So the Locked Tomb/Gideon the Ninth fandom server has this event where members give powerpoints on topics they pick which range from serious things to silly memes. I gave this presentation for one of the powerpoint nights because people had expressed interest in my thoughts about trends in science fiction and fantasy in relation to queerness. I did not originally plan to go in and run statistics, but I did anyways because I may as use that master’s of science for something.
Queer science fiction has always existed. One of the earliest novels to receive critical acclaim was Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon which was published in the 1960s. Theodore Sturgeon is also known for his work on Star Trek: The Original Series. Other books include the Left Hand of Darkness, Ammonite, The Woman Who Loved the Moon And Other Stories, Babel-17, The Female Man, Houston, Housin Do You Read, The Gilda Stories, Luck In The Shadows, Trouble And Her Friends, Magic’s Pawn, and Matter of Oaths. A few queer notable authors include Nicola Griffith, Elizabeth A. Lynn, Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, and James Triptree Jr.
But in the 2010s there was a huge increase in speculative fiction books with queer content and queer authors being published. Furthermore, compared to previous eras, more trans stories and authors appear to have been published. Awards for speculative fiction started to consistently have queer authors and works with queer content on their ballots and winning. Some examples of books that were published during the 2010s that are queer include Ancillary Justice, All Systems Red, The Black Tides of Heaven, The Devourers, Gideon the Ninth, The Long Way To A Small And Angry Planet, Ninefox Gambit, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, An Unkindness of Ghosts, The Fifth Season, A Memory Caled Empire, Every Heart A Doorway, and Docile.
So why is there this shift? Some of the factors that I personally think have contributed to more queer speculative fiction is the internet, queer works winning awards, and greater recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and equality. The Internet is perhaps one of the largest factors because it allowed for greater connectivity between queer writers and readers to share resources. But the internet is also a fertile ground for new writers and particularly queer writers through creating greater access to sharing work, especially fanfiction.
This slide is fairly US-Centric. The LGBTQ+ movement has been around since the 1870s but really started picking up momentum in the 1970s. The AIDs crisis of the 1980s and 1990s brought further awareness to the LGBTQ+ community’s struggles for equality, dignity, and respect. In the early 2000s, in the US there were many PSA campaigns about self esteem in LGBTQ+ Youth. In 2001, the Netherlands is the first country to legalize gay marriage, miles ahead of the US which had not yet fully decriminilize homosexuality which happened in 2003. In 2015, the US legalizes gay marriage which was a major win for the American LGBTQ+ community. In 2020, the US Supreme Court finally rules that LGBTQ+ people are protected from discirimitation supplementing the previous executive order issued by President Obama in 2010. There is still much work left to do in the US and the rest of the world for LGBTQ+ rights and equality, but queer people are even more visible today than in the past.
Fanfiction is integral to speculative fiction through fan expression but also as a way to explore writing. This quote from K. M. Sparza in Lost Transmissions: The Secret History of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2019) really hits the nail on the head with what I have personally observed when it comes to fanfiction and queer folk and speculative fiction:
“Fiction, both fan and original, has always provided me a space to explore what it means to be a queer and trans person, through my protagonists’ stories. I was myself in fiction before I was myself in real life. And now I’m a grown-up writer, like so many of my peers…It [fanfiction] is worthwhile for many personal reasons, but also because it’s taught a generation of emerging authors to experiment with stories. To write without worrying whether their plots are too tropey, their sex to gratuitous, their queers too unpalatable for the masses. To experience unabashed enthusiasm for characters. To bring all that to their original fiction and science fiction and fantasy at large.”
LGBTQ+ relationships and content is a time honored tradition in fanfiction. Fanfiction with same sex relationships has been called slash since the 1970s partly for the convention of using a slash to denote pairings. The earliest known slash fanfiction Fragment Out Of Time which was published and distributed as a zine in 1974 at fan conventions. The Star Trek fandom is important for normalizing slash since at the time Kirk/Spock (also called K/S or Spirk) was extremely popular among female fans. Fanfiction in relation to queer speculative fiction wasnot been widely examined in the academic circles until the 2000s, however in the 1990s there were several essays and papers that did examine it through the lens of queer theory. Joanna Russ, a prominent lesbian SFF writer wrote about the culture and literary implications of slash in her 1999 essay. “Pornography by Women for Women, with love.” This essay talks more about slash in relation to gender roles, but is still one of the first essays by a queer writer on the impacts of slash on speculative fiction. When the internet emerged, slash no longer was limited to being shared at conventions, fan magazines/mailing lists, and word of mouth. Now anyone could post their slash to a public space for others to read. There was an explosion in fanfiction through personal sites on hosts like geocities, live journal, fanfiction.net, and Archive of Our Own.
Tie-In novels are another aspect of fanfiction that I want to touch on since they are often called “official fanfiction”. Many tie-in novels were and still are written by authors who are known for writing fanfiction. However, unlike fanfiction, many tie-ins have to abide by rules and codes set by the publisher or the franchise which often were strict on what sort of relationships and sexual content could be depicted. One Example of a tie-in novel code would be Pocket Book’s Star Trek Guidelines. Tie-ins were great opportunities for authors to gain fanbases, hone their skills while working in someone else’s universe, all while being paid for writing.
Another aspect of fanfiction and speculative fiction is the idea of filing off the serial numbers. Filing off the serial numbers is when an author uses a fanfiction they wrote to create an original work through changing character and setting details. One of the first major fanfiction authors to crossover to original fiction publishing with success was Cassandra Clare in 2007. Cassandra Clare has had many controversies from her time in the Harry Potter fan spaces. Her novel, City of Bones, was originally a drarry fanfiction which she filed the serial numbers off.
Notable LGBTQ+ authors who were published in the 2010s who have been open about writing fanfiction include K. M. Sparza, Tamsyn Muir, and Seanan McGuire.
For science fiction and fantasy books, there are many awards. In North America, the Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards are the two most well known awards for speculative fiction. Other awards include World Fantasy, Clarke Award, Triptree Award, and Locus Awards. Awards have different criteria and judging procedures. For this presentation we are going to focus on the Hugo Awards. The Hugo Award ballots are determined by fan nomination and voting. I am going to also focus on the best novel and novella categories since those have been the easiest for me to research and the categories that I am most familiar with.
The Hugo Awards have had queer nominees dating back to the 1960s. The first novel nominee with queer content was Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon. Although the book was more focused on gender equality between men and women, it depicted a society with same-sex relationships as the norm and homophobia was condemned. The first openly queer author to have a book nominated for best novel was Samuel Delany in 1967. Samuel Delany has had a lasting impact and legacy on the genre since he has routinely taught at the Clarion Writing Workshops. Although Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin was not the first best novel winner to contain queer cotent, it was the first novel to win that was not homophobic or transphobic. The first winner with queer content was Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land in 1962. However this book is full of homophobia and deeply biphobic tropes regarding bisexual women and I cannot in good faith recommend it. Also I personally have a deep dislike for Robert Heinlein. In 1974, Arthur C. Clarke is the first gay author to win best novel. However he was not openly gay during that period in his life. In 1982, C.J. Cherryh is the first lesbian to win best novel.These queer forerunners unlocked the door so it could be opened for the next generation.
In 2014, the door was kicked wide open at the awards with Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Ancillary Justice depicted a society without gender where all the characters are nonbinary. It gained critical claim and swept the awards including the Hugo Awards, Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke, Locus Award, and the Kitchies Golden Tentacle Award for Best Debut. The success meant that that publishers would be more willing to take a chance on explicitly queer speculative fiction books. Ann Leckie is also really nice and has listened to her trans reader’s feedback and incorporated them into her writing.
When we look at the data from 2000 to 2009 vs the data from 2010 to 2017, we can see this spike in queer science fiction and fantasy. When I ran a t-test to see if there was any statistically significant differences what I found was that for both finalists with queer content (p=0.011, df=10. t=-3.81) and queer author finalists (p=0.014, df=10, t=-2.96) were significantly different. In order to be significantly different, the p-value has to be less than 0.05 and means the null hypothesis of there is no difference between 2000-2009 and 2010-2020 should be rejected. When we look at the graphs, The number of hugo finalists for best novel and novella that are queer increases after 2010 and spikes in 2017. Despite the Sad Puppy’s efforts to rig the Hugo Awards from 2013 to 2015, books that focused on marginalized groups still are nominated and still win proving that they have mass appeal to science fiction and fantasy fans.
When we look at the Hugo finalists for best novel and novella in terms of queer authors, we see that after 2010 there is also an increase. The 2001 data point is Nalo Hopkinson for her novel Midnight Robber. Then in 2010, Seanan McGuire starts appearing on the ballot for best novel and novella and is the only queer author in those categories from 2010 to 2014 which is what I like to call the Seanan Bubble. During this time, the Sad Puppies are active but ironically and also amazingly, 2013 is the year that Seanan McGuire appears on the ballot in five categories under both her penname Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire. The categories are: best novel, best novelette (twice — one as Mira Grant and the other under Seanan McGuire), best novella, and best fancast. Furthermore, 2017 was the first year that a trans author, Yoon Ha Lee, was a finalist for the best novel category. Other awards such as the World Fantasy Award had trans finalists in the 1980s and 1990s which is why I want to examine the data for that award and also the Nebula Awards which are selected by a panel of writers.
Gideon the Ninth is one of the best examples of the renaissance in queer science fiction and fantasy for several reasons. The marketing was very different from any other campaign by Tor I have seen in that that Tor explicitly marketed it to the queer demographic by using the tagline, “Necromancer Lesbians in Space”. Prior releases, it was often the author who would talk up the representation and not the publisher. Furthermore, Gideon the Ninth was hyped up for about nine months prior to release. It was nearly inescapable on twitter and instagram. There were special editions for different printings which became highly collectable which only increased the hype. Finally, Tamsyn Muir is a great example of the queer writers active in speculative fiction. She wrote fanfiction and took what she learned from that and applied it to her original work. Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth take conventions common in fanfiction and marry them to conventions of original genre work incredibly well in my opinion.
So where do we go from here? Right now is a great time to be writing queer speculative fiction. It is becoming mainstream and even more accessible than before. Publishers are explicitly saying when things are gay. Because of the success of books like Ancillary Justice and Gideon the Ninth, publishers are more willing to take a chance because they now have even more proof to add to prior evidence that queer science fiction sells. So I leave you with this write your queer as fuck stories. Don’t give up. People want to read them. So finish that novel you’ve been working on.
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