Queer-themed science fiction is not particularly novel, but it's more commonly aimed at F&SF fans than GLBT readers. This collection endeavors to tip the balance a little in the other direction. In his introduction, coeditor Lawrence Schimel, a prolific and well-regarded author and anthologist, refers to The Future Is Queer as "a fictional sequel or companion" to PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality, an essay collection which Schimel co-edited with Carol Queen in 1997; where those essays discussed the complexities of the unseen present, these stories explore various previously unforeseen futures. The quality is somewhat more uneven here, however, to a greater extent than can be chalked up to the necessary raggedness of a well-pushed boundary.
The volume is slim, containing only seven stories and "From Homogenous to Honey," a short comic authored by fantastical heavyweight Neil Gaiman and drawn by Bryan Talbot of London underground comix fame. The two previously worked together on Gaiman's graphic opus Sandman, and the ease of their collaboration is evident in this depiction of a "utopia" which has been rendered squeaky-clean by culture censors who have gone back in time to erase all evidence of queer artists and their work. "No more Mona Lisa," the masked narrator says with relish. "No more David." While the idea of such temporal censorship is appropriately horrifying, the conclusion falls a little flat; by depicting the utopian experiment as a success, where "lacking cultural referent for deviancy, all are happy with their lot ... everybody is exactly the same" and no mention is made of ongoing policing of the population to stamp out spontaneous eruptions of queerness, Gaiman seems to accept the idea of such "deviancy" being primarily learned behavior. One can only assume the intent was to mock that concept by presenting it as patently absurd, but with so many people still buying into it, even a hint of plausibility seems like too much.
It's considerably easier to believe in the world of L. Timmel Duchamp's "Obscure Relations," where rich men create clone-children of themselves more or less because they can. Ezekiel, the eldest clone-son of politician Josiah Taylor, has killed his father and taken his place. His brothers think Ezekiel was the one murdered. As he settles into his new role, he learns that some of his brothers have been fooling around with one another. Rather than being repulsed, he's attracted and a little jealous: when he was growing up, he thought he was the only one having forbidden sexual thoughts and attracted to his fellow clones. Weaving together the sexual complexities of power dynamics, incest, and the inherent narcissism of homosexuality, Duchamp creates a winner of a story whose only flaw is that it ends too soon.
Other authors err too much on the side of defensiveness; it's easy to get the sense that they have had to face a lot of confrontation over their sexuality, and they pass that on to their characters and scenarios. Most guilty of this are Joy Parks in "Instinct" and Caro Soles in "The Chosen Few." Both posit futures—Soles's very near, Parks's somewhat further away—where the straight majority has destroyed the queer minorities by pretending to accept them. Soles focuses on the American military of just a few years from now, which ostensibly welcomes female, gay, drug-addicted, and other undesirable recruits and then sends them off on suicide missions. Parks looks at a society where quick and easy sex-change surgery led to the Great Assimilation, dykes and fags transitioning into nuMen and nuWomen so that they could at last get the spouses, children, and white picket fences they'd been wanting. Same-sex coupling is common, but same-sex couples are few, and a woman who insists on only dating other natural-born women—especially if she wants someone butch—is out of luck. Even ten or twenty years ago, being concerned about oppression by assimilation would have seemed an unimaginable luxury, but it's a valid concern in an era where Budweiser sponsors pride parades. Do we really want to be mainstream, or can acceptance mean acknowledging differences rather than tolerating them all the way into a different kind of closet?
Unfortunately, both authors are a little heavy-handed with their answers. In "The Chosen Few," the dialogue between Liam and Jack, two Marines working hard to be accepted into an elite fighter group, is so liberally sprinkled with "sweetie" and "love" and "dearest" that their camouflage greens might as well be pink; when Jack stubbornly insists on walking into certain death rather than being the first gay officer to desert his post, it seems more foolish than romantic or noble. In the world of "Instincts," some queers are so fed up with being "normalized" that they form secret enclaves to re-create past eras where being queer might have been dangerous but was also something special to be treasured. This seems a bit implausible, and it's easy to tire of the way the enclave recruiter, a foaming-at-the-mouth radical, divides the world between real queers who want real queer culture and those who are content to live in the sanitized mainstream world of casual bisexuality and no labels because such things are unimportant. These stories give the impression that actual queer/straight collaboration is an impossible dream and that we would be better off with safe little separate-but-equal spaces than genuine equality with all its ups and downs. Much like "From Homogeneity to Honey," "Instincts" implies that the vanquishing of overt queerness is the vanquishing of character and individuality and true emotion. Not only is this not the case, but if it were, the appropriate response would not be to take our cultural ball and go home. If the only thing that makes a queer person special and interesting and unique is their queerness, we have bigger problems than anything the straight world could inflict on us.
Joining in the oppression-fest is Candas Jane Dorsey with "...the darkest evening of the year...," a tale of a more overt campaign to stamp out something that might be queerness or polyamory or religion or magic or some combination of the four. Oddly enough, this dark atmosphere makes for a merry story. It takes place on the winter solstice, an apt metaphor, as amid the bright lights are a happy family bundled up protectively against a cold world that wants to tear them apart. That said, there's no real reason to read much of a political nature into the story, despite its brief and entirely unnecessary digression into Christianity-mockery; it's best enjoyed as a paean to pagan love and warmth on a winter night. Similarly celebratory is Rachel Pollack's ebullient "The Beatrix Gates," a trippy tale of nanotechnology and sex change and the cure for cancer. Layered analogies and pervasive ebullience render it slightly incoherent but delightful, a charming conclusion to the volume.
There's something here for everyone, more or less. Sometimes it seems as though the editors went out of their ways to make sure that any possible reader could find a character or two to identify with, perhaps passing over better stories in the process. It's too bad that queerness doesn't automatically confer unique artistic brilliance. Perhaps once we overcome these twin allergies—to being subsumed by the mainstream straight world and to possibly overlooking the tiniest of sub-sub-subcultures in the queer world—we can heed our own warnings and pay more attention to the brilliant and the beautiful, regardless of its source or subject.
Rose Fox is the result of a genetic experiment to create the perfect writer. Having escaped from the laboratory, she now roams the streets of New York, looking for inspiration in gutters and rainbows.
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