Monday 31 July 2017

Recommend: queer short stories

This time for our series on reader recommendations, where we shamelessly use you to add to our reading lists, we’d like to hear your suggestions of queer/LGBTQIA+ short stories that can be found online. To be clear, we want to hear about all the letters (and more) in that abbreviation, not just lesbian and gay stories, so hit us up with all the intersectional diversity you can think of. As always, to prime the pump we’ve asked a few editors, authors and other friends for their ideas. Read and enjoy, and then please tell us some of your favorites in the comments!

Rachel Linn (author page)

Full disclosure: “Something that Needs Nothing” (New Yorker 2006) isn't really speculative or fantasy fiction, though Miranda July’s way of seeing and describing the ‘real’ world often transforms it into an alternate reality.  Her writing feels like a more surreal version of The Catcher in the Rye, one in which you’re even less sure if the narrator’s perceptions are unreliable or if the world itself is.  I was intrigued the first time I read the story, but even more so after talking to a football player who was assigned it as a reading for a college class and chose to analyze it for his final paper.  He said he "related to the narrator's voice", which, coming from someone so different from myself, reinforced my impression of the story’s bizarre accessibility.  When the narrator says, "We were always getting away with something, which implied that someone was always watching us, which meant that we were not alone in this world," I think most of us know what she means.

Also, I should note that this story is explicit and—like much of July’s writing and performance art—plays with offensiveness (and therefore might not be everyone’s cup of tea).

Jo Thomas (Journeymouse)

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine 2013). What I like about the story with respect to queerness is the lack of detail about identity until the very end and, even then, it can be interpreted several ways. The writer uses first person so, if one realises the writer is a woman, there's a tendency to assume the narrator also is—but their gender identity isn't revealed until the narrator calls themself “the paleontologist’s fiancée with her half-planned wedding.” Likewise, the paleontologist love in question isn't definitively called a man until the very end and that only serves to show that the narrator and, presumably the love, recognise that identity for sure. So, with the the narrator saying that their love is called “a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not,” there is still an ocean of possibilities over gender and identity. There is room for questions—the most important possibly being why does the reader see it like that?

Claudie Arseneault (author page)

When asked for recommendations, choosing what to promote and fan over is often the hardest part of the task. Today I’ve picked two very different stories both featuring aromantic protagonists which I’ve discovered since the start of the year.

The first, “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed A Party And Saved The World” by Ada Hoffman (Unlikely Story 2014) is a near-future science fiction in which social media status heavily influences your place in the world. Emma is a Relator—she might not want to date, but she has over 2000 friends, and she’s ready to use those relationships to help her World Saver best friend. I love the way this piece defies the aromantic loner trope, the fullness of its characters, and how evocative those social media titles are. It’s a fun and free YA story that really stayed with me.

The second is “Nkásht íí” by Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons 2014), a brilliant short story steeped in Lipan Apache ghost lore. Friends of misfortune, Josie and Annie investigate a man’s car crash after he insists a malevolent spirit drowned his baby girl. Annie’s grandma has often warned her against restless ghosts. Haunting, tense and beautiful, “Nkásht íí” focuses on the unbreakable bond between two women, simultaneously providing horrified shivers and the warm glow of solid friendship. Easily one of my favourite reads this year.

If you ever feel the need for more free aromantic fiction available online, you can always check Penny Stirling’s great list. Happy reading!

Rachel Verkade (story; poem)

I first read Tim Pratt's story "Life in Stone" (Escape Pod 2006) in his excellent collection Hart & Boot. It seemed at first a fairly typical story that borrowed much of its premise from the ancient Slavic tales of Koschei the Deathless; a sorcerer has made himself immortal by placing his soul in an inanimate object and hiding it away. The trouble is that now, after many millennia of life, the sorcerer wants to die, and can no longer remember where his soul is hidden. So he hires a skilled but aging mercenary/assassin to find his soul and end his life.

What made the story stand out for me first was the setting—a bizarre future America where magic is rampant, and the characters are as likely to drive their SUV down to the local Italian eatery for supper as they are to fight their way through a den of lake monsters. And the other was the fact that the assassin and the sorcerer are lovers.

What unfolds is a story about aging, the loss of physical and mental capacities, about memory and the nature of the soul… and about love. About how sometimes what your lover wants may seem unfathomable, and sometimes the kindest thing to do is also the most painful. About two aging men working towards a single goal, each for their own reasons, and how one begins to question those reasons even as he commits acts of horrible violence to reach his end. It's also, of course, a very sad story… but also a very poignant one, and, in its own way, very hopeful. There aren't many older queer badass assassins in fantasy literature, and Pratt's Mr. Zealand makes an amazing impression in only ten pages.

Trace Yulie (author page)

K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” (Uncanny, 2017) is written from a trans perspective, by a trans author, and it isn’t a sweet story of acceptance or an inspiring story about transition struggle; I say this because these seem like themes some readers are more comfortable with. There is of course a space for affirming fiction, and sometimes queer stories just aren’t for non-queer folks, you know? But Szpara’s stories are not on those themes. Oh no, no, no. They are raw and vulnerable, and the narratives situate the reader firmly in the trans viewpoint in a way that I find at times deeply unsettling. And that’s good (at least for this privileged reader). If one goal of fiction is to create situations where the reader identifies and empathizes with the people depicted in the story, they should feel unsettled by the horror of finding oneself in the wrong body, or a changing body. The character’s experience is viscerally, vividly described. The character feels intimately embodied; the stories are about being trans in the body. The reader can’t look away or bounce off that perspective, as it isn’t sidelined into a token side character or pushed into the background. On the surface, “Small Changes” is a vampire story, but the transformative turn from human to vampire resists easy metaphor or resolution. It’s a heavy, dark analogue for the harsh complexities of sex, desire and a intense something-else that defies simple explication. The story was hard for me to read. But I don’t think the story was meant to be comfortable, and I’m glad I didn’t look away. I also recommend Szpara’s “Nothing is Pixels Here” (Lightspeed [QDSF], 2015), an older publication about a different kind of embodied terror, but no less complex and painful. I make no assumptions that these stories are written for a cis audience, but as a cis person I came away with a measure of empathy I didn’t know I lacked before reading them.

Please tell us about more great online queer stories in the comments!


Djibril said...

NB: That New Yorker story is paywalled (unless you by chance haven't looked at the New Yorker for at least a month). Apologies for not noticing that earlier.

wintersweet said...

"Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree" by Nibedita Sen at Anathema is a new story and lots of fun:

"Emergency Management Protocol" is by,, C. C. S. Ryan. Published at Fireside.

I know there are so many more which aren't coming to mind right away!

Djibril said...

I read "Emergency Management Protocol" when it was mentioned on Twitter the other day, and I loved it. (I just read it again, and I still love it!) It's a sweet, gentle, queer story without discrimination or coming-out drama, but with plenty of danger and real SF—just as it should it be. Glad you drew my attention to it.

Joyce said...

The Birth of a Child:

Djibril said...

That's beautiful. Even the fact that I've read several beautiful mermaid stories recently doesn't take away from it!

Kaye said...

I said this on Twitter, but the first scifi short story I read with a WLW (possibly lesbian?) protagonist was An Owomoyela's "God in the Sky." I remember it distinctly because I didn't realize that queer literature (or pieces with queer protags that weren't about coming out) could be published in mainstream literary magazines before that. I grew up in libraries and expected it to be in its own section where you couldn't find it unless you were already looking for queer lit.

It was in Asimov's, but seems to have been republished in Expanded Horizons.

(I since remembered that the story "Breathmoss" had a queer setting and that I read that in college, but I'm not sure that it's freely available online.)

Djibril said...

Thanks for sharing. I hadn't read the Owomoyela yet, but I will look it out now. It looks like "Breathmoss" was free online at Asimov's at one time (perhaps around the time of its Hugo consideration?), and can still be found in the Wayback Machine.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew said...

I put together a list ages ago of lesbian short SFF, though most of it isn't current (current meaning published this year or last year).

Djibril said...

Didn't want to self-promote in the post itself, but we also have a list of Quiltbag SFF stories published in The Future Fire over the last ten years collected here (all of which are of course online and free). I'll try to add the last couple years of stories to that post some time…