Not just #weneeddiversebooks but #thisdiversebookisamazingbecausesquee!

(A brief digression from mostly silence.  Possibly a bit of politics.)

First: I believe that everyone who’s editing or publishing diverse anthologies or authors is doing so because they love the stories they’re publishing.  I don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.  I don’t want to rehash the Puppies’ arguments (oh god please no); at most if you squint maybe I’m tangent to them?  A glancing touch and then I proceed rapidly away.   I have heard their arguments (and how) and found them not just unsound but uninteresting.

First, again: I believe that everyone who’s editing or publishing diverse anthologies or authors is doing so because they love the stories they’re publishing.

Second: please, editors and publishers of diverse books—say that you love the stories, and say why.

I’m always concerned with representation and equality and the great Social Justice Warrior values.  I am also a sad, busy human who is more easily moved to buy books and (more importantly) read books and (most importantly) tell others about books because they are Sad! or Funny! or Angry! or Heartwarming! or All Of Those Feels At Once! and that they have an uncommon perspective and abstract political ideals that I share.

Because I know these diverse books overflow with virtues—they are smart and funny and angry and touching and well-written and have that uncommon perspective and engage with abstract political ideals that I care about.  Please tell me about those more mundane virtues too.  Their ideals give them meaning and purpose—what makes them sing to you?

I do think it’s scary to love something, especially for us, especially right now.  To be genuinely enthusiastic is to open yourself up to criticism without giving yourself much defensive fallback, and that’s especially scary when we know there’s a small mob in our community who are part of a larger mob without it who are ready to shit on anyone they get a yearning to.

I think we fall back to expressing ourselves in these abstract political terms because at least then we have the comfort of a community of people who also care about these abstract political ideals to band together with, and it’s not just our love, our taste, mine, Kellan Sparver’s, on the line and potentially under attack.

So we also need reviewers, friends, allies, readers, whatever you’re called—when you love diverse books, please say that and say what you love about them!

And editors and publishers—you can’t be everywhere on the Internet, but if you see your fans dogpiling an otherwise enthusiastic reviewer, friend, ally, reader who made a mistake, please do at least try to defuse them?  Just because your fans are right doesn’t mean that they are justified in being assholes, especially to someone who’s enthusiastic about your work.

I watched this happen once—there was an anthology (no I will not name names) which had been marketed by its editors primarily in abstract political terms.  I was aware of the anthology but didn’t feel particularly excited about buying it.  I read a review which enthusiastically explained all the concrete things which were also cool about the stories and finally convinced me to buy the book, and then before I could do so, I watched a pile of people whale on the reviewer for a genuine but disproportionate mistake, which shriveled up my interest in buying or reading the book.  I think if I were a better person I might have bought it anyway, but I am often tired and much put off by unkindness.

I think what I am saying is, I know we are all enthusiastic about diverse books for a diversity of reasons including their diversity.  Enthusiasm is contagious—let’s work together to make the world a happier! funnier! sadder! angrier! and more diverse world!

Okay, I’ll go first.

#thisdiversebookisamazingbecausesquee

Guys, guys.  O_O  I don’t know that I can express how much I love Fumi Yoshinaga’s “What Did You Eat Yesterday?” manga series.  It’s half Japanese home comfort food cookbook (I mean, like, half of each issue is just a meal’s worth of recipes for good cheap tasty food, in comic form) and half understated gay slice-of-life story and it’s super sweet and touching and I shouldn’t read it before bed because it makes me hungry but I do anyway…  O_O;;  I’m really enjoying it.

#thisdiversebookisamazingbecausesquee

How about you?  What’s awesome about something diverse you’ve read lately?

What I’m Reading: “Flocks”, by L. Nichols (queer Christian autobio comics)

"I am the people. We are the people. But no matter how hard I tried, I never heard 'me' when they said 'we.' I think they knew I was different."

I’ve mentioned before that I read a lot of webcomics, and that in the best of them I find more to relate to in the queer experiences they depict than I do in most prose fiction.  (And maybe also that the format lets me take works which make me feel strong emotions piecemeal, slowing me down enough that I can process them without getting overwhelmed.)

Flocks by L. Nichols—which its website describes simply as “An autobiographical story about L’s experience as a queer Christian”—is a particularly pointed example of that.

A lot of L.’s experience of being Christian and queer in a place hostile to the latter was my experience too, and we used college to escape in the same way.  The grinding sense that I was wrong, that I didn’t belong, that I was being punished by God, was something I lived with for a long time, and has made any kind of adult relationship with the church very, very hard.

For me the redemptive arc is that that is no longer my day-to-day, and I’m in a place now with people who are welcoming to who I am.  The comic is still ongoing (posts about once a month), but it seems L. found much the same.

What I’m Reading, Queer-Friendly Haunted House Fantasy YA Novella Edition

okatsu onsen anu

…or at least that was how Tam described Onsen.

I should back up. Tam is a friend and classmate from Viable Paradise, and maybe a few months ago she tweeted that she had a book out, which was Onsen, and which she described as “a queer-friendly haunted house fantasy YA novella.”  I was intrigued, and the cover was remarkably self-confident, so I picked it up, and enjoyed it.

Once I finished it, I discovered that it was part of a series, which made a couple of the things which had surprised me about it less surprising. I went back and picked up Okatsu, which filled in some gaps.  And I saw going over to grab cover images that Anu is now out (yay!), so that’s on its way to my Kindle.  I am not much one for series, so that alone should be read as high praise.

In terms of technical skill they’re quite well-done.  I can’t speak too much to the veracity of the setting or the characters in the context of historical Japan, but Tam writes both with compassion and a good eye for detail.

The books also fill a great need of mine for smart comfort fiction.  (In fact I read about half of Onsen in the ER waiting room at 4 AM—everyone is fine, but taking a friend to the ER is never any fun—and it was exactly what I wanted.)  I have serious trouble turning my brain off, and here I didn’t have to, but I was also able to relax enough to enjoy the books without needing to dissect them, and that’s a rare thing for me lately.  They are pleasant reading.

Tam does a good job with the central queer relationship.  I’ve been mulling a bit over why I relate to some depictions and not others, and I think part of it might be tied up in that lack of demonstrativeness I was mentioning.  Jao and Masahiro are conscious of how they are performing their relationship in a way that I recognize.

Also Tam is now serializing a novel in the same setting but with different characters (so far) over on her Tumblr. (Here is the first post.)

Very much recommended.

(And the cover design! So excellent! I want to hire her cover artist.)

Okatsu (ebook; paper; Amazon)
Onsen (ebook; paper; Amazon)
Anu (ebook; paper; Amazon)

Apropos of Nothing

Skin Horse Feb 1, 2013

I dunno what it says about anything that fanfic and webcomics are my most reliable sources of comfort reading.  But here we are.

Maybe what it says is that I wouldn’t read Skin Horse if it were a novel, granted.  I can’t falsify that hypothesis, and that bugs me.  Maybe I have forgotten how to read prose fiction for fun.  Maybe my literary kinks have gotten too specific.

So I spent the night catching up on webcomics and doing laundry.

Oh hey, it’s snowing outside.

What I'm Reading, Queer SF Anthologies Edition

“Room 506,” he said, as he stood up.  “And if you’re not there by nine, we’re starting without you.”

Given that I’m interested in representations of bisexuality in literature, especially SF literature, I was interested in  Scheherazade’s Facade, edited by Michael M. Jones, a collection of “stories of those willing to blur or transcend the traditional gender roles.”

Although publisher Circlet Press is most well-known for their SF and fantasy erotica, this is their first release on their new Gressive Press imprint, which “publishes sex-positive science fiction/fantasy outside the binary, which celebrates genderqueer, genderbent, transgender, polygender, bisexual, bigendered, and other identities outside the boxes set by mainstream understandings of gender and sexuality.”  Which is to say that, while these are often very sexy stories, they’re not erotic stories per se.

It’s a really refreshing anthology for me.  I didn’t like everything in it, and nothing blew me away, but nothing bored me either, and that’s really saying something.  A few of the stories, bless their hearts, bothered me but provocatively, and I’d much rather something fail provocatively than mundanely.

Stories I found of special mention: “The Daemons of Tairdean Town”, by C.S. MacCath, which has both the most sympathetic portrayal of genuinely religious people I’ve ever seen in SF and the most telling subversion of religion.  “Kambal Kulam”, by Paolo Chikiamco, for being pure crack-fic.  “Keeping the World on Course”, by Tanith Lee, for the symmetry of it.  “Going Dark”, by Lyn C.A. Gardner, for being genuinely all of cool, sympathetic, and creepy.  “The Cloak of Isis”, by Sunny Moraine, for the sheer beauty of its writing.  “How to Dance While Drowning”, by Shanna Germaine, for creepiness.  “Treasure and Maidens”, by Sarah Rees Brennan, for identification right up until the last page or two.  And “Lady Marmalade’s Special Place in Hell”, by David Sklar, for sheer exuberance.

A lot of these stories are still working out the usual narratives of queer stories — the closet, coming out, transitioning, social opprobrium, unsupportive parents, and at least one AIDS story.  While a lot of us are still wrestling with those things, I want to see stories too which take queer relationships as fact and try to figure out what’s beyond the usual narratives, because that is, for the lucky among us, increasingly part of our reality as well.  (Queer people who are watching their culture fragment as it gains mainstream acceptance can commiserate with SF fans who are watching their culture fragment as it gains mainstream acceptance, and vice versa.)

Even if it doesn’t go as far as I would like, it’s an excellent and provocative anthology.  Highly worthwhile.

List of Gay Male SF Writers

Limited to published authors.  Presented as a public service, in no particular order.

  • Arthur C. Clarke (added 2013-11-6; how did I forget?)
  • Samuel R. Delany
  • Hal Duncan
  • Thomas M. Disch
  • Rahul Kanakia
  • David Gerrold
  • Geoff Ryman
  • Steve Berman
  • Clive Barker (added 2012-12-12)
  • Richard Bowes (added 2012-12-12)
  • Gregory Maguire (added 2012-12-26)
  • Kyle Aisteach (added 2013-12-26)
  • David Gerrold (added 2013-12-27)

Not pictured: Alberto Yáñez, Aleksandr Voinov (bisexual)

That’s… seven nine ten eleven thirteen.  Who am I forgetting?  (The SFWA member directory lists 1747 members.)

(Thanks to Bogi TakácsCharles A. Tan, et al.)

The Queer SF Reading Project

I’m making my own list.

I got tired of seeing lists of SF books containing queer characters, created after various Internet kerfuffles, which didn’t differentiate between books with throwaway bisexual characters and books with bisexual protagonists.  I got tired of seeing lists in which characters were counted as bisexual for a throwaway mention of a one-night stand with a member of the same sex.  I got tired of seeing lists which lumped female bisexuality with male bisexuality.  I got tired of seeing lists which didn’t distinguish between positive and negative portrayals of bisexuality.  (The last time I counted, half of the men on Wikipedia’s List of bisexual characters in television were from Oz, an HBO prison drama. Yeah, no. Not helping. Fuck you.)

So I’ve been going through fiction looking for bisexual male protagonists, like you do, when you’re male and bisexual and still figuring out what that means.  And I mostly read SF, so I’ve mostly been looking for SF.

Or at least that was what I set out to do.  Turns out that there’s not a lot of SF with bisexual male protagonists.  Nor is there much SF with queer protagonists at all, though I’ve discovered several veins I’ve only begun to tap, and the landscape is changing even as I write, which is awesome.  (If you know of mainstream or literary fiction with bisexual male protagonists, I’d love to hear about it.  But consider the guidelines below.)

In the process of searching for SF with bisexual male protagonists, however, I’ve encountered a lot of SF with lesbian or gay protagonists, and some of that wound up on the list too, because something about it resonated with me.  I’ve also expanded out of SF, because there’s interesting stuff in other genres too.  What I’ve ended up with is something like a list of “good fiction with queer protagonists, mostly SF,” but that’s too long.  So The Queer SF Reading Project it is.

Some definitions and guidelines.

“Sympathetic” — I’m looking for stories I enjoy and characters I like enough to consider emulating.  I’m not a Depraved Bisexual, and I don’t want to be one.  And Bury Your Gays endings suck.

“Male” — Several of the fictions I list have sympathetic female protagonists, and I’ve found I enjoy those stories too, but I started out looking for sympathetic male protagonists because I’m male, and I find male bisexuals harder to find in fiction (and real life) than female bisexuals.

“Bisexual” — The character has an expressed interest in, or demonstrated history of, sleeping with or forming romantic attachments with both men and women, not necessarily simultaneously; or, the character identifies as such.  (I use binary gender here but some of these characters are more fluid; this is the minimum requirement, not the total requirement.  Extrapolate reasonably for definitions of “gay” and “lesbian”.)

“Major viewpoint character” (mostly meaning “protagonist”) is very important.  Queer spear-carriers don’t cut it.  The queer characters need to be the focus of the story for me to include them here.  Because queer people matter, and fuck you.  I’m not just the comic relief in everybody else’s story.

The interplay of sexuality and identity — It’s not necessarily important to me that the character’s sexuality be important to them as a person.  Richard St Vier in Swordspoint doesn’t seem to think too much on his sexuality, for example; on the other hand, Ringil Eskiath in The Steel Remains thinks about his sexuality a lot.  Either way, it needs to matter for them as a character; it needs to affect the story in some way.  And indeed Richard’s story would be very different if he didn’t love Alec, and Ringil’s story too would be very different if he hadn’t loved men.  Bi the Way is the opposite of useful here.

This is not an exhaustive list.  This is a list of fiction with queer protagonists I’ve found apposite, identified with, or otherwise cared about (and not even an exhaustive list of that).  I’ve finished everything I review here, with some caveats around serial fictions, where I am often not always entirely caught up.

I’m not going out of my way to spoil things, but I’m not being super-cautious either, and often it’s been too long for me to remember what’s a spoiler and what’s not.  So, you know, SPOILER WARNING and all that.

The list so far:

  1. Doctor Who/Torchwood — John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness is the first sympathetic male bisexual protagonist in media I ever saw.  I would like to say that, the first time I watched “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” (the two-part episode of Doctor Who where he’s introduced), everything exploded with awesomeness because I was finally seeing someone like myself reflected, but I don’t think I quite realized it at the time.  Torchwood never lived up to its promise, and Harkness as a character is a stereotype in some ways I’m still wrestling with.  Still, if I had to pick one of these characters to be when I grow up, it would have to be Captain Jack.
  2. New Amsterdam et seq., by Elizabeth Bear — If you told Don Sebastien de Ulloa, the vampire half of this series’ crime-fighting duo (she’s a forensic sorceress), that he was bisexual, he’d have to go back to the word’s roots to parse it, and his worldview is so alien that it’s hard to ascribe romantic feelings to him.  Given how blood-sucking stands in for sex so often, though, it’s undeniable, and his loves are played for touching if tragic effect.  This was only the second time I’d encountered a positive bisexual man in media, and it electrified me.
  3. Ink and Steel/Hell and Earth, by Elizabeth Bear — A duology whose protagonist is Christopher Marlowe (saved from his untimely fate by a Queen of Faerie), it’s really all about Kit’s loves, and he loves man and woman alike.  I occasionally describe it to friends as “Marlowe-Shakespeare slash,” and man, what slash.  At turns sweet and startling, these are definitely my favorite of Bear’s books (which is a tough competition to win).
  4. Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente — I hesitate to include this book a little, because while it’s all about sex and the characters all have encounters with people of both genders — and eventually end up in something we might call a stable quad — the men in particular seemed… foreign to their love, for lack of better words, and I wanted people more forthright in their skins.  It’s still a gorgeous, sexy, wondrous book, with prose as rich and thick as cream with honey.
  5. Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitts — This was where the “bisexuality” part of the project started to break down, but to good effect.  It’s urban fantasy, so we expect the main character to have bisexual attractions but to go through a series of men, but in fact the main character is a lesbian from a pretty rough background, and not nearly started working through her issues when she finds a magic sword and discovers a magical underground to Seattle she never knew existed.  I sympathized a lot with her background and her struggle, both for the acceptance of others and of herself.  Especially if you’re young, and you’re stuck figuring shit out without help from your family or community, and you want to read just one of these, read this one.
  6. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf — This book is a bit of an odd beast.  It concerns a man who inexplicably becomes a woman halfway through the book.  It’s an interesting book, and it made a list of slipstream fiction earlier this year, so someone besides me and my friend who recommended it to me thinks it’s SFnal.  The main character has exclusively heterosexual relationships despite their gender change, making its inclusion here somewhat dubious, and it’s much more literary than I expected.    It was an amusing read, and it gave me something to think about, and it was an interesting introduction to Woolf’s writing, so on no count a loss.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel — Graphic novels seem to be doing a lot of autobiography and memoir these days, which makes me wonder if there’s something unique about the form which makes that use so compelling.  Alison Bechdel here tells the intertwined and many-layered story of her own coming out as a lesbian around the same time as she discovered that her father was gay, followed shortly by his death (possibly a suicide).  Bechdel does a good job of presenting his faults without villainizing him, and I found that I identified with her growing up and her own coming-out.  A worthwhile portrayal and a worthwhile book, and one I mean to revisit.
  8. Rule 34, by Charlie Stross — A whole batch of unsympathetic queer characters, and, while I didn’t mind that so much in Fun Home I minded it more here.  It’s more gritty near-future SF from Stross, and while I think it’s a brave choice that all three viewpoint characters are some variety of sexually non-normative, the choices on offer (a divorced lesbian policewoman, a bisexual man who turns tricks behind his wife’s back, and a clinical sociopath) didn’t compel me.  It may be a case of bleed as much as anything — Stross is (presumptively) heterosexual, and I felt a little more objectified than identified.  (Then again, everyone is objectified in the book, which may be one of its points.)  It was a good book, and I enjoyed it well enough, but don’t come here looking for role models.
  9. The Steel Remains, by Richard K. Morgan — Another (presumptively) straight guy writing a gay protagonist, one Ringil Eskiath, master swordsman.  And boy howdy, what a protagonist.  You know that gritty fantasy is a thing right now, right?  Morgan’s a big part of that — not exclusively because of this book, but it’s part of the trend.  I think the fact that his character is gay is part of that grittiness, and I’m not sure what I think of that, but on the other hand Morgan writes the best hate-mail responses due to that fact, so I’m hard-pressed to criticize too much.  I actually found the relentless homophobia of the setting a bit hard to take without any kind of “it gets better” message, and the gritty-grim-dark isn’t my thing, but if you want a hero who could stab homophobia in the gut, Gil’s your man.
  10. The Love We Share Without Knowing, by Christopher Barzak — This book turned out to be unexpectedly formative for me.  I was considering accepting a job offer in Japan, and, searching for fiction about Japan to take with me while visiting my sister over Thanksgiving, remembered reading about it in a Big Idea piece on John Scalzi’s  Whatever.

    It’s told as a bunch of interlocking stories about Japanese people and Americans in Japan, and it’s beautiful — all about love, and loss, and feeling alienated from your culture and the people around you.  It’s also about being queer.  Nothing about the blurb I read suggested to me that one of the characters was bisexual and another gay, but they were, and those stories were the ones that mattered most to me.  I got the sense that it was not necessarily a terribly happy thing, to be queer in modern Japan, even as a foreigner.

    I read the book bit by bit while I was away and then again, in one long jag on the red-eye back, underlining frantically.  And then I decided to stay home.  Which has been both an unhappy and a happy choice, and thereby hangs a tale this blog post’s not wide enough to tell and still unraveling, but that’s not the book’s fault.  I really, really like this book.

  11. don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, Love &al. — I’ve written about this visual novel before, in another context, but I thought it did a compelling job with the high school students’ interpersonal drama, and (depending on how you play) there are a couple queer love stories in it which are super-cute.  (There’s also some creepy student-teacher relationship stuff, so be forewarned.  You as the main character don’t have good boundaries.)  The art doesn’t always live up to the story, but it’s obviously trying hard, and the story is good enough to make up for it.
  12. Outland — This is an Australian TV sitcom show about a queer SF club.  I’ve got some social anxiety, and I usually find “comedies” painful because I spend the entire time embarrassed on behalf of the characters.  This had some of that going, but the creators are obviously fans, and the show tapped into a lot of what’s happening right now, so it felt very much “laughing with”.  (Also a couple episodes in I had a glass of wine and suddenly it was hilarious, so, you know, consider enjoying it in that context.)  It’s a little hard to find — I saw it showing at the local GLBT film festival — but totally worth seeking out.
  13. Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner — This book took me a long time to read, I’m not entirely sure why — I tried to read it piecemeal, and it really wanted me to sit down and consume it in a couple large gulps.  Having done so, was totally worth it.  The story feels set during an analogue of the Regency, perhaps.  (My English history is shaky).  The main character is Richard St Vere, a swordsman, the best in the City, who is contracted to kill nobles (or their appointed swords) in quasi-legal duels, and the story greatly concerns his relationship with his lover Alec, and Alec’s past and future..  Richard I would call bisexual, he having been married to a woman.  I liked how Richard and Alec’s relationship was handled.  For all that the setting is a lower-class pseudo-Regency fantasy, there was no homophobia; the conflict came from elsewhere.  A super-sweet gay love story.
  14. Private Romeo

I’ll keep adding links here as I read and review more things.

Anti-recommended: Up in Honey’s Room, by Elmore Leonard (stereotypical, cross-dressing bisexual villain); Persona 4: The Animation (bad treatment of gay and trans characters)

Still to read:  Everything.

What have you read that fits?

What I'm Watching, Queering Shakespeare Edition

I was down and in need of catharsis, so I picked  up Private Romeo on Hal Duncan’s recommendation, and it was exactly right.  (And the ending is not quite what you’re used to.)  This is everything Shakespeare should be, naturalistic and raw, forcing you to listen to the meaning as much as to the words.  Seriously, go read what Mr. Duncan has to say, then watch this.

I really want to show it to my boyfriend once he gets back from his family vacation.