C.L. Clark's Recommendations for LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction

Posted by Sharon on June 1, 2021
 
Author C.L. Clark is no newcomer to the sci-fi and fantasy scene. Though she just published her first novel, The Unbroken, earlier this year, Clark has been a longtime reader, writer, and editor of speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in FIYAH, PodCastle, Uncanny, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and she recently racked up Hugo and IGNYTE Award nominations (and a British Fantasy Award win) for her work as a co-editor on PodCastle, a fantasy fiction podcast. She is also the guest editor for the anthology We're Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, forthcoming from Neon Hemlock Press.

To celebrate Pride Month, Clark shared her recommendations for recent LGBTQ+ adult sci-fi and fantasy books that she's loved or, in a couple of cases, is looking forward to reading.

The Unbroken is available now in U.S. stores.

I wrote my first fantasy short story when I was in eighth grade. Unsurprisingly, there was a girl with some cool magic fire powers and a sword. There was, of course, a girl best friend (who was fated to die) and a boy the heroine had a crush on. I thought I was writing everything I wanted fantasy to be: cool powers, fighting prowess, and a future lover, all accessible for young women.

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I’d spent so much of my young life up to that point craving powerful sword-swinging women in fantasy who didn’t fall into the traditional feminine roles and expectations I was trying to escape in my real life. I sought out the kinds of characters who fled the quiet life in search of the adventures that the boy heroes got to have. It was hard to find that in fantasy, though, even though the worlds were supposed to be magical, disruptive, out of the ordinary. There are still a couple characters who stand out in my memory: Kitiara, from the Dragonlance Chronicles by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, Alanna from The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. I loved them. They were the closest things to what I sought, but there was something about them that still left me unsatisfied.
 
Then—and I remember this moment with crystal clarity—I had the flu. I spent it reading the entire Rainbow Road series by Alex Sanchez. For the first time, I realized that I could write stories with gay characters in them. Which meant...lesbians in fantasy.
 
In my fugue state, my fevered little self took that short story and swapped the best friend and the boyfriend, and I wrote my first gay kiss. I haven’t looked back since.
 
Luckily, and so thrillingly, I did not end up having to populate the entirety of LGBTQIA+ science fiction and fantasy. Over the last decade, the amount of queer adult SFF has rocketed (haha) upward, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, as a reader and a writer.

I’m not as alone as I thought I was, and the reception by the wider world has also been reassuring—queer stories are having a positive impact on readers. The list below includes books from the last few years. I’ve included a mix of big productions and small, and left off some of the more well-known queer SFF novels (sorry, Gideon the Ninth, I still love you!) to leave some room to bring others to light. While the list below is certainly incomplete and doesn’t cover nearly every identity in the queer family, I hope you find something here that makes you feel less alone, too.

If there are any LGBTQIA+ science fiction and fantasy books that made you feel seen, or that you love, share them in the comments—you never know who else they might help.

 
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First, even though it was published in 2016, I’m including this novel because it’s one of my favorite books of all time, queer or otherwise. In four parts from four points of view, Sofia Samatar tells the story of a war and its impact with the kind of careful tenderness you expect from her work and her gorgeous writing. I have entire passages memorized from the poet’s point of view, and when you finish, you’ll want to weep with the beauty of it all.


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Another one of my favorites, The Traitor Baru Cormorant picks apart colonialism, and we get to see a character really struggle with what choices she has to make if she remains a part of the empire. This one is full of devastating twists, and the series continues with The Monster Baru Cormorant and The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, which just came out last year. This series is for those who don’t mind a little pain.


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On the lighter side, we have Floodtide, which promises to be as heartwarming and delightful a read as the rest of the books in Heather Rose JonesAlpennia series. The series is set in an imaginary European country in an approximately Napoleonic time frame, in a world with magic and magical relics, so it’ll scratch the itch if you want a queer Regency-era fantasy.


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Mythologies collide in a tense and wonderful way in Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series. The House of Sundering Flames is the third novel in this world where fallen angels have divided Paris into Houses but the Dragon Court rules beneath the Seine. (The first in the series is The House of Shattered Wings.)


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The first thing that draws me to this book is the gorgeous cover. Second, the tagline: “There is no consent under capitalism.” It’s about a man who sells himself as a Docile to pay off his family’s debts, and it only gets more complicated from there. I’m excited to read it because I love a story that makes us ask where desire fits within unjust systems. It will probably be a challenging one, but I’m looking forward to it.


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I have The Black Coast on my list because I’ve been craving a return to the thick fantasy books with deeply immersive secondary worlds, epic battles, and—of course—dragons. It’s got multiple queer main characters, dragon knights, and a not-simply-binary pronoun system that I’m eager to check out.


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A Desolation Called Peace is the sequel to the award-winning A Memory Called Empire. The Teixcalaan series is another set of books that digs deep into the mechanics of colonialism from the point of view of a colonized agent of the empire. One thing I love is that the relationship between the protagonist and her imperial handler is explored thoroughly across the two books, with all of the thorny misunderstandings that come from their backgrounds. I also love the use of letters, speeches, and even graphic novels in the world!


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The Empress of Salt and Fortune is one of my favorite novellas ever. It’s perfectly paced and you’re given just enough information to put the pieces together so that, when you turn the last page, you sit in stunned silence. This is another one where the prose is handled with just the right amount of restraint—and if you’re having a hard time reading because of the world outside, it’s short enough that it might break the spell. The sequel, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, just came out last autumn.


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This is actually the fourth book in a series, but bear with me—remember when I said above that there were few books that showed me another possibility? Well, Fire Logic, the first of this quartet, gave me my first taste of lesbian relationships in fantasy. Beyond that personal touch, though, the series shines in the elemental magic system and the bonds between the found family with Karis at the center.


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Another excellent science fiction story, The Space Between Worlds captured me immediately with its disenchanted heroine who is doing her best to survive in an unjust system that exploits her unique labor. There was something that felt comfortably familiar about the relationships between Cara and her family (and her rivals), even in the ways they clashed with each other.


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Despite the often serious gravitas surrounding harder science fiction, I found Autonomous easy to sink into and even easier to let it carry me away. Though this book was published a few years ago, it does what the best of science fiction does: Eerily prescient, it asks relevant questions about who owns ideas, since the main hero is an anti-drug-patent pharmaceutical pirate. One of the other interesting aspects is the relationship that grows between the military agent who is chasing the drug pirate and his robotic companion. The whole book asks stirring questions about sexuality, personhood, and global health.


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I’m looking forward to reading The Four Profound Weaves because I know R.B. Lemberg’s short stories. They’re quiet and beautiful works and tend to bring great casts of queer characters together. Also, a rarity within the fantasy genre, this novella is full of people in their middle age, giving the story a depth of reflection.


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If you remember from above that I mentioned my first short story was about a girl with a sword and some magic powers, then this selection won’t surprise you. It’s about three Lady Knights, best friends and lovers, whose fates spin them against each other. Their kingdoms and the magic of the earth and stars hang in the balance. It’s lushly written and takes me back to those days I spent searching for something that came even close to how I felt—only this book leaves me satisfied.


Which of these books will you add to your Want to Read shelf? And what LGBTQ+ sci-fi and fantasy books would you recommend to your fellow readers? Let's talk books in the comments!

Check out more recent articles:
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The 2021 Pride Reading List: 75 New Books to Read Now

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Robin (new)

Robin I'm not sure if it counts as 'queer fiction' specifically, but Derek Landy's amazing 'Skulduggery Pleasant' series features a variety of queer characters, particularly in the latest novels which introduce new characters, including a genderfluid character called 'Never'. I just think it's so cool that Landy incorporates queer people in to the series, especially since he explicitly states in the books that they are queer instead of deciding afterwards like some well-known authors of magical book series.


message 2: by Tameka (new)

Tameka  Fleming I already read Empress of Salt and Fortune but The Space Between Worlds is on my physical tbr. I have not heard of the others but I may look into them once of read more from my growing tbr.


message 3: by Lois (new)

Lois The Space Between Worlds was amazing. Adding most of these to my list!


message 4: by Luciana (new)

Luciana Amaral Great list! I want to read “A Memory Called Empire” and “A Desolation Called Peace” so badly!
I also would like to mention “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” and “This Is How You Lose The Time War” as being on my top 10 sci-fi books, everyone should give it a go


message 5: by mykittyquest17 (new)

mykittyquest17 The teiccalaan series (A memory called empire and a desolation called peace) is the best science-fiction I have ever had the pleasure to read and I recommend that everyone gives it a read.

Two more really good LGBTQIA FASTAYS AND SCI-FI reads are the priory of the orange tree and on a sunbeam.


message 6: by Danny, Goodreads employee (new)

Danny Loved Docile. Really want to read The Space Between Worlds.


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