8 Queer Sci-Fi Books To Read Right Now

Welcome to the sixth installment of Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian! I love getting your questions, so keep sending them to me by Twitter (@canlesbrarian) and email (stepaniukcasey [at] gmail.com).

Back in December, a few Autostraddlers got to talking about queer sci-fi in the comments on my post on queer high fantasy books. This is not surprising as the nerds who like fantasy are also often the nerds who like science fiction (I include myself in this, obviously). Tiny Valkyrie and femmefantastic hit on how hard it is to find queer sci-fi. They mentioned Tanya Huff’s Valor series, Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (I’d also add Slow River), the Daughters of a Coral Dawn trilogy by Katherine V. Forrest and Stardust Bound by Karen Cadora as great books that they’ve already read, but asked for more.

So what other queer science fiction should you read? The below suggestions include a variety of sci-fi sub-genres — hard and soft sci-fi, military sci-fi and space opera — to please all sorts of fans. The definition of military sci-fi is pretty obvious, while space operas have the melodrama of a soap opera, but set in outer space and usually with cool spaceships and interplanetary battles. Hard sci-fi tends to focus on technology, while soft sci-fi tends to focus on people and relationships. As always, I’ve focused on the ladies and this is not a definitive list — share your own suggestions in the comments!


O Human Star, Vol 1, by Blue Delliquanti

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O Human Star is full of artificial intelligence; complex plot; engaging characters; clean, evocative drawings; plus lots of gay stuff. It was my favorite comics discovery last year. Alistair is an inventor who basically started the robot revolution but died suddenly and never got to see the results. Until he suddenly wakes up in a body remarkably like the one that’s supposed to be dead and has to track down his old partner — romantic and professional — Brendan, who appears to be raising a robot teen girl who looks an awful lot like Alistair. The characters cover most of the rainbow spectrum: queer cis guys, a trans girl (who’s also a robot!) and queer girls (cis and trans). O Human Star is also an ongoing web comic. Volume 2 comes out in print in March.


Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Ascension-cover
In this space opera, Alana is a sky surgeon — read: spaceship engineer — who’s fallen on hard times. Desperate for work, she stows away on a ship, where she falls in love with both the ship and its lady captain. They end up on a journey across the galaxy to save Nova, Alana’s sister, a spirit guide who works with energy to transform reality. The writing is lovely, especially in the way that Koyanagi describes spaceships in Alana’s voice like they’re beautiful women, and the world-building is really imaginative. Did I mention that in addition to being a lesbian, Alana is also Black and chronically ill? Other characters are bisexual, Latina, Black, and polyamorous. Ascension is a beautiful marriage of an effortlessly diverse cast and exciting, inventive sci-fi storytelling.


Big Big Sky by Krystin Dunnion

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Forgive the cheesy Canadian-indie-press cover of Big Big Sky; this book is rad and queer as fuck. It’s a wonderfully weird, feminist look at a dystopian future where a group of young women, brainwashed to be killer assassins in an all-female military society, decide to escape the compound they’ve lived in their whole lives with no idea what the outside world is like. (When they first encounter men, they call them “strange beasts.”) Dunnion’s world-building is unique and thorough, down to some futuristic slang (persevere, it’s well thought-out). Of course, two of the women are in love. I say women but the characters are not fully human: one later turns into a giant raven, another becomes a fish-human hybrid.


Adaptation by Malinda Lo

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This compulsively readable roller-coaster of a young adult book is a cross between The X-Files and adorable queer teen romance, and is my personal Malinda Lo favorite. Plus, the main character Reese is explicitly bisexual! It all starts when Reese and her debate team partner David’s school trip goes awry: when all national flights are grounded after thousands of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, they have to drive home to San Francisco from Arizona. Along the way, they get in a bad car accident and wake up in a military hospital with no memory of how they got there or how they’ve been healed. When they get home, things go from weird to weirder. Warning: cliffhanger ending! Relief: Inheritance, the sequel, moves at a mercifully slower pace.


The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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If you’re looking for a classic, character- and relationship-driven space opera, but queer, you’ll love The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It’s like Star Trek but with lesbians and more aliens. This novel follows a motley crew of wormhole tunnelers of various sapient species — space highway makers — along a dangerous journey to a planet that has recently signed a treaty with the galactic government. This is a wonderfully, intricately imagined world that delves deep into what makes humans human. Chambers’s alien species are incredibly detailed, with cultures so rich it’s impossible to not believe they’re real. She somehow deftly weaves an exciting plot with a mediation on relationships, notably interspecies ones — including between a human woman and a non-human female of a sapient species kind of akin to lizards.


Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

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Bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese teenage superhero: what more do you need to know? Not Your Sidekick is a nice sci-fi twist to the superhero genre: it’s set in an unfamiliar future of self-driving cars and holographic TV, after war and radiation aftermath. Jess — the daughter of superheroes but with no superpowers herself — takes on an internship with her town’s worst supervillain. She gets to work with Abby, her long-time crush, and has a mysterious co-intern who seems to never be in the same place as Abby at the same time. At the internship, Jess discovers a secret plot bigger than the villains and heroes put together. Beware the cliffhanger ending, but there is a sequel coming sometime in late 2017.


The Caphenon by Fletcher DeLancey

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The Caphenon takes place on Alsea, a planet not unlike Earth in that its inhabitants look up at the sky and wonder if aliens exist — until alien ships start fighting in the skies and it turns out Alsea is a coveted prize in an interstellar war. Andira Tal from Alsea and Captain Ekayta Serrado — captain of the aliens who have saved Alsea for now — are the leaders of their people (and the book) and must to work together to protect the planet from powerful galactic forces. The Caphenon has both space opera and military sci-fi elements going on, as well as more than one queer lady. It’s full of excellent storytelling and skilled science-backed world-building, and romance takes a backseat.


The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj

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Like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, The Stars Change is set in a future where humans share the galaxy. Mohanraj is also interested in character dynamics and relationships, and delves a lot more deeply into the erotic, making for an unusual combination of erotica and sci-fi that doesn’t sell either genre short. The Stars Change is set on a South-Asian-settled university planet on the brink of interstellar war, but rather than focusing on battle, it looks at how humans (and non-humans) deal with the news. Intensely preoccupied with knowledge, The Stars Change is a rare combination of thought-provoking and steamy science fiction, complete with black and white illustrations.


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Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and future librarian who holds an MA in English literature and is currently studying for an MLIS in Vancouver, BC. Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. Find her on Twitter.

Casey has written 6 articles for us.

52 Comments

  1. 0

    Yay Casey! Great list!

    I’ll recommend yet again, my current favorite author Cassandra Duffy. She’s just incredibly talented and doesn’t get close to the attention she deserves! This is actually her most recent book but it’s a prequel to one of her series so it’s a perfect place to jump in. I had so damn much fun reading this you guys!

    https://www.amazon.com/Ravens-Ashes-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00R0PCGYQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1487013006&sr=1-3-catcorr

  2. 0

    Hey guess what! There’s a sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet called A Closed and Common Orbit. It’s the same universe but a very different sort of book. It closes the focus down to two characters and has minimal space opera action. Instead, it tells parallel stories about becoming and motherhood and what sentience means. Not quite as funny but very charming. Queer-wise there’s a non-binary side character too. So far it’s only out in physical copies in the UK, but I was able to buy a copy in the US on Google Play in October. They may have closed that loophole.

  3. 0

    A lot of these sound really REALLY great!

    BUT (yes, there’s a but) I’ve been burned by queer sci-fi a few too many times in the past year or so, and I’m anxious about starting any of these. Casey, could you maybe go through these titles and indicate which ones give the queer characters a happy (or at the very least, not fatal) ending? I know, I know, spoilers, but I’d rather be spoiled a little bit then get through 300+ pages only to realize that I wish I hadn’t started in the first place.

    #totallyovergrimdarknihilism2017

    • 0

      This is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer this is a spoiler buffer.

      Adaptation ends well!

    • 0

      The Becky Chambers book has a happy ending for the queer characters, but has a sad ending for a different set of characters. But it’s very hopeful and positive overall, no grimdark to be seen.

    • 0

      Great question Allison! Please know that I will NEVER recommend a book that has the tragic queer who dies to further the straight protagonist trope (unless someone writes me and asks for that, which would be very strange…).

      Unequivocally happy / hopeful endings:
      Adaptation (as mentioned above)
      Not Your Sidekick
      O Human Star
      Ascension
      The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (not happy for all characters, but hopeful for all and happy for the queers, as mentioned above!)
      The Caphenon (I’ve done a lot of research but haven’t read this one myself, so let me know if somehow I’ve got led astray!)

      Darker but not fatal to the queers, at least not all:
      Big Big Sky
      The Stars Change

      Hope this is helpful!

  4. 0

    These look great!! I’d like to rec More Than Meets the Eye (yes, the Transformers comics, don’t @ me) for super smart narrative and queer robots in canon relationships (spoiler: there’s a death but in typical sci-fi fashion, it’s not exactly permanent) and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy (I’m only halfway through the first book so idk if anything problematic happens later, but love the concept of a genderless society).

  5. 0

    I really enjoyed The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It made me think of Firefly, except queerer and with aliens. I see the author has put out another book set in the same universe, so I assume I ought to read that one too – people who’ve read it already, should it be moved up my (very long) list of books I want to read?

    Another sci-fi title I would recommend is The Telling by the great Ursula Le Guin, which has a queer female protagonist and is a good read.

    • 0

      Yes, Closed and Common Orbit should stay on your reading list but probably doesn’t need to rocket right to the top of it.

      It doesn’t quite have the same sense of joy as Long Way to Small Angry Planet – as someone else pointed out, it’s narrower in scope and more of a character study of two people who haven’t really had the greatest of times. It definitely still has a ton of optimism though and the universe building continues nicely.

      Also I did not cry like a baby at the end of this one (which I did with the first one) which I’m not sure is a positive or negative.

  6. 0

    I have a pile of approx 20 queer sci-fi books to get through which I’m tackling in order of worst covers first. This means I don’t have many recommendations to add yet unless sexually-frustrated lesbian androids are your bag (they turn up alarmingly frequently).

    Things I definitely do recommend are:
    Planetfall by Emma Newman (you can tell at the start that it is unlikely to end well)
    Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge
    The Nature of Smoke by Anne Harris
    Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott (pretty much everything earlyish by Melissa Scott is ladygay sci-fi)

    Anthologies:
    Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction
    Negative Space by Kelley Eskridge
    Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction

      • 0

        I felt like the ending was somewhat orthogonal to the bulk of the plot, so it’s really hard to judge it!

        There was so much that was done so well though, specifically the slow reveal of the psychological effect that preceding events had on the protagonist that I can forgive the somewhat inconclusive ending.

        I recently picked up the sort-of-sequel, After Atlas – will have to see how that compares!

        • 0

          It’s probably the best book about mental illness I’ve ever read. Most books use “madness” as a literary symbol and the behavior is just eccentricity, unreliable narration and cryptic statements. I don’t know how accurate the more extreme symptoms were, but the author nailed the daily experience and physical sensations of social anxiety.

  7. 0

    I’m sure this title is obvious to the devoted sci-fi reader, but I want to mention it anyway for any who aren’t familiar – The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. The story focuses on a planet where the main sentient beings change genders from one relationship to the next. A person could be the father of one child, and the mother of another. The result is a very interesting meditation on society in which permanently ascribed gender roles are stripped away.

  8. 0

    Wait, WHAT?
    I finished my first sci-fi novel in years the other day – having only read fantasy up until now – and loved it so much I decided to explore the genre a bit more.

    CASEY THE PSYCHIC STRIKES AGAIN.

    (I know this is a very egocentric conclusion, seeing as it implies the article was written just for me, but it CERTAINLY FEELS LIKE IT WAS).

  9. 0

    Bookmarking the hell out of this! And how did I miss the fantasy book one too?!

    I haven’t read any of these which is great. I’ve been trying to wrack my brains for any additional queer women sci-fi books and the only one I can come up with is “The Carhullan Army” by Sarah Hall, though it’s not particularly a romance and is a dystopia so be warned!

  10. 1

    This is great. I read a ton of science fiction when I was younger but not as a much now. I’m so glad that the queer women sf options have expanded since I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels and Friday by Heinlein (I don’t recommend either, btw).

    I second the Ursula LeGuin recs and Ancillary Justice and the rest of the trilogy by Annie Leckie – the whole trilogy is fabulous. The main character is a 2,000 year old AI who used to be a space ship (in a space empire) and now is in one human body.

    We read the first book in my queer genre fiction book group and spent a little time talking about what made it queer – in some ways it’s not overtly queer at all and in others it’s incredibly queer because it queers everything. The main culture is human and it doesn’t recognize gender differences and default pronoun is she.

    I especially recommend Ancillary Justice for fans of The Left Hand of Darkness – it’s a very different book but it explores similar gender stuff and there are a few clear homages to it (there’s even a dangerous sled ride on an icy planet). And it’s beautifully written.

    • 0

      Lol. Dunno what that was.

      Two things:

      The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is totally getting me through this breakup week, so thank you!

      But also, when I’m asking Alexa to read me some of that book when I wake up in the middle of the night, I will never. ever. EVER remember the title correctly.

      “I’m sorry, you don’t have The Long Way Down in your Audible library, would you like to buy it?” over and over and OVER

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