Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Top Ten Queer SF Novels

Ok, some caveats. First of all, my list only includes books written in English. I expect Sylvie may have quite a few suggestions for French-language sf. Then again, I'm interpreting sf quite broadly -- but only so broadly as to encompass works which would qualify (or have qualified) for the Tiptree Award.

Anyway, here's my top ten -- but I might change my mind at any minute:

1. Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (I admit this may seem an odd choice, but I love this book)
2. Joanna Russ, The Female Man
3. Nicola Griffith, Ammonite
4. Hiromi Goto, The Kappa Child
5. Geoff Ryman, The Child Garden
6. Eleanor Arnason, Ring of Swords
7. Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
8. Melissa Scott, Trouble and Her Friends
9. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
10. Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Actually, there were so many entries that I might have chosen that this list, like all such, is really quite arbitrary. It was hard to leave off Kelley Eskridge's Solitaire and Candas Jane Dorsey's Paradigm of Earth. I could also easily have added more books by given authors -- lots of Delany, Ryman's Air, Griffith's Slow River, Scott's Shadow Man, and so on. And lets not even get started on novellas and short stories.


  1. Of the top 10, I've read 2, 3, 4 and 8. And Solitaire and Slow River from your extended list. But thanks, I'll check out some of the other books you've mentioned.

  2. So if translations were allowed, how would you place Les Guérillères?

  3. It's strangely not one of the books I'm really fond of. I have the same reaction to Anna Livia and Sally Miller Gearhart -- all writers whose work I wish I liked better.

    What would be your top 10? It's a silly question, I know, but it does jump-start some interesting conversations.

    It's the same with the desert island book thing -- assuming I could figure out how to pare it down to 10 or a dozen or a hundred (all of which seem shockingly low numbers to me), they wouldn't all be sf, they wouldn't all be queer. I'm not even sure they'd really have much in common, besides the fact of my loving them.

  4. I read The Wanderground nearly 30 years ago and fell stone in love with it--for about a year. Then I realised how silly the whole essentialism thing is, and how basing a whole book on it leads to cliche.

    I haven't read Livia for about 20 years, but last time I did, I enjoyed her stuff.

    I think The Female Man is brilliant, but I could never take to it. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it stings too much; perhaps it wears its theme too proudly; perhaps it's that there's not much joy in it.

    For me, any Best Of list is about timing. What I like now is not what I liked then. The books that put a fizz in my bones before I started writing were things like Thendara House, The Godmothers, The Needle on Full, Motherlines, The Reach and Other Stories--adventure, angst, women fighting back and winning. Books that do that for me now, ooof, not much of it is queer sf.

    I've enjoyed most (to my shame I still haven't read a couple) of the books on your list--once. But I don't love them, I don't return to them gladly, I don't lean on them in hard times. They are not comfy old friends.

    I wonder why that is...

  5. I find The Female Man riotously funny quite often -- although also scathing. I have discovered that if I want to get the humour across to students, though, I have to resort to reading the book aloud. Of course, it probably helps that as a wee young thing I stood around bemusedly at any number of academic parties that were exactly like the one Joanna attends. But you're right that it's not a joyful book.

    Some of these do fall into the category of comfy old friends for me -- and some don't. The Delany doesn't; it's largely an intellectual pleasure. In fact, many of the books I would place in this category are not sf at all -- I'd include Patrick O'Brien, a couple of Dorothy Sayers (Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon), a very little known novel by Ursula Zilinsky called The Middle Ground about a romance between a 17 year old German labour camp inmate and the camp commandant.

    When I was a child, I used to keep a list of the books I read. Looking back, it's rather odd reading -- Heinlein, Clarke, Norton and Blish jumbled up with Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis and the Hornblower novels. But what strikes me now is how much I re-read books. Often twice in a row. I wish I still had time to do that.

  6. I need to find some queer sf that could become a comfy old friend. I wonder who is writing it now?