Book: Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson (2016)
Age/Genre: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Content Notes: Racial Discrimination, LGBT discrimination
Recently, I was traversing the interwebs looking for a new book instead of reading one of the many on my shelves, and I discovered Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology. I’ve been loving sci-fi anthologies that focus on specific themes and identities (see my review of Capricious), so it didn’t take much convincing for me to throw my money at the internet and order the book.
When it arrived, I was a little disappointed by the size. At 120 pages, I was looking at only one bath session of entertainment. I am far from disappointed after finishing the collection, though. Like Lean In, the length of this collection is a feature. While it does leave you wanting more, the brevity of the book makes it very easy to reread without committing a ton of time. And I believe all the stories here are worth revisiting.
As I started reading, I had to double check that I had purchased a short story anthology and not a collection of essays exploring gender in indigenous communities. After the letter from the editor explaining their intention with this collection, there are two essays outlining some historical aspects of the existence of two-spirit and other gender-nonconforming indigenous people. Later, I really appreciated the context these essays gave, as it served to provide the real-world inspiration for the fantastical stories that follow.
While I certainly recommend checking out this entire collection, here are a few of the pieces that really resonated with me:
“Aliens,” by Richard Van Camp, paints a world where giant obelisks are hovering above every major continent. Are there alien beings inside? No one knows for sure, but the oceans are slowly being healed. The story doesn’t focus on the aliens, though. It follows a few characters on a reservation, illustrating community relationships and how, in tight-knit communities, people can be ostracised for falling outside of society’s norms. The narrator reflects that there have always been people who are different, and they desire a world where “different” people can thrive along with everyone else.
“Legends are Made, Not Born,” by Cherie Dimaline reminded me of the coming-of-age stories I read in elementary school. Something bad happens to a child and the child is put into a situation where they have to learn hard lessons. In doing this, they come to know themselves better. When a young boy’s mom dies and he is sent to live with “Auntie Dave,” what he learns about himself goes beyond his personal identity on this plane.
“The Boys Who Became Hummingbirds,” by Daniel Heath Justice, is a beautiful fable illustrating how people inflict their pain on others, particularly those who they perceive as different. This story also shows that the pain we inflict on our environment hurts us, as well. The main character, known as “Strange Boy,” tries to spread joy to others, but is repeatedly harmed for doing so. I thought this story was interesting because Strange Boy is ostracized for reasons unrelated to his sexuality, but his sexuality does play into how he transforms into a healing force.
In my mind, “Nė Łe!” by Darcie Little Badger, is one of the most “sci-fi” of these stories. It takes place in a universe where Earth is barely habitable anymore. There are people living in structures in space, as well as a colony on mars. Our main character, Dottie, is taking a cargo vehicle to Mars to be a veterinarian. She’s supposed to be in stasis for the journey, but some technical malfunctions mean that she’s awoken early to take care of more than 40 dogs for the remainder of the trip. This story has thoughtful relationship angst, cultural reflection, and of course, dogs galore. In this future, some tribes, like the Navajo, have sovereign space orbiters where only they and their guests are allowed to live. I thought that was a super interesting idea and would love to read a book series set in this world.
“Transitions,” by Gwen Benaway, read to me like an actual day in the life of a trans woman trying to balance a full-time job with medical appointments and other life responsibilities. The main character wants to try an experimental medication to aid in her transition, but an experience with an Anishinaabe elder shows her that there is no single path to womanhood. This piece alludes to a history of indigenous cultures that embraced gender variance and diversity before European bias was introduced. The essays in the beginning add to that context, but the story alone shows that “traditional” doesn’t always have to mean “exclusive.”
“Imposter Syndrome,” by Marie Kurisato is one of those hard sci-fi stories that forces the reader to grapple with ethical questions. Aanji is an android of some sort who is trying to pass as, and then become, human, despite laws regulating her rights and abilities as a non-citizen and non-human. This was another story where I wanted a novel or series to fully explore the universe. The story itself is complete, but it definitely left me wanting more.
A lot of these pieces are coming-of-age stories, but I feel they are all accessible to both teens and adults. They contain characters with native heritage, which impacts their choices in various ways. Some characters are very connected to their heritage, while others struggle to connect, either because of how they relate with their society, or how the world at large interacts with them. I really enjoyed how this collection doesn’t try to paint some singular “native experience.” In some of these stories, the characters’ gender and sexuality is not an issue to those around them. Some of these characters embrace difference, while others scorn it. Some of these characters have resources to thrive, while others do not.
I liked how the characters’ genders and sexualities weren’t always a point of conflict. One of the stories that I didn’t include above, “Perfectly You,” by David A. Robertson, is a Total Recall inspired piece starring a teenage girl whose relationship angst happens to center around another teenage girl. Their drama is typical of a teen relationship, with none of the angst centering around sexual orientation – just around teen hormones and lack of decision-making skills. I love that we’re at a place in time where we can have openly queer characters without their orientation being a main plot point. Gay characters don’t need a reason for being who they are, or some sort of traumatic motivator. They can just exist.
Many of the anthologies I read spotlight female authors, characters, or both. This one did neither, and I enjoyed the variety. It wasn’t just men writing men and women writing women – I felt that these stories were ones where the authors expressed real experiences (not necessarily their own) around gender and indigenous heritage. The main point of a lot of these stories boiled down to connection – with other people, with the Earth, with spirituality, and with culture. Some of these stories are necessarily sad, but there are lots of fun, happy moments, as well. You might want a box of tissues, but I believe this short collection is undoubtedly worth diving into.