In the post Why write pansexual, polyerotic pirate smut fantasy? I said that many of us are tired of the predominance of straightness, inflexible gender roles and happily-ever-after endgame in much romance literature, and indeed literature at large. But of course there’s much to read that breaks the mould! Lots of book recommendations after the cut, in no order whatsoever 🙂 (Mostly of the fantastic genres, but some muggle books as well.)
Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey: A story of rebellion against oppression set in the DMZ between the US and Mexico after a war, and also a falling-in-love story between two girls, one of whom is a super hero freedom fighter. Also check out Carey’s Kushiel books!
Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre: Good example of 70’s feminist science fiction where polyamory is perfectly natural, consent is a normal part of interaction and everyone learns to master their bodies to the point of controlling reproduction. Postapocalypse with a good female protagonist.
In Swedish: The autobiographical novels of Birgitta Stenberg, beginning with Kärlek i Europa: A young bisexual woman discovering and exploring herself and life, in bold journeys abroad and in the homosexual community in Sweden in the 50’s and 60’s when homosexuality was classified as a disease.
Practically everything by Jeanette Winterson. For example the sensuality of The PowerBook or The Passion, or the love between a woman and a female sexbot in The Stone Gods, or the autobiographical Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?
The Lord John Grey books by Diana Gabaldon: Set in the world of Outlander, Lord John is an officer and a gentleman, gay in an era when it was illegal and dangerous, and quite miserably in love with a certain Jamie Fraser – who’s on the enemy side and very straight.
In Swedish: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck: SF dystopia set in a world where reality is unstable and you need to hold on to the everyday, and two women fall in love without huge epic declarations of eternal feelings, reaching for each other across the kitchen table, deciding to see it through.
Practically everything by Tanya Huff. For example bisexual polyamorous witches in the Gale Women trilogy (cw: kissing cousins) or the slow burn romance of the Tony Foster trilogy, where gay wizard-in-training and TV production assistant Tony is in love with the so-far straight star of the show. Tony comes from the also recommended Vicki Nelson books, which were unfortunately made into TV series Blood Ties, where bisexual polyamorous vampire Henry Fitzroy was straight-washed 😦
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente: Palimpsest is a strange, surreal dream city, and there is only one way to travel there: by having sex with someone who has been there. Obviously not only straight sex, nor with your one true love. A rich, sensual story in every way.
The Paris Immortal Books by S. Roit: gay vampire smut. The ridiculously sexy vampire husbands Michel and Gabriel hire new lawyer Trey, American just moved to Paris, who himself falls in love with waiter Geoff. They’re all just very cute together and these are simply chocolate books. Tw though: rape backstory.
Bold Stroke Books is a publishing house that ”offers a diverse collection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer general and genre fiction.” My first sampling of their wide range was The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin by Colette Moody: a lesbian pirate romance! Very relevant to my interests, and a very fun, luscious and piratey read.
Practically everything by Elizabeth Bear. For example Karen Memory, in which the girls of Madam Damnable’s bordello band together to save girls from the worse parts of town, one of whom Karen falls in love with. Or New Amsterdam, in which bisexual, polyamorous vampire Sebastien staves off the weight of immortality with the help of his household of lovers/friends/partners/consensual food sources.
Ash by Malinda Lo: A retelling of Cinderella, in which Ash does not want to go to the royal ball, she wants to run away with the fairies in the deep Wood; and she doesn’t want the prince, she falls for the King’s Huntress.
Practically everything by Poppy Z Brite (now Billy Martin!), but for the purpose of this post, for example Drawing Blood, really spooky ghost story, or the Rickey and G-Man books, restaurant drama/comedy in New Orleans – since the relationships in Lost Souls and Exquisite Corpse aren’t exactly shining examples of healthy romance …
The Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie and the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy by Kameron Hurley: Science fiction that makes puppies sad, with gender roles that are a delight and a relief to read: everything from reversed to scrambled to non-existent, and with ‘she’ as a more common pronoun than ‘he’.
The Riverside books by Ellen Kushner and Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman. Not only are swordsman Richard St Vier and black sheep nobleman Alec Campion one of my OTPs, the books are full of other challenges to gender roles. A ”fantasy of manners” in a Shakespearesque city.
Back to the non-SF/F books, Sarah Waters has said ”I’m writing with a clear lesbian agenda in the novels” and her historical novels featuring women in the fringes of respectability, beginning with Tipping the Velvet (very vaudeville), are amazing both for the really well-wrought historical settings and for the great characters and their relations.
The Mad Dog Rodriguez trilogy by Erika Lopez features Tomato Rodriguez, founder of the one-woman lesbian motorcycle gang Flaming Iguanas, and her adventures along the highways and detours, from prisons to dildo designers.
Troll: A Love Story / Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo: A gay man, Mikael – called Angel – rescues a young troll and brings it home. The relationships between trolls and humans complicate relationships between humans. Both disturbing and lovely.
And finally, read slash fan fiction! Of course Xena and Gabrielle, and John and Sherlock, et cetera, are in love. Go e.g. to Archive Of Our Own, Search > Works, and write your pairing/multipairing in ”Relationships”. If you’re new to this and want the best loved ones first, at the bottom of the page, under ”Sort by”, choose Kudos or Bookmarks, that’ll bring you straight to the top of fanon. So much good stuff to be found!
Also check out the winners and nominees of the James Tiptree, Jr., Award, ”for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender”, the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, ”to honor works in science fiction, fantasy and horror which include positive explorations of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered characters, themes, or issues”, and the Lambda Literary Awards, that ”identify and celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year” in a multitude of genres.
That’s a selection; there’s lots more, of course, and please bring your recommendations aboard!