Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction

Nicola Griffith, Stephen Pagel, eds.
Completed 5/10/2020, Reviewed 5/10/2020
4 stars

I loved this trilogy of anthologies, the other two being BTL: Fantasy and BTL: Horror.  This one was twenty-one short stories which create “worlds where time and place and sexuality are alternative to the empirical environment”.  Most are pretty straight-forward science fiction while a few are more generally speculative fiction.  Almost all the stories have terrific prose and of course all feature gay or lesbian characters.  This book was nominated for several awards, winning the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Other Work and the 1999 Lambda Literary Award for SciFi/Fantasy/Horror. 

There were many good stories.  I didn’t care for only a few, which I think is how I felt about the other two volumes.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“Time Gypsy” by Ellen Klages – A lesbian physicist, Carol McCullough is asked to travel back in time in a newly created time machine.  It’s requires so much energy, it can only do one round trip.  She is asked to go back to 1955 to obtain a paper by a brilliant female physicist, Sara Clarke who supposedly devised a low energy time machine.  The paper was never presented because the physicist was killed.  Carol is asked to go because she wrote her doctoral thesis on Clarke.  Carol also worships the ground Clarke walked on.  It’s a powerful story of life for women in academia as well as for gay and lesbian people in the 1950s.

“Silent Passion” by Kathleen O’Malley – Joshua, a gay man from a radical fundamentalist enclave on a different planet plans to leave his partner Ray to return home to his see dying mother.  There he will be force-married to a woman and forced to have sex with her to produce children, according to the laws of the town.  However, before he leaves, he visits where his partner has been doing research on the local sentient life forms, the Grus.  His partner is deaf.  With the Grus, Joshua must wear heavy duty ear plugs to protect himself from the high-volume screeches of the Grus.  There he gets close to one of the Grus, trying to explain why he has to leave Ray.  The Grus doesn’t understand, as he is also gay, and he and his partner are raising their 26th baby. 

“Love’s Last Farewell” by Richard A. Bamberg – The last gay man in the solar system is being interviewed by an insensitive journalist as he is about to take his husband off life support.  It takes place in a future where the gay gene has been identified and procedure has been discovered for “correcting” it. 

“On Vacation” by Ralph A Sperry – A gay alien couple vacation on Earth.  They are “disguised” as humans.  However, the house they are renting in Cape Cod has already been rented by a man with his seven year old son.  In order to stay there, the man pretends to be the hired help.  He bonds with one of the aliens while his son bonds with the other.

“A Real Girl” by Shariann Lewitt – An AI figures out she’s a woman and a lesbian.  Over two hundred years, she falls for several researchers who have worked with her, but eventually deeply falls for one.  This one is willing to help make a human body for the AI’s brain so that the AI can experience true love from a human perspective.

There are quite a few other stories I really liked as well.  These were just the five star and better four star stories.  I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s an excellent anthology, but it didn’t move me quite as much as the Fantasy volume did.  As much as I liked this book, there was a kind of coldness to the prose of most of the stories.  I just felt a little disassociated from it.  Still, some of the stories were quite moving.  I recommend this whole series as a good overview of gay and lesbian genre fiction in the short story medium.

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