Tuesday, May 1, 2012

REVIEW: Beyond Binary edited by Brit Mandelo

Brit Mandelo's Beyond Binary is a collection of previously published Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction that I'd been looking forward to for quite some time. Having finally had a chance to read it through and go back to revisit a few of the stories I felt weren't quite so deserving of the tag speculative fiction, I have to say it's an interesting enough collection. There are some stellar entries that definitely make this worth a read, but overall I was disappointed in the extent to which the authors attempted to queer the concept of gender.

Nalo Hopkinson's "'Fisherman'' was definite highlight of the collection for me, with it's languid revelation of gender and its remarkably sincere exploration of sexuality. The relationship that develops here is a delight to experience, with an understanding whore who acknowledges and respects her client's chosen gender, while equally accommodating and his birth gender in their intimacies.

Ellen Kushner's "A Wild and Wicked Youth" was another strong addition to the book, a longer story about very personal expressions of gender and unusual expressions of sexuality. If you never thought fighting could be sexy, or that enjoying the thrill of victory could be orgasmic, then you need to read this. Very clever, and very well-done.

Sonya Taaffe's "Another Coming" was a beautifully written piece, full of haunting imagery, but it only strains the gender binary with one relationship, and it's never satisfactorily explained how it could work. A lovely bisexual story, but not necessarily genderqueer.

Sarah Kanning's "Sex with Ghosts" was another favourite of mine, featuring a robot sex worker with a flair for English poetry. Deeper and more intellectual than the idea of a robot sex worker might have you suspect, this definitely played into my love for authors like D.B. Story who explore gender and sexuality through those artificial constructs who exist outside the binary.

Keyan Bowes' "Spoiling Veena" lacked something in the storytelling that would have elevated it to favourite status, which is a shame because the subject matter was so compelling. Bowes explores a future in which parents can choose their child's gender, and looks at how things can develop when your child doesn't like the choice you made.

Liu Wen Zhuang's "The Metamorphosis Bud" is one of the oddest stories in the collection, but an interesting read. We've all had fantasies about waking up with something new in the way of sexual equipment, but I doubt any of us would handle it quite as wonderfully as the old woman who wakes up with a penis.

Not quite as breathtaking a collection as I had hoped for, it still offers a good mix of stories, genders, and sexualities with which to draw in readers and maybe, possibly hopefully introduce them to something new. Worth checking out, especially if you're new to the stories.

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