2015 has been a year in which the speculative-fiction world has been rather vocal on the topic of gender in speculative fiction. In September 2015, for example, speculative-fiction Internet circles picked up on a review of a space-opera anthology written entirely by women writers, a review that suggested:
'I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.'
'I applaud the ladies for giving it a try,' the reviewer concluded, 'but I would suggest they forget going any further.' It seems women can write fantasy, but science fiction is a trickier proposition.
Or so some would have you believe.
Of course, this is nothing new–only look at the example of James Tiptree Jnr (Alice Sheldon) to see that. But it is, in the age in which a single post can go viral in minutes, a still urgent and still active debate.
That said, this section aims to explore something simultaneously narrower and broader than 'women writing science fiction': narrower because we're not looking at that wide 50% of the world's population that is 'women', but broader because these lists do not position either gender or sexuality as binary constructs.
Like the lists on physical diversity, this section draws from the works' characters, not the authors. The works here have been chosen because, among many other examples of placing gender and sexuality at the forefront of their work, they
This list began as a blog post, still available to view here, but has subsequently been expanded and refined.
The works listed on this page are speculative fiction only, thereby excluding such significant works as Alyssa Brugman's Alex As Well or Hazel Edwards's f2m. We encourage you to search the database for other works on the topics of gender and sexuality.
While AustLit doesn't record authors' sexual orientation, we do record authors' gender. See 'Women Writing Speculative Fiction' below to explore Australian women's writing.
The works are divided into general sections, to make the lists easier to navigate. Click on a tile to open up the list. For the purposes of this list, a series is three works or more, so works that include a book and its sequel will appear under other categories.
Note: The links take you to the AustLit record for the works.
R.J. Astruc is what you might call an 'intermittently Australian' author: while she has been resident in Australia, she is also of a peripatetic tendency, and was living in New Zealand when this book was published. But it is set in early post-colonial NSW, where Jasper Blue and Pape Sassoon have to deal with a zombie outbreak before they can consider anything else–like whether or not they're in love.
Astruc is also the author of Cold Ennaline, a woman coming of age in a rotting world, who struggles to understand the 'peculiar coldness' that is her asexuality. Astruc was no longer based in Australia when she published Cold Emmaline, and so it isn't indexed on AustLit, but it is an unusual example of a fantasy novel with an asexual heroine.
Need an example of emancipation to really spur Earthling women into recognising their potential? Mary Moore Bentley thought so, and she posited a Martian society of emancipated women in 1901.
Lindsay ap Rhys ap Gruffud just wants a quiet life. She doesn't want Elizabeth the First to appear in her garden, she doesn't want to become involved in Tudor politics, and she doesn't want to fall in love with a librarian called Kate–or does she?
This novel may be the only work in the entire database to which the phrase 'voluntary autism' applies. But we've added it to this section because of a cogent point that Egan raised in a 1998 interview:
SF ought to be the ideal place to invent new possibilities for human interaction, but there’s a lot of conservatism even in SF. In Distress, the main character falls in love with an asexual person, someone who’s chosen to have no gender at all. One reviewer in an SF magazine fell over laughing at the very idea of this. He literally couldn’t conceive of two people being in love without some form of genital friction.
(Read the interview in full here.)
Like Catherine Helen Spence, Millie Finkelstein wrote the kind of late nineteenth-century novel that critics tended to call 'radical'. As a contemporary review notes, the novel imagines 'the future when possibly a Lady Governor and Lady Legislators may rule the land. The criminal sessions at Melbourne is presided over her Honor the Chief Justice, while a lady QC prosecutes and a Miss Purves defends "The Lady Bushranger, Faith Parker."'
Sophia French's first novel, The Diplomat arose from a desire to counteract the strong focus on male, hetersexual experience in traditional fantasy – French layers a queer romance over the age-old trope of marriage for the sake of political alliances.
There were so many Mel Keegan works from which we could have chosen–he specialises in fast-paced fantasy and science-fiction adventure with strongly drawn same-sex relationships at their core. But tempted as we were by Aquamarine and others, we've chosen this one, for the ways in which it questions a heternormative vision of history, as Paul, following a young Saxon knight to the Crusades for love, comes home with memories of 'dust-veiled battlefields and the candlelit bedchambers of Saracen captains'.
Riversend (and its prequel, Amberlight) posits a world on the edge of social change. Tellurith of Amberlight imagines a future for her world, Iskarda, in which men and women are equal, but traditional Iskardans don't know what to be more appalled about: these radical gender politics or Tellurith's two husbands.
Friends Allan and Warwick are dead. This makes it more difficult for Allan to reveal his long-term crush on Warwick, but that's only the start of their difficulties.
Lovers in Charlotte McConaghy's world of Kaya have always died in pairs: their bond prevents one living while the other dies. But for the Empress Quillane, the problem is that royalty are forbidden the bond and two women are forbidden to rule together–and how much longer will her lover Radha be willing to live hidden away in a secret chamber behind a bookcase in the empress's private chambers?
40-something Gloria is running a bed-and-breakfast with her friend Nadine, but it's becoming something of a halfway house for lesbian werewolves, which means Gloria needs to rethink her role, despite her insistence that she will never become an alpha.
The Firebird's Tale starts with a familiar story: a kingdom on the edge of Faerie, a Prince Who Never Smiles, and a royal mandate—whomsoever can make Prince Aleksei smile will be awarded his hand in marriage. But life is never neat, and the one who succeeds not only does so by accident … he isn’t even human.
From Texas-based Dreamspinner Press, a specialist in gay romantic fiction, Isabelle Rowan's Ink is a tale of ancient vampires and beautiful tattooists, of what fades and what does not fade. Rowan primarily writes contemporary gay romance, so this foray into fantasy is unusual for her.
Created in a small village in France, Rupetta is part mechanical, part human, and her consciousness is tied to the women who wind her. The first Australian work to win the James Tiptree Award, Rupetta is a meditation on gender, humanity, and the inter-relationship between the two.
Temporarily resident on the futuristic planet Spectra, Lee, a hermaphroditic [intersex] human, feels shunned by the other 'normal' humans on the planet because of her mutation. How can a friendship with a member of the alien species Diddak'thook help?
Also on the planet Spectra, a young woman named Dayna forms a friendship with an immigrant of the planet Tuesday Bright, the hermaphrodite [intersex] Attis. Amidst the turmoil of an epidemic amongst their food supply, they grow closer, trying to ignore the ill-feeling stirred up by their pairing.
Kim Westwood's future Melbourne is a post-pandemic world, where widespread infertility has caused a leap in religious fervour and created a thriving black-market in drugs. And through it all moves Sal Forth, a protagonist whose non-binary gender identity is a challenge to a right-wing order, even if that's not Sal's intention.
A space-opera adventure of first contact and assassination, 'Once Was Lost' is also a meditation on grief, as the assassin, after years of buried grief, is forced to come to terms with the death of his lover and former partner.
In this self-published selection of short stories (and its sequel), Eleanor Butler constructs short romantic stories in which the characters are werewolves–several of the stories also contain same-sex relationships, from characters comfortable with their sexuality to characters blindsided by an unexpected same-sex attraction.
If time travel were invented, how could you use it to change the future? Supposing you could only send something small–a couple of photographic negatives. Would they be enough to ripple through time and change the way in which society regards and treats same-sex relationships?
Read the story in full here.
Thoraiya Dyer's story is centred on the human heart–its strengths and its limitations. Central to the story are two different emotional bonds: between a father and his son and between a woman and her lover, a lover whose passions will almost certainly lead to her death and to grief.
Thoraiya Dyer's work appears elsewhere in this exhibition, but here she is again with a short story from the Lethe Press anthology Daughters of Frankenstein : Lesbian Mad Scientists.
A teenage boy has grown up aware that his society 'Regulates' people who think criminal thoughts–removing them from existence before they can commit the crime. But when his best friend is Regulated in front of him, it both triggers and complicates his coming-out process.
2017 seems to be a bringing a small flurry of works that use of the idea of the masked and superpowered superhero to explore transgender identity. Chief among them is April Daniels's Dreadnought, but this novella from Australian Nicole Field is another addition to an interesting sub-genre.
Set in a world where the climactic battle against the magic-using oppressor has already been won, The Shock of Survival is about fitting back into a post-war society after coming out of the trenches. Featuring a bisexual central character, it also embeds polyamory into the world-building.
One novel and six short stories make up the Cy De Gerch collection: Rick Kennett's Martian protagonist is genetically engineered to interface with the weapons systems on a spacecraft and operate as a trained killer for the Martian state. She's also a lesbian. And yes: there's a hint in the novel (published in 1982) that her sexuality is tied to the blending of masculine and feminine traits that went into her making, but as the stories progress, the depiction of Cy's sexuality is deepened and enriched.
Shortlisted for a Chronos Award, this story, Stephanie Lai's earliest published fiction, appeared in Steampowered 2, a collection of short tales with lesbian protagonists. Lai is very much an emerging writer, with a handful of publications to date, and we'll be keen to see where her work takes us in the future.
Part of the Monstrous Little Voices series of reworked Shakespearean narratives from Rebellion Publishing, 'Coral Bones' takes up Miranda's story from her return to Naples, where she is dissatisfied with her life with Ferdinand: Meadows asks whether growing up in company with an 'airy spirit' would give Miranda a certain fluidity in her thinking about her identity and her gender, a fluidity that would make dissatisfying the role her father and husband determined for her.
Meadows' essay on writing this novella and her own identity is linked via the Further Reading page.
One of a suite of three otherwise unconnected stories that explore issues of gender identity, social status, and sexuality, all published in The Fantasist. 'Letters Sweet as Honey', an epistolary story, follows a protagonist transformed into a swarm of bees by a magical accident, and how her society comprehends sentience.
One of a suite of three otherwise unconnected stories that explore issues of gender identity, social status, and sexuality, all published in The Fantasist. 'Mnemosyne' follows a bureaucrat to a distant mining asteroid, where they come to understand the fluid, interior society that the slaves have built for themselves.
One of a suite of three otherwise unconnected stories that explore issues of gender identity, social status, and sexuality, all published in The Fantasist. In 'The Song of Savi', an academic finds a lost version of the country's defining epic poem, the song of their founding hero, and realises that subsequent translations have, either deliberately or accidentally, obscured the gender identity of the hero ... and in response, built a patriarchal society around 'him'.
Originally published in Daughters of Frankenstein : Lesbian Mad Scientists and later republished as part of Lethe Press's annual Heiresses of Russ 2016 : The Year's Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction anthology of lesbian speculative fiction, this is the story of a lonely girl who forms an indivisible bond with the bionic woman she repairs.
How can you ignore a volume first published in a collection sub-titled Queering Edgar Allan Poe? (Because for all his queerness of setting, Poe was not really one for queerness of relationships.) This story is one of love, revenge, and writing.
'My Lady Tongue' brought Lucy Sussex a Ditmar Award–one of not even a handful given to women by that point in the awards' run–and remains a landmark work in Australian feminist science fiction. Set in an all-female commune, 'My Lady Tongue' explores the ramifications of single-gender communities and is rich in varied same-sex relationships.
Read the story in full here.
The protagonist of this short story takes her girlfriend on a trip to her childhood home, which her brother plans on demolishing in the wake of their parents' death. While there, she hopes to come to terms with her childhood ghost–and we do mean a literal ghost.
Finn's husband returns from five years in space, and is sent into quarantine as his superiors track what seems to be an alien virus. A story with elements of Tiresias and Orlando.
Described by its author as 'YA fantasy school story with a sapphic twist', the Scholars and Sorcery series is set at a boarding school in an alternate mid-20th-century England, where senior prefect Charley Forest deals with old magic, hockey games, and falling in love with another girl.
It's been interesting watch the rise of C.S. Pacat's novels in 2015. While the movement from self-published to traditional publication is not as uncommon now as it once was, Pacat's homonormative world, with its focus on intense masculine desire, is something unusual in mainstream fantasy.
Amanda Ashby is known for children's and young-adult fiction that's often called 'quirky', and from the publisher's blurb, this one is straight down that line. But it has, in the heroine's best friend Nash, a prominent asexual character, and that's something that's still a rarity for current YA.
The focus of this novel is on Tash Carmody, whose is only now, in the last year of high school, beginning to manage her crippling claustrophobia and panic attacks, the result of a childhood trauma that left another girl mute. But one of Tash's coping mechanisms is her best friend Sadie, whom we first meet trying to attract the attention of her latest crush, Alice, at the ice-cream parlour.
Josie's two dads (both called Dave) aren't really the focus of this novel: that's really more a matter for Josie and her future self, Josephine. But it was relatively unusual, even as late as 2004, to present a same-sex relationship as one of the least unusual aspects of the protagonist's life.
Alison Goodman's debut novel, Singing the Dogstar Blues (1998), roared back into people's attention when it was republished in 2012 after the success of her Eon series.
In this boarding-school, time-travelling, soul-music romp, teenage trainee time-travelling Joss is paired with Mavkel, her school's first alien pupil, who comes from a telepathic, asexual species.
The primary focus of this novel is on the vampire-human relationships at its core, and while vampires have long been associated (by authors, critics, and readers) with queer sexuality, we've added Team Human to the list because of both a lesbian character and a bisexual character.
With a central character who is open about her asexuality (and possibly, as some reviewers have suggested, also aromantic), Clariel is an interesting addition to the Old Kingdom series, although Clariel's ultimate end might raise some questions.
While AustLit doesn't record authors' sexual orientation, we do record authors' gender. So in addition to the works individually listed in this section, here are some gender-specific lists you might like to explore at your leisure. The searches will run anew each time you click the link, so they will always provide you with the most up-to-date listing that AustLit has.