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In LGBTQ Sci-Fi Anthology “Out There”, the World Is Screwed — But Queer Love Finds a Way

After her previous two LGBTQ+ anthologies — All Out and Out Nowexplored the lives of queer teens in history and the present, editor Saundra Mitchell takes us to the inevitable next frontier: the future. In Out There, 17 authors put their gay, trans, and non-binary protagonists through their paces as they endure the toughest challenges in the universe: alien horror, the desolation of earth, and working out how to tell your BFF you’re in love with her. 

Once again, Mitchell has gathered a fine selection of authors, from those getting their first print credit to writers well-established in the world of YA, sci-fi or both. Keen followers of Casey’s book recs may have seen K Ancrum and Z Brewer’s speculative fiction highlighted before, while I would hope by now everyone is on board the appreciation train for Autostraddle fave, Leah Johnson. 

While I read and enjoyed the prior anthologies, it was this foray into sci-fi for which I had the greatest level of anticipation. Back when I was a teen myself in the 90s, reading such seminal queer anthologies as the Bending the Landscape series, speculative fiction was always what I reached for to hammer out a space for myself and my gay imagination. Over 20 years later, I was excited to see what this selection of authors wanted to explore now, both in terms of how a generation’s technological revolution may have reshaped their approach to the future, and as a weathervane for the hopes and expectations of today’s teens. For me, the joy of speculative fiction is about what, in these fantastical worlds, stays the same. In far-flung galaxies and distant futures, what is it that endures? 

Certainly, troubles declaring love for your crush are firmly established as an irrefutable fact of human existence in any era. “Crash Landing” helpfully sees a stranded alien workshop with the plucky heroine how she’ll make a love declaration. “Reshadow” is a rather more melancholy riff on this dilemma, where a boy is stuck in a virtual escape room of his school, and forced to run into the boy he is determined not to tell how he feels. 

What has its endurance questioned most throughout the anthology, though, is the world as we know it. A good third of the stories follow teens, their families, and their loves navigating life at the exhaustion of the Earth. Whether explicit or implied, the fallout from the zeal of human consumption has ravaged the planet to inhabitability — so what comes next?

In Alex London’s “Doublers,” humans can upload themselves to new bodies on Mars, at the expense of their existing ones on Earth. In “Concerto” by Abdi Nazemian, those who can afford it can buy a ticket through a wormhole to the past or the future, to escape the nuclear fallout of the present. In Emma K Ohland’s “Renaissance,” a girl looks at the stars through an increasingly hazy sky, knowing she doesn’t have the wealth to escape on a spaceship like her crush lying beside her.

The authors don’t shy away from how class, race and privilege dominate these scenarios of emigration at the world’s end. It’s inevitably these things that tear the protagonists from those they love, while we root for them to find their way back to each other. Initially, I was stung by the lack of optimism for the plight of humanity. On reflection, these narratives don’t lean too far into the dystopian; rather, the destruction of the world is presented as a fait accompli. What matters is the resilience of these youthful characters.

Three stories centre trans characters, each of them riffing on the theme of magical body transformation. “Aesthetically Hungry” by Mato J Steger sees a young trans man hooked on a drug that gives him the body he wants, but at a price he can’t afford; similarly, Z.R. Ellor’s “Like Sunshine, Like Concrete” offers transformative drugs to army recruits, turning them into supercharged soldiers in a story that reminded me of April Daniel’s Dreadnought series. In “Nick and Bodhi” by Naomi Kanakia, Nick is an omnipotent and vengeful interdimensional being causing havoc running Bodhi’s school, who offers Nick the body of her dreams — but of course there’s a catch. While I understand how the authors wanted to explore how identity is about more than the physical, after reading the trio I was still left rooting for a take where just maybe someone gets to look exactly how they want and everything is great.

With a lot of stories clustered around the same themes with similar outlooks, Out There does suffer from a bit of imbalance. I would have given a lot for a bit of Becky Chambers-esque hope-punk, or even a joke here or there. That’s not to overlook a whole host of interesting ideas that are explored. A girl trains with a government ghost agency so she can encourage her grandma’s ghost to rest; a couple of teens live out a whole life and relationship trapped in a time loop, repeating the same day for 20 years; and perhaps the best concept of all in Jim McCarthy’s “Present: Tense” (I won’t spoil it here!)

For me, Leah Johnson’s “Nobody Cares Who We Kiss At The End of The World” is the standout story, and ends the collection with an emotional gut-punch. When everyone in the world suddenly disappears, Kelendria thinks she finally has what she’s always wanted: the chance to love her girlfriend Coop openly, with no-one left to judge or deny them. The story beautifully explores the safety Kel finds through her solitude with Coop, plus the toll it takes. I ached as Kel weighs up risking the peace she’s found for the girl she loves.

If there’s any one theme that runs through this collection though, it’s that the world is screwed, but queer love will find a way.


Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder is out now.


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Sally

Sally lives in the UK. Her work has been featured in a Korean magazine about queer people and their pets, and a book about haunted prisons. She never intended for any of this to happen.

Sally has written 52 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. This is such a useful review! Thanks Sally.

    I’m enjoying the expanded book coverage at AS. And I’m glad to see reviews like this – that give pros and cons and context. I like the cheerleading, woo hoo this book rocks type coverage too, and I really enjoy the author interviews. But as a reader trying to decide if I want to read a book, it’s so helpful to me to read about what worked and didn’t work for you and why.

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