. There’s something truly unsettling about a boy who never grows up, who kidnaps other children, but abandons them if they refuse to live in his world of perpetual childhood. Gray does an excellent job of weaving familiar elements of the Pan story with issues of gender dysphoria, and outside perception vs. self identity. The imagery throughout the piece is striking, and beautiful language balances the pain in the tale.

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, artist, narrator, and translator. My recommended starting place for their work is Her Sacred Spirit Soars published in Strange Horizons’ Queer Planet issue. A pair of interdependent mythical birds, kimkim, with one eye and one wing each, are separated. One of the birds is forced into the body of a human woman as an experimental cure for her mental illness. The story is soaked in longing, as the woman remembers being the bird, and the bird slowly takes on the identity of the woman, becoming a ghost inside her skin. The doctors tell her she’s sick, but getting better; she remembers flying, and being part of something larger than herself. She remembers another being as part of herself, and there is a hole where that other half of her should be. In the center where she’s being treated, she  begins to develop a tentative relationship with her roommate, Yaulan. It feels both like a betrayal of her other half, and a moment of hope. They are both lacking something, both searching for a meaningful connection. Through gorgeous, poetic imagery, Her Sacred Spirit Soars explores the idea of identity and wholeness, while blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The story can be read as metaphorical or literal, and it works on both ways. It’s an excellent place to start with S. Qiouyi Lu’s work.

Margaret Killjoy is a genderqueer author and editor. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything That Isn’t Winter, recently published at Tor.com. Elements of Killjoy’s piece remind me of Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent Station Eleven. They are both ‘quiet apocalypse’ stories, taking place after the end of everything when the world is in a period of recovery. In the case of Killjoy’s story, the protagonist, Aiden, is a former fighter, trying to find a place in the new world. The violence of their past frightens them, and they are struggling to make a new life, rebuilding themselves as they help rebuild society. At the same time, Aiden is going through a rough patch with their boyfriend, Khalil. There’s a gap between them, a breakdown in understanding that Aiden doesn’t know how to bridge or heal. When the In-Between Lodge where they live with a small community, harvesting tea, is attacked, Aiden goes off to fight. The impulse to violence warring with the desire for peace, and the fear of losing Khalil for good, eventually leads to a breakthrough. Rebuilding isn’t easy work, for individuals, or for society as a whole, but it’s easier together, and together Aiden and Khalil will find a way forward. The story provides a fascinating look at what happens to soldiers once the war ends, and a look at the new shape societies take when the fundamentals they took for granted are no longer there. It shows both the brutality humans are capable of, and our ingenuity and determination in the face of adversity.

So there you have it, four fabulous authors and a recommended starting place for their work. But wait, there’s more! This time around, I have a bonus recommendation, and a wonderful-looking project to plug.

First up, my bonus recommendation is the Queering the Genre series curated by D Libris. D is a genderqueer reviewer and occasional essayist, and I only include this as a bonus and not a main feature since I don’t believe they technically self-identify as an author. Queering the Genre includes guest essays, reviews, and author spotlights with a focus on queer fiction, and it’s well worth checking out. You can find D’s mission statement for the series here.

Last, but not least, is a plug for Andi Buchanan’s IndieGoGo campaign for Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue. Andi edits Capricious, and I’ve covered their work in a previous installment of this series. The issue looks like it will be fabulous, and there are lots of fun rewards on offer for backing the campaign, including your very own adorable, handmade fuzzhog. Take a look and lend the project your support, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to make sure there isn’t such a long gap before the next installment of the series.

 

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 5

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another edition of Non-Binary Authors to Read. If you’re new to this series, here’s where you can find part 1, 2, 3, and 4. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get this part 5 party started!

Penny Stirling is an agender author from Western Australia. My recommended starting place for ous work is Kin, Painted from the Summer 2015 issue of Lackington’s Magazine. The language in this story is flat-out gorgeous. It concerns a family of artists, each with their skin painted or adorned in a way that both makes them a living work of art, and expresses something about their personality. The protagonist’s father is decorated with game boards for chess and backgammon worked into his skin, their mother is a dancer coated in glass and reflective paint, one of their sisters is a royal guard painted in camouflage, and one of their brothers, the lover of the Duchess’ son, is tattooed with roses from the Duchess’ garden. So it goes for every member of the family, except the protagonist who still struggles with how best to define themselves. Over the course of the story, they try on a myriad of different art forms – watercolor, ink, mosaic, chalk. Each attempt is lovingly described, as are the characters. Stirling gives readers a world of gender fluidity, of family, and of finding oneself. Each character feels fully realized, with their own arcs to follow in the tale. The result is a portrait (if you’ll excuse the pun) that feels epic, yet on an intimate scale. Taken all together, it’s a very worthy starting place for Stirling’s work.

Laurie Penny is an author, journalist, feminist, and activist. My recommended starting place for her work is How to Be a Genderqueer Feminist published at Buzzfeed. While Buzzfeed is better known for clickbait articles in the vein of 21 things you can list that will make people follow this link, Penny’s essay is heartfelt, honest, and speaks to a larger truth. In it, Penny discusses her own gender identity, and growing up feeling like she never fit in with either binary of girls or boys. Similar to David J. Schwartz essay about the restrictive nature of masculinity, which I discussed in an earlier installment of this series, Penny talks about how her early understanding of feminism was damaging to her. The restrictive category of female can be as problematic as the restrictive category of male. Penny’s journey took her through an eating disorder, suicidal ideation, questioning of her sexuality and gender identity, and eventually emerging on the other side to find a supportive community that helped her understand her identity. How to Be a Genderqueer Feminist is an important essay furthering the discussion around the spectrum of gender, pushing for less limited definitions, and showing there is room for a wide range of expressions of self. Hopefully it is the kind of piece that will help others struggling with their notions of who they are, and either way, it is a wonderful starting place for Penny’s work.

Sarah Benwell is a YA author, and my recommended starting place is the essay Knights, Defenders and Double-Edged Swords at Gay YA. The essay is brief, but important. It is a call to action, a call for representation of genderfluid characters in YA literature. It is the kind of thing, if acted upon might help youth going through the same journey Laurie Penny describes in her essay feel less alone. As most people are painfully aware, young adulthood is a formative time, and can be a confusing one. People try on identities and figure out who and how they want to be in the world. Many of us turn to literature for role models, and as Benwell points out a lack of genderfluid and non-binary characters can be actively damaging. To quote directly: How can anyone feel good, normal, okay, wanted, valued, if they cannot find themselves? With no role models to look up to, and no language to explain themselves? No stories. When society either confronts them or denies that they exist (and sometimes does both in one breath)? You can’t. We need representation. Erasure of marginalized groups is too common in literature overall, but in YA it’s especially impactful. Benwell’s essay draws attention to the importance of representation, and pushes for more of it across the field, making it an excellent starting place.

Alex Dally MacFarlane is an author, editor and historian. My recommended starting point for their work is Two Bright Venuses from Clockwork Phoenix 5. The story takes its inspiration from a real 17th century BCE astronomical record, which describes the rising of a superior and inferior Venus. The story posits two Venuses as fact. Because of their twin nature, exploration of them is only possible through a unique form of synchronicity – astronauts made to be exact mirrors of each other in every way, acting in complete unison. This is the kind of story that slips between the cracks of genre, straddling and blurring the line between science fiction and weird fiction. It is both a tale of space exploration, and a tale of ghosts, as the planet Venus reaches out to overwrite the astronauts trying to understand it. There are shades of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy here, as MacFarlane presents the reader with an unknowable Venus, a wild place that is ancient and changes those who try to explore it. The story also explores elements of identity as the astronauts, Inferior Irunn and Superior Irunn, are linked to both each other and the planet. Which feelings are truly their own, which are external to them? Where do the boundaries lie, and in the end, does it matter? What is self in the face of something so vast? There are hints of mythology at play, and while the story doesn’t necessarily give readers an easy path by explaining itself upfront, it is well worth it. The story is richer for making readers pay close attention and work to understand the shape the of the world. Haunted and haunting, it is an excellent starting place for MacFarlane’s work.

Four more authors, four more excellent works to read. As always, I invite you to leave your own suggestions for work by non-binary authors in the comments.

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 4

ETA: I mistakenly listed A.J. Fitzwater as non-binary when I originally posted this, so my apologies. Her story is still a damn good one though, so I’m moving it to the bottom of the post. Consider it a bonus Women to Read entry!

It’s been a while, but I’m back with another edition of non-binary authors to read. As mentioned in previous installments, non-binary is my term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, and various other terms not falling within the typical spectrum of strict male/female identification. (A note relevant to this series and my Women to Read: Where to Start series at SF Signal – apologies to any authors mis-gendered in either of these columns. If I’ve fucked up anywhere, and you’d like me to change anything, please let me know.) Now, on to the recommendations…

First up is Rose Lemberg, a bigender author and the co-editor of Stone Telling Magazine. My recommended starting place for her work is Grandmother-Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds, part of her Birdverse series of stories, which was published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. There are several things to recommend this piece. It is a story rich in imagery and sensory detail. It is a story about magic – who is allowed to use it, and what kind are they allowed to use. It is a story about language – who is allowed to speak, and what happens if they cannot. It is a story about love – what would you do for its sake, how far would you travel, what would you give up and leave behind. And it is a story about self – coming to know who you are, and seeing others more clearly in the process. Lemberg also uses the tale to explore gender in fascinating ways. Women and men live separate from each other and have different powers at their disposal. The protagonists’ brother, Kimriel (Kimi), cannot communicate verbally. As a result, the male scholars will not take him, and he must stay among the women. More than that, because he cannot speak and debate and talk the way scholars do, he is no longer considered male. He becomes the main character’s little sister, and is given a new name, Zohra, though she continues to answer only to Kimi. There is also Grandmother-nai-Tammah who wishes to be known as a man. My meager description of the story doesn’t do it justice. It presents the notion of gender as something both rigid and fluid, each binary choice coming with its own weight. As mentioned before, it’s soaked in sensory detail, transporting the reader to the world of the tale. Overall, it’s lovely on many levels and a wonderful starting place for Lemberg’s work. I will also selfishly recommend The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye, which we recently published at Unlikely Story.

My second recommendation is for David J. Schwartz, a genderqueer author. My recommended starting place for his work is the brilliant non-fiction essay, Masculinity is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box, recently published at Uncanny. The essay deals with and deconstructs the unreasonable and unattainable ideals of masculinity, and examines the places where masculinity and nerd culture intersect. To anyone familiar with nerd culture, Schwartz gives the easily recognizable example of a boy who isn’t good at sports, and therefore constructs a nerd version of masculinity to define himself. This version of masculinity includes things like fierce love of comic books, video games, and certain movies and tv shows. This boy then becomes very defensive and exclusionary around said interests, seeing them as something needing to be defended from others. This need to defend leads to the concept of the ‘fake geek girl’, and the idea that anyone outside the narrow ‘male’ box does not belong in nerd culture. They are in fact ruining that culture simply by loving it, because it is not theirs, it belongs solely to the person trying to defend it. The essay also touches on Schwartz’s own movement toward identifying as genderqueer and how it impacted his life. It’s a wonderful essay, well-worth the read, and an excellent starting place for Schwartz’s work. I would also recommend The Water Poet and the Four Seasons, which I included recently among my list of favorite pieces published by Strange Horizons over the years.

A.J. Fitzwater is a New Zealand author who was awarded the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent. My recommended starting place for her work is She Must, from the recently launched Capricious. She Must is an intriguing story on many levels. It breaks grammar rules, frequently eschewing commas and thus demanding the reader pay extra attention to catch meaning. It also plays with fairy tale themes, twisting them around to make the hero and the villain of the piece the same creature. Then, just when you think you have a grasp on things, it adds a modern flair, with real estate sales, fucking with the fairy tale motif. She Must tackles the weight of social expectation, gender roles, and many other themes, all within a relatively short tale. In their author interview, Fitzwater states her interest in breaking down the fairy tale form and moving beyond the boundaries of the traditional tale. The repeated refrain of ‘she must’, is woven throughout, bringing attention to the imperative, and the weight laid on women in particular. As Fitzwater says in her interview, there is a specific mold fairy tale heroines must fit in order to be worthy, and not become the villain. For example, most older women are relegated to the role of wicked crone, or jealous queen. Only the young, pretty, and marriageable girls are the heroes of their stories. The language used throughout She Must is striking, poetic and harsh all at once. I’m recommending this as a starting place for Fitzwater’s work for the way it plays with form, but there are many other worthy starting points, including A Fear of Falling Under at The Future Fire, and Cartography, and the Death of Shoes in the anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land from Crossed Genres.

So there you have it – two fantastic non-binary authors whose work you should read, and a bonus woman to read. If you have your own recommendations, please leave them in the comments!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 3

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!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 2

The sibling series to my Women to Read: Where to Start series at SF Signal continues! Here are four more non-binary authors whose work you should be reading, and a recommended starting point. As with the first installment of the series, I use non-binary as a title but include androgyne, generqueer, genderfluid, gender neutral, neutrois, and gender non-conforming, among other identities. Now, onward to the authors and their stories!

An Owomoyela is a neutrois author and one of the editors of Strange Horizons. My recommended starting place for se’s work is All That Touches Air, published in the April 2011 issue of Lightspeed. There’s a temptation to call this a first contact story, but it’s really more of a first connection story. At its heart, it centers on a moment between a human and an alien species, and them truly trying to understand each other for the first time. As a child, the protagonist witnesses what is essentially a government-sanctioned execution. A man named Menley is brought to the Ocean of Starve, stripped of his envirosuit, and left to have his body colonized by the planet’s dominant species, the Vosth, a silver swarm-like fog. Eight years later, Menley’s body returns to the colony’s protective shell, wanting to be let inside. While the story isn’t horror, it plays with horror tropes with the image of Menley’s colonized body pressing a hand to the door, and the flat way the Vosth telepathically speak.  The Vosth in Menley’s body single out the protagonist among all the colonists as their chosen ambassador, repeatedly attempting to communicate, and insisting they remove their envirosuit and experience the air. There’s an extra layer of eeriness added to this request by the fact that in the years since witnessing Menley’s ‘death’, the protagonist has become a kind of agorophobic – wearing their envirosuit at all times, even indoors, removing it only to shower. The Vosth are not only asking for trust, but asking the protagonist to break themselves down and face their fears in order to move forward. In addition to being an excellent story, this piece if full of elegant and evocative language. The Ocean of Starve, and the Vosth’s repeated phrase “All that touches air belongs to us”, are simple phrases that contain multitudes, building a world and hinting at its history without bringing the story to a grinding halt so the author can explain everything. All of which makes All That Touches Air a wonderful starting place for Owomoyela’s work.

Jei D. Marcade is a Korean-American author. My recommended starting place for eir work also happens to be eir first published story – Superhero Girl, which originally appeared in Fantasy Magazine and was reprinted in Prime Book’s Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’m a sucker for superhero stories, and this one effectively packs a punch (no pun intended…okay, maybe a bit of a pun intended) in just a few thousand words. Like Owomoyela’s story, Superhero Girl plays with horror tropes and imagery without being horror. It opens with the eerie imagery of a ghostly woman in the static of a television set, whispering a name and asking the main character to come find her. The ‘ghost’ in question is Ofelia, who claimed to be a superhero, always running off on the main character, her lover, with the excuse of needing to save the world. At its heart, this is a love story. Marcade gives us a main character willing to be completely swept up in their beloved’s world, no matter how unbelievable that world might seem. It’s innocence that manages to avoid naivety; the main character deliberately chooses Ofelia’s truth over other options because the world she paints is  better and brighter. Even so, hints of darkness creep around the edges of Ofelia’s tale. There are scars she blames on a battle with ‘robot ninjas with laser-bladed throwing stars'; she shaves her head, and sleeps too much, looking worn-out and frail. Marcade leaves the truth of the story open. The reader, like the protagonist, gets to decide whether they buy into Ofelia’s worldview. I’m also a sucker for stories that do open-ended endings well, and combining that with the superhero genre makes this an excellent starting place for Marcade’s work.

Nino Cipri is a genderqueer fiction writer with a background in theater. My recommended starting place for their work is The Shape of My Name, published earlier this year at Tor.com. It’s a time travel story on a truly personal level, with a time machine passed down through generations of a single family and only usable by members of that blood line. However, time travel is the background here. The heart of the story is the main character’s relationship with his mother, and her seeming inability to accept him for who he is, believing she gave birth to a daughter, not a son. The Shape of My Name is a story of layers – literal layers of wallpaper decorating the main character’s room, layers of time, layers of text written in Uncle Dante’s book, and struck out or erased as history is changed and rewritten. There are textual layers within the story as well, allowing it to be read in several different ways. It is a story about family, about a character becoming who they truly are, and even about pre-destination versus free will. The main character’s mother seems to believe her life is destined to go a certain way, because it’s written in the family book kept by Uncle Dante. The main character makes his own fate, choosing his own name, and in the end, that can be read as the source of the conflict between mother and son as well – one feels trapped, the other makes his own freedom. In addition to everything else going on, the story is soaked in gorgeous sensory detail. Each time period visited is rooted in a particular taste or smell – Rice Krispies in fresh milk, the medicinal scent in the main character’s room post-surgery, the rough feel and musty scent of an old blanket.  It is a lovely story, heartbreaking and hopeful all at once, and a wonderful starting place for Cipri’s work.

E. Saxey is a queer Londoner of no particular gender. My recommended starting place for their work is Melioration, from the Queers Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed. At flash length, this is another story that packs a lot into very few words. Jay is an academic in the field of linguistics, but not particularly enamored of college life – the social events, the sports clubs, and those who partake of them. Similarly, Jay is not enamored of the old-fashioned views of others on campus, for example, Pethridge, prone to hurling slurs and bullying his way through life. One of Jay’s colleagues, Morley, comes up with a solution, a little grey box that steals words and prevents a person from saying them again. Morley deploys the box against Pethridge, taking away his ability to use offensive language. While Jay doesn’t approve of Pethridge’s use of slurs, they don’t approve of Morley’s enforced censorship either. Jay briefly experiences the loss when Morley demonstrates the box again, proving that it really does work: It’s on the tip of my tongue, the dark of the moon, the back of beyond. The word’s gone. The word Jay loses comes back to them eventually, but the effect is more long lasting with Pethridge. The end of the story is chilling, shifting to twenty years later when Pethridge has become Prime Minster, much softened from his bullying younger days, but shadowed by the loss of the last word Morley stole from him. It’s impressive the number of things Saxey manages to pack into such a short story – the line between free speech and hate speech, the idea of defending something or someone you abhor for the greater good, the power of language, and the way people’s views evolve over time. It’s an impressive feat, and an excellent starting place for Saxey’s work. As luck would have it, Saxey further explores the academic setting, and similar themes, in their upcoming story in Unlikely Story: The Journal of Unlikely Academia, so keep an eye out for that as well.

Four more stories, and four more fantastic authors. I hope to be back with Part 3 and even more non-binary authors to read soon. In the meantime, keep leaving your own recommendations in the comments!

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August 18, 2015 · 9:37 pm

Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 1

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.

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