Friday, December 12, 2014

TG: Beyond Binary

Last night Think Galactic discussed "Beyond Binary", a collection of genderqueer/sexually-fluid SF/F edited by Brit Mandelo.

We liked the collection, particularly the 4 stories John selected for us to focus on (“Fisherman” by Nalo Hopkinson, "A Wild and Wicked Youth”‘ by Ellen Kushner, “Spoiling Veena” by Keyan Bowes, and “The Metamorphosis Bud” by Liu Wen Zhuang).
We had two issues with the anthology. First, quite a few of the stories were only weakly science fictional, if at all, so regardless of what they're doing gender-wise we weren't sure why they were included. And secondly, we didn't feel like the collection does get "beyond binary"--the stories didn't feel very subversive, and despite a laudable diversity still usually played out along fairly well-defined gender & sexuality axes.

One of Mandelo's criteria was a particular kind of positivity, which we definitely enjoyed--but might be the source of some of our criticism. We wondered what other, more subversive collection might be already out there, or could be put together from recent work, with a little different inclusion matrix.

Despite this, a lot of folks liked these stories, finding a few of them particularly empowering. I really liked the utter plausibility and acceptance in "Spoiling Veena" as well as the essentially light-hearted gender-spying in "The Metamorphosis Bud".

We also tossed around a lot of SF/F that experiments with gender or sexuality from much earlier, kind of comparing/contrasting with this collection. Big ones like Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness" (1969), Delany's "Triton" (1976), Russ's "Female Man" (1975), Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time" (1976), as well as, I don't want to call them minor, but some works that's played around with gender and sex but aren't typically included/remembered (perhaps rightly) in the "Gender SF Canon".  I brought up Heinlein's "All You Zombies" (1959) as well as some of the polyamory/pansexuality in some of his novels, and some of F.M. Busby's work, particularly "The Breeds of Man" (1988), and we mentioned quite a few others as well that I didn't jot down.

A good discussion, and one that has me thinking about these themes have developed over time. I'm wondering how SF/F is doing in terms of progress now that it's become more mainstream.

Books for Think Galactic are selected through July, it's a pretty good spread, and added to the events page and calendar.

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