A review: ‘Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction’

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By Zulfiya Trotter

On a quest under the auspices of an ancient but acutely relevant motto ‘Cognosce te ipsum’ (Know thyself), our society gradually comes to an understanding that gender is not what it used to be: the complementary dichotomy of black and white, a twosome of feminine and masculine. The tide of time softens the edges and adds fluidity to the most evolving modern concept – gender.

The anthology Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction edited by Brit Mandelo, is a recent and bold attempt to shed life-affirming light of self-discovery and understanding. It also puts the question of gender into a new perspective by adding a flair of speculative premise for most of its stories. On this literary journey readers discover worlds of swashbuckling adventures, military campaigns, pirates and hackers, and, most intriguingly, the meandering and ever-changing flow of gender.

I see these stories and novelettes as a literary manifesto of gender freedom, told in many voices; all of which ring truthfully and authentically while fighting for the right of identity. Each of the stories in this anthology, despite their obvious diversity, provides an unusual depth in characters and decodes a variety of revelations and epiphanies.

One of the evocative features of fiction, among other things, is that it offers ultimate freedom of preference. My favorite ones are ‘The Eye of the Storm’ by K. Escridge and ‘Prosperine When It Sizzles’ by T.R. Roberts.

The first novelette took me to the world of valor, sword mastery, and freedom to be yourself.

A young lady and a child of war and rape, is bullied and ostracized by her community. She finds three supporters: another child of war, a male friend, and her mother, the people who become points of reference for her. It is not accidental that when she outgrows the conventions of her gender by learning how to fight like a soldier, she forms another group of solidarity. The ultimate revelation, as in any good fiction, is saved for the final pages, and it is one of the most liberating and magical messages I have ever received – freedom of self expression is beautiful and empowering.

Rich, allusive, and elusive is the world of ‘Prosperine When It Sizzles’. It is a layered story that can appeal to many: it is a mystery, a cloak-and-dagger espionage story, a titillating gender-bender, a treasury of plot twists, and much more. Despite its edginess, it is not void of powerful social commentary that is brought to light via the intriguing setting of a parallel universe that combines the features of the Renaissance, Ancient Rome, futuristic space colonies. The message is unobtrusive but powerful: bigotry, corruption, extremism, and obscurantism are still parts of human existence. Readers, beware. Among other things, this chameleon of a story is also about overpowering love. Eclectic? Definitely yes. Delightful? Even more so.

Virtually every story offers something memorable. They are linguistically original with ‘inventive’ grammar and emphasis and deliberate misuse of pronouns to accentuate gender-related issues. They are also raunchy, evocatively explicit, egalitarian in their appeal, putting passion above gender norms and a social status.

Find the book on Amazon.com here

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