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March 19, 2013 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Nicola Griffith recommends good lesbian science fiction novels.
posted by Artw (50 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was surprised that I have read almost none of those. (Although I am happy to second Santa Olivia - it made me very happy. The sequel is ridiculously indulgent, but so, so delightful.)

To this I must add Caitlin Kiernan. Everyone, go read The Drowning Girl right now. It is going to win All The Awards this year, and it is wonderful. The Red Tree also has a lesbian protagonist, handled wonderfully, but it's structured more like horror than SF, although eveything Kiernan writes hovers on that border.

And Tanya Huff regularly writes queer characters, although I think only The Wild Ways actually has a lesbian protagonist. (The first book in that sequence, The Enchantment Emporium, has a bi protagonist and she ends up with a dude, which irritates me more than it should. But it's charming regardless.)

And of course I should note that Nicola Griffith herself writes some well-regarded queer SF. The first Aud Torvingen book made me want to light it on fire and throw it at the wall, though, because some tropes I just can't handle.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:44 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've read and enjoyed most of Nicola Griffith's work, so I was pleased to find out that she has a new book coming out soon. Plus, a blog with other things to read, so thanks for linking it, artw.
posted by mogget at 4:50 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


To this I must add Caitlin Kiernan. Everyone, go read The Drowning Girl right now. It is going to win All The Awards this year, and it is wonderful. The Red Tree also has a lesbian protagonist, handled wonderfully, but it's structured more like horror than SF, although eveything Kiernan writes hovers on that border.

Yup. The Drowning Girl is masterfully done but even the protagonist as well as the real-life author of the novel will warn you at the outset that this is not a novel for people who want fiction to be easy and simple. (Kiernan is such a curmudgeon and I love her for it.)

The Red Tree is equally freaky and creepy, but it does crib a fair bit from House of Leaves (of which Kiernan is an avowed fan).

She wrote a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the para-rom genre under a pseudonym earlier this year and it's a delightfully nasty piece of work.
posted by Kitteh at 4:59 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like Griffith's Slow River a lot.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:01 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, yes, Blood Oranges, by Kathleen Tierney. It was also kind of perfect, and I suppose the protagonist was as lesbian as any. It is manifestly not a book about romance, so it's a little hard to tell.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:01 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nicola Griffith! *swoon*

thank you!
posted by jammy at 5:02 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My first reaction upon seeing this was "didn't we have this AskMe once?" Sort of!

Also, I'm THRILLED to see a couple of books in her recommendations that I haven't read yet!
posted by a hat out of hell at 5:03 PM on March 19, 2013


*jumps around excitedly and prepares to add a bunch of books to wish list!*
posted by kyrademon at 5:05 PM on March 19, 2013


It is manifestly not a book about romance, so it's a little hard to tell.

Precisely! But it was her response to the genre and unsurprisingly, some para-rom reviewers didn't get the joke was on them.
posted by Kitteh at 5:11 PM on March 19, 2013


Yes, we had it twice!
posted by clavicle at 5:16 PM on March 19, 2013


Good reading of Nicola Grithith's It Takes Two here.
posted by Artw at 5:19 PM on March 19, 2013


What? No Orson Scott Card?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:29 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


No no no I already have umpteen things waiting to be read and at least four things in progress! This is very bad.

That said, I reread Ammonite recently and still liked it a whole lot.
posted by rtha at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2013


S. M. Stirling's Nantucket series (1998-2000), while not lesbian science fiction per se, prominently featured a lesbian relationship in all three books. Good sci-fi, too.
posted by christopherious at 5:59 PM on March 19, 2013


I wonder if Griffith describing herself as a "duel US/UK citizen" is a mistake, or a wry joke?
posted by Flashman at 6:10 PM on March 19, 2013


I've read most of these - the older ones anyway - but...How could I possibly have missed Gossamer Axe?

" An ageless Celtic harper forms a heavy metal band to free her lover from the faerie. "
posted by merelyglib at 6:11 PM on March 19, 2013


She from the UK and lives on Seattle - a mark of good people.
posted by Artw at 6:16 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've read most of these - the older ones anyway - but...How could I possibly have missed Gossamer Axe?

It is, as I recall, charmingly ridiculous, although I eouldn't swear to the "charming" part.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:18 PM on March 19, 2013


I have to concur on "charmingly ridiculous" for Gossamer Axe. I enjoyed the hell out of it when I was a teen.
posted by egypturnash at 6:55 PM on March 19, 2013


To this list I would definitely add Geoff Ryman's The Child Garden (lesbian and inter-sub-species couple), and Elisabeth Vonarburg's truely masterful The Maerlande Chronicles (known as In the Mother's Land in the US). Ryman also has a great novel called The Warrior who Carried Life, in which the main character is a transformed into a man and has a relationship with a woman.

Thendara House was a perennial favourite when I was a teen - and made me really think about feminism for the first time.

Tanya Huff has a lesbian protagonist in Sing the Four Quarters and a gay male protagonist in Quartered Sea; she has a new urban fantasy series (that I haven't read) with a gay main character.
posted by jb at 6:57 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Griffith describing herself as a "duel US/UK citizen" is a mistake, or a wry joke?

Wouldn't surprise me if it was a joke, given her battle with immigration that ended with her getting a special waiver declaring it was in the "national interest" of the U.S. that she be allowed to stay here legally.
posted by rtha at 7:15 PM on March 19, 2013


Geoff Ryman's Child Garden is sitting on the coffee table right now, unread as of yet. I should do something about that.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:42 PM on March 19, 2013


Kiernan is such a curmudgeon
Sold!
posted by LD Feral at 7:53 PM on March 19, 2013


gingerbeer: it's been ages since I read it, but I remember it as a fascinating, beautiful, intricate, even confusing but still compelling book. Being a simple sort, I liked his more straight-forward Warrior who Carried Life best, but everything I've read by him has been brilliant.
posted by jb at 7:55 PM on March 19, 2013


ctrl+f "Ursula Le Guin"
ctrl+f "The Telling"
posted by Scientist at 7:58 PM on March 19, 2013


For that matter, practically half the stories in "The Birthday of the World"
posted by Scientist at 7:59 PM on March 19, 2013


I am about the furthest you can get from a Lesbian SF expert, but The Left Hand of Darkness is a pretty amazing SF book that takes on gender roles.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:00 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Ursula Le Guin has been writing SF that deals explicitly with gender for absolute ages and she's done a great job with it.
posted by Scientist at 8:03 PM on March 19, 2013


Le Guin is fantastic, but what I see less of, and get really excited for, are books that have queer (and especially lesbian) main characters that aren't about gender or sexuality at all. That have people like me just as a matter of course, unremarked and unremarkable. That's what I think of when I think of "lesbian novels."
posted by restless_nomad at 8:40 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the heyday of lesbian sf is still to come. I think it will be astonishingly good, partly because it won't need to be about being queer. That battle is ending. It's essentially won. (Lots of tidying up to do, of course.)

Ha. Hope she's right. Those first two collections she links look interesting, for sure, and there are tons of recommendations in the comments I'd never heard of. Yay, great link.

As far as classics go, a thousand nths for James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon's story collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. There's no way you can have a full understanding of scifi history without knowing classic stories like "The Women Men Don't See" and "Houston, Houston Do You Read?" For an extra bonus, get the earlier collection Warm Worlds and Otherwise, which includes some of the same stories along with Robert Silverberg's now-hilarious introduction in which he 1) claims the writing is "ineluctably masculine" and 2) calls "absurd" the suggestions that Tiptree is actually a woman. It also includes Silverberg's gracious postscript from three years later, thanking Alice for teaching him an important lesson: "She fooled me beautifully, along with everyone else, and called into question the entire notion of what is 'masculine' or 'feminine' in fiction."

Haven't read the Joanna Russ story collection that Griffith links, but I'm surprised she didn't at least mention Russ' The Female Man. It was a savage exploding bomb in the scifi world in the early 70s, polarizing critics and fans, and is a brilliant, funny, exasperating howl of a book about gender, sexuality and alternate worlds. I'll stop because it's easy for me to start raving about how intensely great and challenging it is.

I remember Melissa Scott's 1994 book Trouble and her Friends as a really fun cyberpunk read with two lesbian leads, but it wouldn't surprise me if it hasn't dated well.
posted by mediareport at 8:42 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Left Hand of Darkness is a pretty amazing SF book that takes on gender roles.

Actually, Le Guin herself has gone on the record as regretting the way she handled gender in The Left Hand of Darkness, a book that always comes up in conversations like this because some characters are nominally hermaphroditic. Many feminists at the time criticized Le Guin for making the characters read as male even when they were in supposedly female form. From a previous thread:

Just a note about Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness - for all the hype about it being such a strongly feminist book because some characters are hermaphroditic, it got a lot of criticism for those characters still coming across as almost completely male, and Le Guin herself first dismissed (1976) and then acknowledged the validity of (1987) some of the criticisms (not least about her choice to use male pronouns throughout) in an essay, "Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)," collected in Dancing at the Edge of the World. Here's where she ends up about the book:
I now see it thus: Men were inclined to be satisfied with the book, which allowed them a safe trip into androgyny and back, from a conventionally male viewpoint. But many women wanted it to go further, to dare more, to explore androgyny from a woman's point of view as well as a man's. In fact, it does so, in that it was written by a woman. But this is admitted directly only in the chapter "The Question of Sex," the only voice of a woman in the book. I think women were justified in asking more courage of me and a more rigorous thinking-through of implications.
It's a disappointing book that hasn't aged well, in my opinion.


Back in the here and now, I'll add that I wish folks would stop holding that book up as some sort of example of enlightened gender politics. It's really not.
posted by mediareport at 8:50 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, that's fascinating. Left Hand of Darkness didn't do all that much for me (although I read it a very long time ago) but the short story set in the same universe, "Coming of Age in Karhide," is one of my very favorites ever and reads very much like a female-perspective take on that same setting. I wonder if she wrote it in response to that criticism?
posted by restless_nomad at 8:55 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's been a while since I read them, but the Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks had a pretty fascinating layout of society-wide polyamorous family groups (polyfamilial?), with lesbian/gay/het/bi relationships within those groups. It was more interesting that the polyfamilies are matter-of-fact background material and not the point of the novels at all.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:04 PM on March 19, 2013


Wait a second, no Titan/Gaea series?

Sure, they were more than a bit '70s, but Gaby was one of the first actual lesbians I read about as a character in SF as a teenager.
posted by Sphinx at 10:02 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bet you find the "Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)" essay really interesting, restless_nomad. She includes the original 1976 piece, in which she vigorously defends the use of male pronouns, e.g., then adds comments in italics that reflect how she felt about the book and the criticisms ten years later (the "redux" part). It's a neat read more Le Guin fans should know about.

(Oh, and in case it's not clear, the "It's a disappointing book that hasn't aged well, in my opinion" was my comment, not Le Guin's.)
posted by mediareport at 10:21 PM on March 19, 2013


Yeah, I need to find that. I need to read more LeGuin in general, really.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:23 PM on March 19, 2013


S. M. Stirling's Nantucket series (1998-2000), while not lesbian science fiction per se, prominently featured a lesbian relationship in all three books. Good sci-fi, too.

Oh gods no. That's pretty much a straight male fantasy of lesbianism and also prominent features the rape of one of stevar's political enemies (an environmentalist) by a jaguar (!) as author delivered punishment. Note that in real life, Stirling also wanted rape as punishment for copyright offenders, so it's a bit of a theme with him.

Wait a second, no Titan/Gaea series?

The same problem as with Stirling, though less offensive. Also not that very good as novels.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:38 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember Melissa Scott's 1994 book Trouble and her Friends as a really fun cyberpunk read with two lesbian leads, but it wouldn't surprise me if it hasn't dated well.

Yes and no. To be honest, the cyberpunk setting was dated even when it was first published, just as the internet became mainstream and swept aside all such BBS VR derived visions of the future.

The politics on the other hand were much more prescient, both regarding the regulation of cyberspace (one of the big plot points being the US enacting anti-hacking laws that put all those cyberpunks out in the cold) as well as the internal politics of the hacker scene and how welcoming it isn't for queer people. Or women. Or those who use the wrong technology.

Here, have a review.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:43 AM on March 20, 2013


Course the most high profile lesbian romances in science fiction are probably the ones you engage in when playing FemShep in Mass Effect...
posted by MartinWisse at 1:32 AM on March 20, 2013


Nicola Griffith's essays are fantastic. Check out War Machine, Time Machine for starters. Awesome glimpse into the publishing industry, learning under Delany, and the stupidities of the concept of genre.
posted by mek at 1:57 AM on March 20, 2013


I was actually a little surprised to see Gossamer Axe on the list. Reading it was kind of like listening to an acquaintance explain to you, sincerely and at length, why world peace would come about if everyone understood that Yngwie Malmsteen was the greatest musician who ever lived.
posted by kyrademon at 3:12 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember Melissa Scott's 1994 book Trouble and her Friends as a really fun cyberpunk read with two lesbian leads, but it wouldn't surprise me if it hasn't dated well.

Scott's less cyberpunky sf novels like Dreamships, Dreaming Metal, Night Sky Mine, and The Shape of Their Hearts were some of my favorite sf reads of the 90s. I'm sorry she stopped writing books in that vein (I think she moved to fantasy series and novelizations - I understand people like to make a living, but it's disappointing). (Similarly I was sad that Griffith herself has moved away from sf to write crime novels.)

Also, people reading this thread might be interested in many of the sf / fantasy works that have been nominated for or won Tiptree Awards.
posted by aught at 6:53 AM on March 20, 2013


Thanks very for posting this. I'd never heard of Nicola 'til now, and have only read one of the books she listed: Kelly Sinclair's In the Now and had found it rather boring. But Santa Olivia and others look great!
posted by zarq at 7:45 AM on March 20, 2013


aught: Scott's less cyberpunky sf novels like Dreamships, Dreaming Metal, Night Sky Mine, and The Shape of Their Hearts were some of my favorite sf reads of the 90s.

I discovered Melissa Scott in the 2000s, thanks to randomly picking out Dreaming Metal based on the cover matter, because I had a Barnes & Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket. I bought pretty much the rest of her books off eBay over a span of time; some of her stuff is good (Dreamships, the Silence Leigh trilogy for the most part, Mighty Good Road, Trouble and her Friends), some not so much, but as far as relatively pulpy scifi with homosexual characters -- without going "OMG GAY PEOPLE" -- was fun, Scott is one of my favorite sci-fi authors these days.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:53 AM on March 20, 2013


That have people like me just as a matter of course, unremarked and unremarkable.

You might enjoy Charlie Stross's near-future crime novels, Halting State and Rule 34. The latter one, in particular, has a smattering of queer characters among the villains as well as on the side of the angels.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:02 PM on March 20, 2013


(although, nota bene, Metafilter's own cstross is a cisgendered male)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:06 PM on March 20, 2013


I *love* Charlie Stross's near-future crime novels, both for that reason and because I worked in MMOs and Halting State reads like one massive EVE Online in-joke.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:36 PM on March 20, 2013


S. M. Stirling's Nantucket series (1998-2000), while not lesbian science fiction per se, prominently featured a lesbian relationship in all three books. Good sci-fi, too.

Oh gods no. That's pretty much a straight male fantasy of lesbianism and also prominent features the rape of one of stevar's political enemies (an environmentalist) by a jaguar (!) as author delivered punishment. Note that in real life, Stirling also wanted rape as punishment for copyright offenders, so it's a bit of a theme with him.
Yikes! That scene didn't come across as punishment when I read it, but in hindsight I think you are right. Don't know much about the author's personal beliefs or life.
posted by christopherious at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


the short story set in the same universe, "Coming of Age in Karhide," is one of my very favorites ever and reads very much like a female-perspective take on that same setting.

Wow, thanks for that. You're exactly right; "Coming of Age in Karhide" is a fantastic little story about puberty, gender and hermaphroditism, beautifully written and totally fulfilling the promises Le Guin made but in my opinion didn't really deliver in Left Hand of Darkness. It's everything a scifi story about sex should be - provocative, intelligent, challenging and hot. Thanks for the pointer, restless_nomad; that's a fantastic example of genderplay in scifi, much better than the Le Guin that's usually recommended.

I wonder if she wrote it in response to that criticism?

Seems pretty clear. Here's what she says in the introduction to The Birthday of the World:

Writing the first story in this book, "Coming of Age in Karhide," I came back to Gethen after twenty-five or thirty years. This time I didn't have an honest but bewildered male Terran alongside to confuse my perceptions. I could listen to an open-hearted Gethenian who, unlike Estraven [the hermaphrodite in Left Hand], had nothing to hide. I could see how the sex works. I could finally get into a kemmerhouse. I could really have fun.

Does she ever. Looking forward to reading the rest of that collecion.
posted by mediareport at 8:28 AM on March 25, 2013


Oh, nice. I came across it in a Year's Best and didn't get that context but it's such a good story.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:16 PM on March 25, 2013


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