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Nikatine

Recommendations For Sci-Fi / Transgender Stories?

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Hi everybody! 

 

So, this seems like a really good crowd to ask for recommendations. Does anybody here happen to know of any good Sci-Fi stories involving trans characters? I love the genre, especially the works of Philip K. Dick (A Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Man in the High Castle), which sometimes lean a little toward the cyberpunk side of things. I'm a trans woman, and I think it would just be the coolest thing to read a story that had a character I could identify with on that level. 

 

Thanks everyone! <3

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I couldn't find any stories when I searched using 'sci-fi' and 'transgender' tags.  Cia writes some great sci-fi stories and Mann Ramblings 'Santa Claus' stories are a great read, so I'd recommend checking those out.  :)

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Hi, Nikatine,

I'm not familiar with much trans-specific content on GA, although there's plenty of genre-fiction to be found here across the entire hard-SF to high fantasy spectrum. I can speak to a few standouts in the SFF literary canon, though. If you are already familiar with any of the titles or series below, I'd love to know what you think of them and I can perhaps recommend other stuff specifically. Here goes:

Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is definitely the first thing that comes to mind. I remember being absolutely floored by that novel in highschool (it was the early 90s and there just wasn't TransANYTHING to speak of). I kept giving it to all my friends and trying to explain how they needed to understand the Gethenians in order to understand me. The world of that story, Gethen, is inhabited by people whose sex, apart from social constructions of gender, is changeable from a sort of default "neutral" to poles of male and female that manifest according to their biological/reproductive cycles. There is a human male narrator -- an alien in the Gethenian world -- who functions as a foil for the Gethenian characters, and an avatar for the reader. The linked review gives an excellent and concise discussion of the literary merits, which I have not really attended to here. Le Guin wrote this story in the 1960s and at the time it was a pretty groundbreaking examination and reflection upon sex and gender in society.

 

Also firmly in the SF category (practically space-opera, sometimes time-of-war) are Iain M. Banks' Culture novels (not to be confused with Iain Banks, who is the same author in his non-SF persona). The humans -- or should I say post-humans -- of Culture worlds live in a society that preserves the basic constructions of sex and gender with which a contemporary Western reader would be familiar, but the future utopia is post-sexist, non-misogynistic, and generally entirely sexually liberated. The personal naming conventions used are sufficiently exotic that I have often been unsure of whether a given character is intended to be male or female until specific physical description is given. Not that this really matters, though, since bioengineering has given people the ability to change sex at will throughout their much-extended (centuries-long) lives. While this ability has not featured prominently in the plot of any of the Culture books I have read, it has definitely been mentioned in more than one novel and had some contextual significance for several characters. For bonus fun, the sentient starships -- colorfully self-named AIs, who are pretty clearly the ones really in charge of Culture society -- are tremendously entertaining characters in their own rights, and I have often found myself most looking forward to what the Steely Glint, the Fate Amenable to Change, the Problem Child, the Appeal to Reason, or the Grey Area (aka Meatfucker) would contribute to any conversation. Banks passed away a few years ago, shortly before the publication of his final Culture novel. Most of his work is now being reprinted and should be easy to find. While it is not necessary to read Culture books in order, there is some historical continuity. The first chronologically is Consider Phlebas.

 

Though I would not specifically call it SF or fantasy, I highly recommend Ali Smith's Girl Meets Boy, a contemporary retelling of the story of Iphis from Ovid's Metamorphoses. This myth is specifically a story of gender ambiguity and transition, and reads strikingly modern even in its original telling from 2000 years ago. Smith's rendering, published in 2007, is quite fun, and while Iphis' story is a transmasculine narrative on the surface, even Ovid's original was a recognition of the flexibility and adaptability of people and society (with the aid and blessing of the gods.) Smith does not treat it solely as a story of binary gender transition. Her version is a fast read, but many-layered, and I should probably give it another look myself.

 

Finally, I should mention the James Tiptree award on general principle. James Tiptree, Jr. was the penname of mid-20th century SF writer Alice B. Sheldon. The Tiptree award is "an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." Unfortunately, the organization's website (linked above) is pretty shit, but the writers they recognize and those that serve as jurors and organizers are top-tier. I am certain you will find characters and stories that speak to trans experience among Tiptree honorees.

 

I DEFINITELY read my share of cyberpunk back in the late 80s/early 90s, and Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, and Neal Stephenson are some of my very favorite authors of this SF vein. I cannot recall any trans-relevant stories, characters or themes from their work that I have read. However, I do think there's some interesting ground to be mined as to the appeal of cyberpunk worldview(s) for trans, GNC and nonbinary-identifying readers -- but this is already crazy long, so I'm happy to pursue that conversation another time, if you care to do so.

 

So, be welcome to GA -- I'm sure you will find plenty of good reads here :). And I hope that the information above is of some aid or interest to you as well. Feel free to hit me up anytime if you want to talk more about this stuff, or about other good reads (even non-SF!) on and off this site. My real wheelhouse is music and music history -- but if I don't know a thing I might want to learn it. I can at least try to point in the right direction, or boost a signal to someone else who may have the perfect answer.

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Also firmly in the SF category (practically space-opera, sometimes time-of-war) are Iain M. Banks' Culture novels (not to be confused with Iain Banks, who is the same author in his non-SF persona). The humans -- or should I say post-humans -- of Culture worlds live in a society that preserves the basic constructions of sex and gender with which a contemporary Western reader would be familiar, but the future utopia is post-sexist, non-misogynistic, and generally entirely sexually liberated. The personal naming conventions used are sufficiently exotic that I have often been unsure of whether a given character is intended to be male or female until specific physical description is given. Not that this really matters, though, since bioengineering has given people the ability to change sex at will throughout their much-extended (centuries-long) lives. While this ability has not featured prominently in the plot of any of the Culture books I have read, it has definitely been mentioned in more than one novel and had some contextual significance for several characters. For bonus fun, the sentient starships -- colorfully self-named AIs, who are pretty clearly the ones really in charge of Culture society -- are tremendously entertaining characters in their own rights, and I have often found myself most looking forward to what the Steely Glint, the Fate Amenable to Change, the Problem Child, the Appeal to Reason, or the Grey Area (aka Meatfucker) would contribute to any conversation. Banks passed away a few years ago, shortly before the publication of his final Culture novel. Most of his work is now being reprinted and should be easy to find. While it is not necessary to read Culture books in order, there is some historical continuity. The first chronologically is Consider Phlebas.

 

I love Iain Banks, he is the most wonderful author. Or was. The Wasp Factory, whilst not Sci Fi, has some rather interesting gender fluid elements to it, though they may not be obvious at first.

 

I never fancied reading his SF Iain M Banks stuff, until I read you describing it, and now I really really want to! Damn, where am I going to find a spare 200 hours for that?

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Damn, where am I going to find a spare 200 hours for that?

Ball gags for your characters?

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Those are all really good suggestions! I've heard of The Left Hand of Darkness, but nobody's explained it in a way that made me want to read it until you! And I will most definitely be checking out Ian M. Banks - that story sounds great. 

 

Good suggestion with the James Tiptree award, too. I'll keep an eye on that. Thanks so much everybody! I feel so welcome! :)

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Julie Czerneda is an author (one of my favorites) who writes very female centered science fiction books. While you won't find any trans-related characters (to the best of my recollection) her female characters are strong, intelligent and interesting—there are several series. I've found every book of hers to be highly entertaining to read.

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I seem to remember some stuff by Samuel R. Delany that might have had trans characters. Any help here, I've read so much my memory search algorithms need to ne indexed.

 

_________________________________________________

 

 

update; here's a link to Sam Delany's wiki page with a list of his published works:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_R._Delany

Edited by jamessavik
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I love Iain Banks, he is the most wonderful author. Or was. The Wasp Factory, whilst not Sci Fi, has some rather interesting gender fluid elements to it, though they may not be obvious at first.

 

I never fancied reading his SF Iain M Banks stuff, until I read you describing it, and now I really really want to! Damn, where am I going to find a spare 200 hours for that?

 

On the flip side of this, I've never read any of Banks' non-SF, though I've heard The Wasp Factory described as kind of a surreal mind-fuck that is pretty far outside the usual realm of most literary fiction (not my words, there). So I suppose the boundaries of genre ought to be at least as flexible as the boundaries of gender. :) A quick search turns up quite a bit of critical discussion, and even some scholarship specifically concerned with Banks' handling of gender, gender performance, and misogyny in Wasp Factory. It does seem like he walks a line, and while Banks has ultimately NOT delivered an endorsement of male chauvinism, and may possibly have intended some subversion of binary and essentialist understandings of gender, I have the sense that some faith and effort will be required from the reader in order to discern this. A trans or gender nonconforming reader might find grounds to identify with the character of Frank, but I have to wonder whether I would find that experience more upsetting or rewarding. I'd love to know your thoughts on this, and from anyone else who's read it.

 

On the SF side, I've read most but not all of his catalogue, and have sometimes finished a book thinking "well that was fucking DARK" -- so it's probably fair to say that, ultimately, Banks is Banks, with or without the "M" in the middle. I think perhaps the scale of space opera and the availability of non-humanoid characters facilitates writing about the difficult questions and some of the darker aspects of human nature in a way that less directly challenges us. At least, I find that to be the case when I'm reading. As to the "200 hours," Banks definitely helps you out with that by stacking the action so that once you get about 40% of the way in, it's nearly impossible to stop reading until you get to the end of the book. But having done so, a nice break and a palate-cleanser are usually in order before I find myself wanting to come back for another round.

 

Those are all really good suggestions! I've heard of The Left Hand of Darkness, but nobody's explained it in a way that made me want to read it until you! And I will most definitely be checking out Ian M. Banks - that story sounds great. 

 

Good suggestion with the James Tiptree award, too. I'll keep an eye on that. Thanks so much everybody! I feel so welcome! :)

 

I hope you enjoy Left Hand; it's a classic, as well as being one of actually rather few SF stories specifically concerned with gender and gender identify -- as opposed to just, say, using non-traditional gender constructions as a way to Other aliens, or employing sex-change as a convenient plot device creating no real meaning or effect upon a character. A little bit of poking around turns up some very interesting discussions of this online, and they point to some excellent reading choices as well. Here's one, a concise blog piece that gently points out both the power and the usual pitfalls of employing transgender tropes in speculative fiction, and gives specific examples of where and how the writer thinks various authors have been successful or failed. I personally discovered four new authors/series I would like to check out from this article, and it also confirmed my choice not to read the work of one other. I noticed the short list at the end includes the novel Triton by Samuel Delaney -- the author mentioned by jamessavik in the reply above. I've never read any of Delaney's work, so I'm grateful to james for pointing it out.

 

See you around!

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On the flip side of this, I've never read any of Banks' non-SF, though I've heard The Wasp Factory described as kind of a surreal mind-fuck that is pretty far outside the usual realm of most literary fiction (not my words, there). So I suppose the boundaries of genre ought to be at least as flexible as the boundaries of gender. :) A quick search turns up quite a bit of critical discussion, and even some scholarship specifically concerned with Banks' handling of gender, gender performance, and misogyny in Wasp Factory. It does seem like he walks a line, and while Banks has ultimately NOT delivered an endorsement of male chauvinism, and may possibly have intended some subversion of binary and essentialist understandings of gender, I have the sense that some faith and effort will be required from the reader in order to discern this. A trans or gender nonconforming reader might find grounds to identify with the character of Frank, but I have to wonder whether I would find that experience more upsetting or rewarding. I'd love to know your thoughts on this, and from anyone else who's read it.

 

I don't think I've ever finished reading one of his books and felt... comfortable. I'm neither trans nor gender-nonconforming, and I found getting to know the character of Frank, and his father, and his brother, both generally upsetting and at times incredibly tough. It is a total surreal mind-fuck of a book (who said that originally?) but bearing that in mind, it is also an incredible piece of writing. And good enough that I've gone back to read it another twice.

I also put that he does not, in any book I've read, deliver any endorsement of male chauvinism. In fact, if you get to the end of The Wasp Factory, I'd say it was entirely the opposite.

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. . . [The Wasp Factory] is a total surreal mind-fuck of a book (who said that originally?) but bearing that in mind, it is also an incredible piece of writing. And good enough that I've gone back to read it another twice.

 

It was described thus to me by a friend -- incidentally, the same person who turned me onto the Ali Smith book I mentioned in an earlier reply, and who has repeatedly tried to get me into Philip Dick's novels, notably Man in the High Castle (ok) and Valis (incomprehensible; I'm still confused), without success. Which surprised us both, because I love Dick's short stories.

 

I also put that he does not, in any book I've read, deliver any endorsement of male chauvinism. In fact, if you get to the end of The Wasp Factory, I'd say it was entirely the opposite.

 

That is also my sense of Banks' writing, and I didn't intend to imply otherwise in my comments about Wasp Factory. The critical discussion I found made much of the issue (some one wad wrote an entire thesis on it), and I was trying to fit those perspectives on the book into the context of what I knew of the author and his other work that I have read. Sorry if there was any confusion. I'm glad to see your impression supports Banks' sensitivity and insight to the subject -- even if he is determined to make the reader squirm all the way to understanding.

Edited by Saraband
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That is also my sense of Banks' writing, and I didn't intend to imply otherwise in my comments about Wasp Factory. The critical discussion I found made much of the issue (some one wad wrote an entire thesis on it), and I was trying to fit those perspectives on the book into the context of what I knew of the author and his other work that I have read. Sorry if there was any confusion. I'm glad to see your impression supports Banks' sensitivity and insight to the subject -- even if he is determined to make the reader squirm all the way to understanding.

 

Of course someone wrote a whole thesis on The Wasp Factory! Why am I not surprised?

 

"determined to make the reader squirm all the way to understanding" might be my new favourite phrase ever.

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