shrew (n) :
1. "small mammal," O.E. screawa "shrew-mouse."
2. "peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent woman" [Johnson] c.1386, from earlier sense of "spiteful person" (male or female), c.1250, traditionally said to derive from some supposed malignant influence of the animal, which was once believed to have a venomous bite and was held in superstitious dread.

Synonyms: amazon, battle-ax, bitch, calumniator, carper, dragon, fire-eater, fishwife, fury, harpy, harridan, hell cat, hellion, hussy, madcap, muckraker, nag, ogress, scold, she-wolf, siren, spitfire, termagant, tigress, virago, vixen, wench

This blog features reviews of LGBT science fiction and fantasy, tales of the life of a freelance writer, the occasional meme, and pictures of cats. If any of this offends you, please press Ctrl+W.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Shrew's Obession with LGBT Speculative Fiction: The Roots

The Literate Shrew is back from her long hiatus and ready to get back to business. I started this blog not only to have a place to vent about my favorite things, but to showcase some of the amazing writing I have been privledged to read. As ever, life got in the way. Well, I'm not putting up with that BS anymore. Let me kick off my new LGBT speculative fiction focus by explaining how I fell down this particular rabbit hole.

Speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction, to the unintiated) has fascinated me since I was old enough to read. In my time, I've devoured every fantasy, science fiction and horror book I could get my hands on. In recent years, my genre reading habits have narrowed significantly. Gripping tales of the dangers of new technologies or the price of magic on mortal souls no longer quite satisfy me. I've grown up, and my tastes have grown up too.

Now I look for books that have characters who fall into a different definition of "other." That is to say, characters who are gay.

It's taken me many years to come to terms with my own identity as a queer female, and even longer for me to actively seek out stories featuring characters who, like me, don't fit into society's narrow definition of acceptable sexuality. Looking back, I can see that I was always drawn to speculative fiction with a LGBT focus, but only recently has that interest galvanized. This also has a lot to do with the fact that I just finished my first novel, which is urban fantasy with a gay male protagonist, and I realized that I had no idea if anybody else had written a book like that. Am I alone? I had to know.

Thus began the searches, the discoveries of new writers and the rediscoveries of old favorites. Before I get into a long, fan-girly list of the new discoveries, I’d like to look at some of my “root” authors, or the writers that I've been reading for years that, lo and behold, have written some excellent fiction with LGBT characters or *gasp* might even be gay themselves.

Samuel R. Delany
This author started it all. I first discovered him through my Dad’s collection of science fiction novels (thanks Dad), and, like many a burgeoning geek, devoured Dhalgren in high school. Delany’s stories and novels were opaque and different, captivating and strange. As a wee shrew, most of the speculative fiction I read was from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (way to date yourself, Shrew), and this was a time in speculative fiction where people were playing with ideas of gender and sexuality in new and amazing ways. Delany was in this vanguard, depicting fluid sexuality amidst speculations on the nature of the universe veiled in literary allusions. Delany is a certifiable genius, and also happens to be gay. Discovering this fact was a revelation for the teenage shrew, and I have been in love with him ever since.

Perhaps my favorite Delany titles are the Neveryon series, which features a bisexual (if I remember correctly) main character and many homoerotic elements. He has also written openly about his personal sexual journey in essays and most notably in the novels The Mad Man and The Motion of Light In Water. Delany is a treasure. If I ever get to Clarion, I will no doubt follow him around like a puppy.

[Sidenote: In the intellectual circles that concern themselves with literary criticism of science fiction (yes, they exist), Delany is pointed to when people talk about gay sci-fi, kind of like Ursula Le Guin is indicated when the words “feminist” and “science fiction” are in the same sentence. I won’t get into any major literary fights here, but let’s just say that doesn’t exactly mean the SF community throws pride parades. But that’s a post for another time.]

Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee is a prolific British writer who was also part of the New Age SF vanguard. She has written vampire fiction with transgendered characters and “hard” science fiction with fluid gendered characters, but my favorites are her old DAW sword and sorcery fantasies with the yellow spines. Those old DAW books had the best late 70s barbarian covers, and even if they didn’t have anything to do with the story inside, they were a joy to behold. To this day, I will scan the shelves of used book stores looking for those bright yellow spines. But I digress.  

Tanith Lee has most recently written an excellent book called Disturbed By Her Song that features stories by the Garber twins, Esther and Judas, both of whom are homosexual. Like many of her works, it is a beautiful, dreamlike book with timeless settings and fascinating characters. This book is really a jewel in any LGBT speculative fiction collection. The Shrew highly recommends it.

James Tiptree Jr, AKA Alice Sheldon
As James Tiptree, Jr, Alice Sheldon wrote some of the most intense and influential science fiction stories of all time. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” is considered a classic of feminist science fiction, and has been widely collected, most recently in her collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I fell in love with her works after reading some stories in my Dad’s vast Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction collection. In particular, “The Color of Neanderthal Eyes” absolutely floored me. 

The life of Alice Sheldon is as fascinating as the stories of her pseudonym, James Tiptree Jr. The fact that she chose a male persona to write under and her subsequent journey as a science fiction author is fascinating by itself. I could write a whole blog post about her, so instead I’ll simply recommend her biography: James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon.
Those are the roots authors of my queer science fiction obsession. More authors and book reviews will follow, notably a more substantial review of Lee's Disturbed By Her Song, which I recently read.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I never really thought about (or paid attention to) LGBT themes in sci-fi/fantasy. I always took it in stride if a character is in love with a being made up of light particles which at one time was a cyber-cat from the Orion Cluster as much as if the protagonist was in relationships with transgendered women ("When Gravity Fails").

    My own favorite sci-fi/fantasy/horror LGBT author - Clive Barker (in particular "Imajica").