[image description: the cover of Beyond Binary, featuring a person’s face coated in mud, with a leaf-shaped section over their face showing binary code surrounding the subtitle: “Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction”. End description.]
Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction, Brit Mandelo (editor), Lethe Press, 2012.
Bottom line: A collection of mostly solid, satisfying queer short stories, though several never live up to the anthology’s promise to go “beyond binary.”
How does it treat women/same-sex relationships? The worlds of the stories all differ, from present-day Western European/North American countries to pure SF/F settings. In some stories, sexism and anti-queer sentiments are at present-day or greater levels; in some, they are below present-day levels. In most stories, the queer characters reach a hopeful resolution in which their sexual orientation and gender identities are accepted by those who matter to them. However, in several stories, queer characters’ futures are left in doubt and their identities remain uneasily accepted by their societies.
Does it have explicit sex scenes?: Yes, several stories have explicit sex scenes, including group sex scenes with members of both genders, f/f and m/m sex scenes, and consensual underage sex scenes.
Would I read it again? Yes. Several of the short stories were clever, sharp, strong, thoughtful and/or sexy, with two standouts that I would gladly read many times over. If I read this collection over again, though, there are stories I would skip.
Would I publish it? No, not as it stands. I would weed out several of the stories that don’t push gender identity beyond male/female or sexuality beyond gay/straight and hunt down stories that challenge binary conceptions in stronger ways.
Content warnings (may contain spoilers): Vary by story. Stories include drug abuse (or a futuristic equivalent), shaming for gender identity, death of parent, date abuse (m/f, including drugging a drink), domestic abuse, rape by enemy during war (in backstory, one main character is the result of war rape), hate killing, unintended pregnancy (and resulting fear and uncertainty, with abandonment by partner), attempted suicide, brutal war situations (being under bombardment at sea during WWII), death of lovers/friends, kidnapping and sexual abuse of teenager, sexual harassment by employer…and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some warnings.
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