Where Are All the Queer Men in Sci-Fi?

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

kai ashante wilson's a taste of honeyWhat about the guys? …is not something we usually need to ask. The genres of science fiction and fantasy have, historically, never lacked for male writers—and similarly, and most likely as a side effect, there are any number of iconic male characters to be found. With notable exceptions, the popular notion of the “golden age of science fiction” is as a time dominated by dudes writing about dudes.

Today, some of the best and most popular SFF is being written by women—often, but not exclusively, about women—but it’s not as though the men have gone away (despite some very loud online assertions to the contrary). Many of this new vanguard of writers are queer, and many of their books feature queer women in either leading or strongly supporting roles. This is all very good news.

But where are the queer men? It’s hard to be too scientific with this assertion (which, in a sense, comes down to a general impression) but perusing any number of internet lists of SFF books with queer characters kind of backs it up: The number of books led by women on the LGBTQ+ spectrum (whether cis or trans) is astounding, if maybe not what it should be to make up for decades of deficiency in the representation of queer characters, but as we’re increasingly given the chance to visit worlds more impressively diverse than ever—sometimes reflecting the variety of our own world, and sometimes imagining better ones—as a gay man, I often don’t see myself in them.

In most other contexts, wondering “where are the dudes?” would be, at best, silly. If you want examples of SFF with straight, male protagonists written by straight, male (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) writers, you’re spoiled for choice. Alec Nevala-Lee’s recent (and essential) biography of John W. Campbell, the long-time editor of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine (later Analog) digs into the personalities who shaped (and constrained) our sense of what science fiction should be. Though Campbell was just one voice during the so-called golden age of the genre (though I’d happily make the case that we’re living in another one), he was one of the preeminent tastemakers, going to great lengths to popularize many of the common traits that we’ve come to associate with the genre. And though his influence is undeniable, and he certainly introduced or boosted the careers of some of the most important names in the field, his interest in voices that weren’t male (and straight, and white) was severely limited.

For all his very positive contributions, Campbell’s narrow mindset put binders on the popular conception of science fiction that took decades to shake off. (A particularly damning anecdote: when introduced to the work of Samuel R. Delany, one of the most innovative voices in the genre, the famed editor responded with indifference.)

The point being: at a time when the broader literary scene was taking shaky, halting steps in the direction of inclusivity with the emergence of queer voices like Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin, who managed a level of mainstream success while touching on LGBTQ+ themes, and while lesbian pulp fiction was a surprisingly popular, if disreputable, sub-genre—partly due to its appeal to queer women along with straight men—science fiction lagged behind. Lesbianism seemed more able to be made broadly acceptable by hinting at a performative aspect, as though female same-sex attraction is entirely a put-on for guys who like to watch, while the market for M/M fiction was much less broad; certainly SFF was mostly marketed to straight men who wanted stories about straight men.

In more recent years, the staggering and undeniable success of female-identifying SFF writers , many of whom identify as something other than straight, has been a blessing for queer readers. Books like Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion and The Light Brigade, Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange, R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, and Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet are just a few prominent, recent, and highly recommended books with diverse casts in which queer women are at the forefront.

Male and non-binary authors have also created some fabulous works with LGBTQ+ female leads: books like Tim Pratt’s The Wrong Stars, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, Max Gladstone’s The Ruin of Angels, and Alex White’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. These are just off-the-cuff examples; there are many others, and many of them introduce characters that don’t identify on a gender binary (thinking of books like K.A. Doore’s The Perfect Assassin, with its asexual protagonist).

Still, it’s honestly quite a bit harder to come up with books lead by queer male-identified characters, particularly when we’re talking about science fiction. (Somehow, queer men slide into fantasy worlds rather more easily than they make it onto spaceships.) It’s not just an issue in vintage works: the recent mainstreaming of the Queer SF movement is definitively lacking in gay male rep (when Lois McMaster Bujold rewrote the history of her long-running Vorkosigan Saga to make one prominent, powerful male character explicitly bisexual, there was a good deal of outcry from readers who thought it betrayed certain aspects of his character).

Figuring out why this is so is more difficult. What is it about sci-fi—who is writing it, who is reading it, who is publishing it?—that makes queer men such a rare find? (And villains don’t count, at least when their sexuality is used to help code them as vile: if we need to point to Baron Harkonnen in Dune as an example of gay male rep in science fiction, something is amiss.) Still, there’s not a great deal  to be negative about: though everyone’s story is different, there is a universality of themes in queer stories that can speak to every reader, and queer characters from across the spectra of gender and sexuality are making themselves known across SFF, very often in stories written by authors of similarly diverse orientations and identities.

In that spirit, a good number of relatively recent books, a number of them from #ownvoices authors, offer up queer men in lead roles.

One of the most prominent recent examples in fantasy is Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf (the first of a trilogy), in which lead character Tracker and his band of mercenaries hunt through an imagined, but not entirely made up, ancient Africa in pursuit of the mysterious child they’ve been hired to find. James’ writing is somehow both elegant and visceral, capturing the blood and filth of the mercenaries’ lives. That’s the main draw here, but he also captures a sweaty, muscular brand of M/M sexuality that dodges stereotypes of gay and black men alike. In this there are hints of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, particularly as he was often depicted by artists like Franz Frazetta as the quintessential muscle daddy-type of many a gay adolescent fantasy—if mysteriously marketed to straight men. Tracker’s relationship with the shape-shifter Leopard defies easy categorization, given the more openly fluid world in which they live, but its naked emotion and sexuality are among the book’s most impressive aspects.

Kai Ashante Wilson does something similar with his novella The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, another work that makes no apologies whatsoever for black, queer, male sexuality. An earthbound demigod named Demane is part of the mercenary band of a man known only as the Captain, himself a descendant of gods who left Earth for Heaven in the distant past. The contrast between their mythic, almost angelic origins and the gritty “reality” of their world of dangerous jungle and dark magic is at the story’s center, as is the physical and emotional connection between the two men. Wilson followed Wildeeps up with the very different but similarly impressive A Taste of Honey—set in the same world, but focusing on a privileged courtier Aqib bgm Sadiqi and his love for the soldier Lucrio. Differences in status provide the obstacles to their romance, though it all works as a metaphor for the real-world forces (class included, of course) that would keep two men apart.

Richard K. Morgan (best known for Altered Carbon, both the book and the resultant Netflix series) also produced a grimdark science fantasy series with a gay male protagonist: Ringil Eskiath, a war hero nonetheless shunned for his sexuality. In spite of his family’s disapproval, Gil’s mother enlists him to help free a cousin sold into slavery—a quest that soon puts him in the path of dark magic and sees the fulfillment of a prophecy. The first in the series, The Steel Remains, came out in 2008—not that long ago, really, but in a very different landscape. Making it all the more impressive: his sword-and-sorcery world admits not just graphic violence, but lots of fairly explicit man-on-man action. Which is not the point… but it’s kinda the point.

This year’s The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie, is another epic (again, queer men are mech less thin on that ground in fantasy) in which a god known as the Raven watches over the kingdom of Iraden, sustained by blood sacrifice. Warrior Eolo, a bisexual and trans man, comes to discover the dark secrets of the Raven’s Tower that could bring the entire kingdom to its knees.

Two excellent recent science fiction-adjacent novels are among the few with queer male leads: Sarah Gailey’s alt-history duology River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow (collected in American Hippo) follows the alternate outcome of a real-life plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana as a food source. In real life, it didn’t happen, but Gailey’s book imagines a bayou full of savage, fast-moving, well-adapted hippos and the people who try to control them, and one of the protagonists is a bisexual man in a relationship with a genderqueer person. Meanwhile, Nicky Drayden’s gonzo South Africa-set sci-fi/fantasy hybrid The Prey of Gods sees several leads facing multiple threats—an AI uprising, a hallucinogenic new drug, an out-of-control plague of genetically engineered livestock, plus, oh, an ancient goddess hungry for blood), and one of them is Muzi, a queer teen boy  in love with his best friend, Ellkin.

One forthcoming work of note in this regard—out in early 2020—is Docile, by the queer, trans author K.M. Szpara. In it, he explores a dark future America in which hyperinflation and an economic collapse have birthed a new capitalist dystopia in which the easiest way for someone to pay off their creditors is to become a Docile—an indentured servant of sorts, given drugs to be made pliable and willing to perform work for those with the wealth to buy their debt.

The lead character, Elisha, hopes to do just that, but swears he’ll never take the Dociline that turned his mother into a hollowed out shell of the woman she used to be—a decision made more complicated when his contract is purchased by ultra-rich aristocrat Alexander Bishop III, whose family is the brains behind the drug. Troubled at the accusation against his family legacy, Alex determines to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without the help of the drug; what follows is a complex take on the intersection of capitalism and consent, dominance and submission, and love and obligation.

The diversity of recent works of fantasy and science fiction is stunning, even (and particularly) among major releases. I think that’s brilliant. The fact that women and non-binary writers are building new worlds, and diverse characters are exploring them, has opened up genre fiction in ways that would have been almost impossible to imagine a few decades ago. It wasn’t long ago that each and every LGBTQ+ character in a book was a cause for celebration. The fact that we’re beginning to take them for granted feels an awful lot like progress.

If there are fewer male-identified queer characters at the head of science fiction adventures? Well, we’ll get there.

Who are your favorite gay male-identifying characters in sci-fi and fantasy? (Valdemar represent!)

The post Where Are All the Queer Men in Sci-Fi? appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


A Beautiful, Bloody Fantasy Vision: Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Marlon James fourth novel, and the first in a planned trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf seems an unusual next act for an author whose last book, the deeply literary A Brief History of Seven Killings, won the prestigious Booker prize (the first time the honor went to a Jamaican author). But if this marks his first voyage into full-on (if not entirely traditional) fantasy, he did flirt with genre elements in his debut, 2005’s John Crow’s Devil. But if the new novel’s logline—early press billed it as “an African Game of Thrones”—suggests James’ lane shift was motivated by a desire to write a bestseller, the final product allays those fears. This is unapologetically a fantasy, yes, and it’s full of monsters and magic and thrilling action—in short, it is great fun to read. But it is also every bit as complex and poetic as its prize-winning predecessor.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf introduces Tracker (his only name), a pragmatically ruthless, but not entirely amoral, hunter for hire. “He has a nose,” it if often said. Certainly he is possessed of a hunting ability that dances between the mere skill and the supernatural. At the novel’s outset, he returns an abused spouse to her husband as per the terms of the job he accepted, but not without providing her with a solid suggestion for permanently dealing with her tormentor. It’s seems the least he can do, but the act is reflective of not only Tracker’s own complex morality, but also the ambiguous ethics of the world he inhabits.

Tracker’s next job involves finding a boy who has been missing for three years. The hunt sends Tracker, who has partnered with a band of mercenaries, on a tour through James’ lush vision of fantasy land inspired by pan-African, pre-colonial history, myth, and trauma. They traipse though ancient cities and forbidding forests, pursuing and pursued by any number of horrific (and occasionally helpful) creatures. Each of the hunters (including one known as Leopard) hides secrets, and some know more than they’re willing to let on about the fate of the mysterious boy. Tracker’s doubts about his task grow as he’s forced to confront not only a dangerous quest but the realization that critical information is being withheld from him. Who is the boy, really, and why are so many people so invested in his recovery—or in ensuring he stays gone?

Yes, it’s tempting to compare every dark fantasy vision to A Game of Thrones, and there are elements reminiscent of George R. R. Martin’s unforgiving world and cast of unreliable, irredeemable characters. But the influences on display are many and varied: what Tolkien was able to do with the beats of western European folklore, James is does for sub-Saharan Africa, and then some. There’s also a flavor of Robert Howard in the way he luxuriates in the grit and grime of an earlier world that’s far more brutal, but also far freer than ours. And far from dodging the tropes of fantasy literature and folklore, James luxuriates in them—at least for a bit, before twisting them into entirely new shapes. The hunt for the boy is the point, but it’s also a framework for an exploration of an incredibly rich, instantly indelible world.

That’s all wonderful, but even more than for what the story is about, this book impresses for how it is about it. Marlon James lays out his prose like a king’s feast: it’s dense, layered, and incredibly rich. There are writers who can tell a great story, and there are writers who can cast a spell with words—either skillset can lead to a good book, but not every author is a master of both. James may just be. Certainly he tells an ripping story, all the while inviting (sometimes demanding) that you savor every sentence. It’s a fitting quality, given that the ability to tell a good story is so prized a skill in Tracker’s world.

This forbidding vision of an ancient Africa is beautiful and bloody, and as true as any real or imagined world described in literature. You might wish to visit, if the place wasn’t so likely to kill you. As Tracker and company wend their way through this phantasmagorical land at a deliberate, if not leisurely, pace, James’ attention to detail is nearly hypnotic. If it’s true that this is a long and dense book, and that it is easy to lose your way in the winding narrative, it is also true that not a sentence feels wasted. The prose is enchanting, which is not the same as calling it pretty: this is a world of blood, dirt, and stink—you can practically smell the musk and sweat pouring off of the unrepentantly filthy Leopard. The violence is visceral (among others, a moment involving a lost eye will stick with you for a long time). So is the sex, occurring most often between men (or male-identified were-creatures), which James describes with that same keen sense for tastes, sounds, and smells. For all the African influences, there’s a bit of Greek myth in the relationship between the book’s two lead characters, and the exhilaratingly free but unsentimental couplings, part and parcel of the novel’s exploration of notions of masculinity.

The story follows Tracker on a long and twisting journey, and the narrative momentum builds throughout. Along the way, the characters pass through extraordinary kingdoms and evocative landscapes—a wealth of pan-African history, myth, traditional religion, and legend sampled, re-mixed, and filtered through a prodigious imagination, and filled with tricksters, griots, witches, were-creatures, and giant men. Some of these elements are traceable to their inspirations, many others seem to have been reimagined so thoroughly as to be almost wholly the author’s.

In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James has crafted a world as beautiful as it is forbidding, full of slippery, fascinating, fully realized characters. It’s early days, but it surely seems likely to be judged one of 2019’s best and most revelatory works of fantasy.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is available now.

The post A Beautiful, Bloody Fantasy Vision: Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf Will Be Adapted by Michael B. Jordan


Well, this is actually perfect. Marlon James’ epic fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf just his shelves yesterday, and it’s already been snapped up by Hollywood, in the form of Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan, who picked up the rights as part of a new producing deal with Warner Bros.

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A tense quest opens Marlon James’ sprawling fantasy series set in a brutal, mythical Africa


Marlon James announced his intention to write a sprawling fantasy trilogy shortly after his previous novel, 2014’s A Brief History Of Seven Killings, won the prestigious Man Booker Prize. The word on it was always that it would be an “African Game Of Thrones,” and this description has been used in what appears to be a…

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Marlon James Talks Superheroes, the Joy of Fantasy, and His Stunning New Book Black Leopard, Red Wolf


Marlon James is already a big deal; he won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2015 for his crime novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. But Black Leopard, Red Wolf—the first entry in his Dark Star fantasy trilogy, which the Jamaican-born author himself dubbed “the African Game of Thrones”—levels up in a huge way.

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The New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

We’re done looking back at the best sci-fi and fantasy, horrorcomics, and manga of 2018. Now we turn our gaze to the year ahead: here are the new sci-fi and fantasy books coming in 2019 that our team of bloggers and reviewers can’t wait to read.

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (September 10)
Hello, I am cheating, because I read Tamsyn Muir’s buzzy debut back in September, but I can’t think of another recent (or forthcoming!) book I’d rather experience again for the first time. It’s the story of snarky, smart-mouthed young necromancer Gideon, drafted against her will into a game of galactic intrigue that quickly turns into a meme-filled Agatha Christie murder mystery in a sealed off, decrepit space castle. With skeletons! I loved it so much I blurbed it (“Gonzo fantasy. If Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake, and Ray Harryhausen collaborated on a novel on Reddit, the results might be half as mad and a quarter as entertaining as Tamsyn Muir’s necro-maniacal debut.”), and you will too. Love it, I mean. – Joel Cunningham

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling (April 2)
I’m cheating here too, since I’ve read this one, but you don’t want to miss it: Starling’s tense and exciting debut follows a cave-diver astronaut on an alien who discovers horrors underground. I read it all the way through, barely taking any time to breathe. A must read for thriller fans. – Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone (June 18)
The Craft Sequence established Max Gladstone as one of the most innovative voices in fantasy. Now he is turning his considerable talents toward a universe-spanning space opera featuring time travel, space empires, and a swashbuckling team of far-future renegades. I have only the faintest idea of what to expect from a book billed as “a feminist Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with Star Wars,” but I know that anything from Gladstone’s word processor will be wildly imaginative, devastatingly smart, and like no space opera I’ve read before. – Kelly Quinn-Chiu

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft (January 22)
Erstwhile headmaster Thomas Senlin has been climbing the Tower of Babel, on the hunt for his lost wife Marya, for two books. Inching ever upward through grotesque Ringdoms, he’s amassed a motley and charming supporting cast. So, I can’t wait for The Hod King, which promises to give some of those characters (fearsome Iren, mischievous Voleta, and capable captain Edith) far more of our attention. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll hear from Marya, too. – Nicole Hill

Dark Shores, by Danielle L. Jensen (May 7)
Two continents divided by impassable-but-by-magic seas, a badass pirate princess of color, a monstrous scion of nearly forgotten gods, and a legion commander with a dark past from an Empire set on world domination? Sign me up. I’ve been longing for a sweeping epic that takes me out of the traditional psuedo-European model and into more exotic territory, and Dark Shores looks like it fits the bill, with the added bonus of what I hope will be a critical eye on colonialism and a complex emotional sub-plot to keep me engaged in this global saga. Yes, it’s billed as YA, but it has all the signs of being just as nuanced and adventurous as Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, which I couldn’t get enough of. – Ardi Alspach

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (February 5)
I’m so excited about Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which has been blurbed as an “African Game of Thrones”: a fantasy national epic more based on African history and folklore. The brutal, bloody politics, roster of disparate characters, and sheer freaking scope of A Brief History of Seven Killings (for which he won the Booker prize) suggests James will crush epic fantasy. – Ceridwen Christensen

Collision: Stories, by J.S. Breukelaar (February 19)
I read Breukelaar’s novel Aletheia earlier this year, and she blew me away with a story that took unexpected turns and seduced me with its vivid prose and flawed, compelling characters. It’s a book I still think about a lot. Since I love short fiction, I really can’t wait to read this collection and see what dark and magical dreams she’ll bring to life there. – Maria Haskins

Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams (May 7)
Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic for a reason. Twenty-five years later, Williams has returned to the land of Osten Ard with The Last King of Osten Ard trilogy, a direct sequel to his famous series, picking up with many of the same characters, themes, and locations fans know and love. The first volume, The Witchwood Crown was a brilliant reintroduction to the series, and Empire of Grass looks to continue Williams’ run as one of our generation’s greatest fantasists. It’s got everything you love—from plucky heroes to mysterious magic, a beautiful world, rich and full of life, but also ancient and barreling toward a new, unforeseeable future. – Adian Moher

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (March 19)
I’m an unabashed mark for military science fiction that has an ethical core rather than a Physics degree. Hurley’s work is never less than impressive and this story of soldiers discovering just how they’re being deployed, and the temporal price they’re paying for it, looks fantastic. – Alasdair Stuart

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (July 16)
I’ll read pretty much anything with the words “time war” in the title, description, or randomly on page 42, but with these two authors involved, it’s doubtless going to be pretty awesome. Especially since it all kicks off with someone finding a letter on a desolate battlefield marked “burn before reading.” Both Gladstone and El-Mohtar have earned more or less my blind allegiance, but honestly, they had me at the title. – Jeff Somers

Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear (March 5)
A return to space opera after a number of years for Bear. An engineer, a pilot, an AI and a booby trapped derelict ship that leads the pair into a chase with interstellar governments, pirates, and oh yes, the black hole at the center of the galaxy. In an era where space opera is big again, I’ll be very glad to hear Bear’s voice resounding once again in one of my favorite subgenres of SFF. – Paul Weimer

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig (July 2)
I’ve adored Chuck Wendig’s gritty, creepy writing style since his first Miriam Black novel dropped. He’s written about a zillion works since, but I’m dying to get my hands on this post-apocalyptic jewel. Perhaps because this book, teased as Station 11 meets The Stand, gives off literary-level vibes that imply Wendig is really upping his game on this one—without losing his signature penchant for the darker side of the genre. – Emily Wenstrom

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (May 14)
I’m being slightly lazy with this pick, in that Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time was my favorite book of 2018. That self-contained book didn’t demand a sequel, which makes it all the more exciting that we’re getting one—though I might be a hair disappointed if it’s not just the further adventures of hyper-evolved spiders. I expect I’ll love it regardless. – Ross Johnson

Permafront, by Alastair Reynolds (March 19)
Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite authors, and this novella sounds poised to deliver on a great premise —what if you could travel back in time and make a slight adjustment that meant humanity avoided global catastrophe, but would leave all of recorded history intact? A no-brainer, huh? What could possibly go wrong? – Tim O’Brien

Stormsong, by C.L. Polk (February 11)
Witchmark was one of the best books I read in 2018—a beautiful, romantic, and immersive story and a breath of fresh air in a year that was pretty freaking awful. I nearly cried with joy when I heard there was going to be a sequel; I need to know what happens to everyone. Stormsong will focus on Miles’ sister, Grace, who must deal with the horrible consequences on what they put in motion in Witchmark. Storms threaten to tear their city apart and the book will probably tear my heart apart. I have a few months to get mentally ready and it still probably won’t be enough. I can not wait. – Meghan Ball

Thorn of Emberlain, by Scott Lynch (???)
Just because it doesn’t have a release date, or might not be technically finished, doesn’t mean I can’t anticipate it. It’s been almost six years since The Republic of Thieves was released, and I’m raring to get back to the world of Gentlemen Bastards—a place where the mages are ruthless, the humans are devious, and even priests and children swear like sailors. While Scott Lynch takes his time with books, his “when it’s done” approach never fails to deliver, and I’m looking forward to seeing him follow on from the devastating conclusion of book three. – Sam Reader

What’s your most-anticipated SFF book of 2019?

The post The New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.