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Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction

Fiction  |  Anthology  |  LGBTQ Romance & Speculative
276 pages
6” x 9” perfect-bound paperback
ISBN 978-1590210055
First Edition
Review Copy: Ebook
Lethe Press
Maple Shade, New Jersey, USA
Available HERE
Review by Sam Schooler

When Amanda Jean asked me to review Beyond Binary, I was stoked. I identify as queer and genderqueer, and in the LGBTQ romance world, where I spent most of my time, there is a prevalence of overwhelmingly binary characters and relationships. But here I was, getting a whole anthology of queer and genderqueer characters dropped right in my lap!

And man, I wish it had been as good as those first few moments of anticipatory “OMG, this book exists!” happiness promised it would be.

The stories that open this anthology—“Sea of Cortez,” “Eye of the Storm,” and “Fisherman”—are overwhelmingly delicious. Those are the ones I had to go back and reread two or three times in order to savor them. Toward the middle of the anthology, I had to read some stories two or three times to understand what the heck was going on—not a good sign—but those were few and far between, so I pressed on, hoping the tight and beautiful storytelling from the first three would return. Sadly, it never did.

My biggest problem with this anthology is this: it’s really not that nonbinary.

Sandra McDonald’s stand-out “Sea of Cortez” features a designated-male-at-birth person aboard a vessel during WWII who struggles with 1940s gender roles and self-acceptance. I’m not all into historical stories or coming out stories, but McDonald’s ability to sketch out the cloistered, claustrophobic feeling of the ship’s underbelly, her exploration of queer life aboard the ship, and her sensuous writing drew me in.

Editor Brit Mandelo’s choice to open the anthology with “Sea,” which is a second-person present-tense story, was a masterful one, since it curls the reader right into the mindset of a person who’s having “gendery feels,” as eighteen-year-old, pre-coming-out me would say.

You’re a lady reporter come to do a Life Magazine article about the war and he’s lured you down here, is moving his hands down your hips, is thumbing his way into your secret passage. If you were wearing pearls, he’d pull them cool and firm against your throat, or slip them one by one inside you like exquisite gifts.
(loc. 18.3)

“Fisherman,” by Nalo Hopkinson, I found extremely refreshing. It’s African-American lesbian fiction written entirely in dialect. I know, I know—I don’t usually like that, either. Trust me, this one’s incredible, with an endearing and memorable main character whose first experience having sex with another woman reminded me of my own in an equally funny and breathtaking kind of way.

“I…” I start to reply, and she lean she face in close to mine, frowning at me the whole while like if I is a grouper with a freak hand. She put she two lips on my own. I frighten I frighten I frighten so till my breath catch like fish bone in my throat. Warm and soft she mouth feel against mine, so soft. My mouth was little bit open. I ain’t know if to close it, if to back back, if to laugh. I ain’t know this thing that people does do, I never do it before. The sea bear Daddy away before he could tell me about it.
(loc. 117.3)

“Eye of the Storm” by Kelley Eskridge is beautiful, as well, and poly fiction to boot. There’s plenty of poly fiction to be found in Beyond Binary. But I wonder why, in a collection that’s subheaded: “Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction,” there’s very little content outside the binary in either gender or sexuality. Most stories are about cis people, and a pleasing majority of them are about women, but still, cis women don’t fill the “genderqueer” requirement for me. I also found there to be little hard speculative content; in a few cases, it felt forced, which is surprising to me, considering this is a reprint anthology.

I’m not saying the anthology is a bad one. I found the middle section too thick with historical stories—they blended together for me, their narrative voices too indistinct for me to separate them. I’ll remind you that historical fiction is not my normal fare, though, so what I didn’t like might be your top fancy. Aside from the sagging middle, though, the anthology holds itself together, and if I set aside being disgruntled by the lack of genderqueer characters, I can find other favorites: “Another Coming” by Sonya Taaffe, which is a play on Biblical lore (always a charm for me), and “The Ghost Party,” which has strong speculative content and a magnetic leading lady, all wrapped in an intriguing setting with a premise that makes me wish I had an entire novel set in that universe.

My ultimate verdict: if you’re looking for a large anthology with a broad range of LGBTQ content, pick this up. Totally worth it. If you’re lured in solely by the promise of genderqueerness, though, look elsewhere.

SAM SCHOOLER is an Ohioan university student studying journalism with a minor in American Sign Language and a specialization in African American studies. She is both queer and genderqueer, and has found a home in writing trope-themed New Adult stories about people of all genders and orientations. She has a wicked and extremely noticeable soft spot for werewolves. After graduation, she intends to flee to Canada to join her fiancée Alex and escape the customs regulations that keep her separated from her truest love: Kinder Eggs. If you’re feeling daring, follow her on Twitter as @samschoolering to get the full immersive experience, and find her at her website.

• This review was submitted in its entirety by the reviewer. The book was not submitted to Alternating Current, and we are not aware of any relationship between the author, publisher, or reviewer. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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