I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a kid, and I distinctly remember the cover of the first book of the genre I ever picked up. It was a bright and bold action scene, perfectly capturing that golden age adventure style designed to lure teenage boys and 9-year-old me. Sci-fi fans will be familiar with the typical cover tropes: moodily-lit planets, alien landscapes and a lot of spaceships.
When I made a pledge to myself a few years back to only read books by or about queer people, I wondered whether the cover art would be subtly queered in the process. The answer, in many cases, was no: it was queered to the absolute max. From dubious 90s design trends to the modern day marvel of the self-made Kindle cover, I found so many breathtaking examples that I felt compelled to share them.
Even though you sometimes can judge a book by its cover, I will make no value statements about the books below. Let’s just sit back and admire the artistry – and please do share any other gems you’ve discovered in the comments!
Are we really going to be spending FOUR THOUSAND YEARS trying to answer the question of our generation: is love a lie? I think I’ve finally worked out what a dystopia is.
In the Blood
One of my favourite cover art tropes is “butch heroine staring moodily into the distance,” which can be found plentifully in the world of lesbian sci-fi. I particularly like this example from 1989 for the implicit suggestion the whole plot will revolve around periods.
Vortex of Crimson
Yes – it’s another butch heroine staring moodily into the distance with the implicit suggestion the whole plot will revolve around periods, but WITH EXPLOSIONS.
No Sister of Mine
I was devastated when I purchased this book but it arrived with an alternative cover that did not suggest the same level of lesbian telepathic merging. It’s ok though! It’s entirely about telepathic lesbian merging!
In this book everyone hates cyborgs, even though they might secretly be cyborgs, and are definitely in love with at least one cyborg. This is one of those great sci-fi books where it’s not explicitly an all-female society, it’s just the author forgot that men might exist in the future. At no point is it explained how the cyborgs maintain the hairstyles depicted on this cover.
Exodus Book One: Advance
I love any cover where you can imagine someone was up all night on 3DS Max and failed to see how deeply they were sliding down the uncanny valley. I’ve been staring at this cover so long, trying to work out what’s going on with that hand, that by the time I snap out of it we may have finally determined if love is a lie.
The official prequel to Carol, before Therese got flung out.
Swans and Klons
I feel like this cover presents a future that tackles another age-old queer concern of “do I want her, or want to be her?” by saying: yes.
Star Pilot II: The Wrath of the Queen
Forget the recent trend in sci-fi lit of sentient (and therefore queer) spacecraft – THIS is how you make spaceships gay!
I’ll just leave this one here.
I wish I knew how to put on pics but this cover of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (the entire reason I bought the book initially, but it’s worth a read) is the greatest example of bizarre lesbian classic sci-fi covers
I forgot to include that when I ordered a copy for a friend it cam with this bizarre and DEEPLY disappointing cover:
Ah! My copy has the incredibly bland SF Masterworks cover.
I really love how for classic feminist sci-fi covers there’s usually this clear pathway from alien lesbian commune to abstract swirls once someone has decided it’s “literature.”
That “Oh my” was for the Boob-on-Boob suit. Mind blown.
This made me laugh out loud multiple times and I needed a good laugh. Thank you for this true gift of a collection! I clearly need to get more into lesbian sci-fi
You would think this is super gay, but it’s not.
Still like Sheri S. Tepper, even though she erases queers in this book.
Ok, I have looked up all the covers to “The Gate to Women’s Country” and they are all even gayer than the title and what kind of sick joke is this.
Right? I was desperately confused by it as a teen. I mean, it’s a riff on Greek society! With the sexes kept separate! But homosexuality would have messed up the social points she was trying to make, so she just… erased queer people in a one paragraph throw-away about genetic modification. Sad. SAD.
I still enjoy a lot of her writing, but yeah no joke c’mon
I love the lady whistling at the butch heroine staring moodily into the distance
Yeah I get it, I totally do
Sally, your commentary is marvelous. If you find enough covers to do a Part II, I heartily vote for it.
Probably it would take a 5-year mission wandering space to find them but I will do this for you
Boldly go where no lesbrarian has gone before.
Sally, don’t you know that cry-laughing makes tea unacceptably salty?
Also – loving the big ship energy for Star Pirate.
BIG SHIP ENERGY
I’m there for it
this is everything
also that butch on the cover of In The Blood? I’m gonna marry her
From my brief scan through In The Blood, I regret to inform you that the future offers few remedies for distantly-staring moody butches’ commitment issues, so maybe hold off on that fancy calligraphy pen for the wedding invites
OH NO is her first wife space
Okay, tell me that that’s not Xena and a brunette Gabrielle on the cover of “Priorities”.
I feel like Gabrielle would be hard done by in this comparison but deffo I see hints of Lucy Lawless there, if Lucy Lawless ever wore a shellsuit
Was just about to comment that the one on the right side looks like Lucy Lawless!
I..was unawares that such marvels exist.
Why isn’t there more ff set in space?!?
be the change, amidola
Joke answer: Because dysgraphia is mean to me.
Colonialism,frontierism, violence and the military industrial complex featured in sci-fi space settings squick queer folks out.
Also there’s a tendency for seeking fluffier escapism too.
Here for the Space Fluff.
F/F IN SPACE (haven’t read all of these):
Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: YA sci fi/fantasy based on King Arthur myths
Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Beckie Chambers (very good)
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (webcomic)
The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Gideon the Ninth
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
Steven Universe for TV
The Outside by Ada Hoffman
Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (romance is minor part of it)
Empress of Forever
Possibly some of these are set in space: https://www.tor.com/2019/05/14/sleeps-with-monsters-forthcoming-queer-novels-starring-queer-women/
“Are we really going to be spending FOUR THOUSAND YEARS trying to answer the question of our generation: is love a lie? I think I’ve finally worked out what a dystopia is.”
this post has inspired me to fly like an astronaut to the moon and back, moodily, i thank you for this otherworldly experience sally!!!
Sally, this is a masterpiece. You are a masterpiece.
I’d never outright say you’re wrong, Heather Hogan, but evidence suggests nothing can be considered a masterpiece until it’s been photoshopped onto a star-scape backdrop at a jaunty angle.
sally i laughed so hard my kitten fell off the couch
i feel like there’s a missing link between the weird uncanny handdrawn art and the weird uncanny computer art and that link is 90s cgi. this is your mission, should u choose to accept it
See, when I was growing up, “i laughed so hard my kitten fell off the couch” meant you had lost bladder control and needed to change your pants.
But can we talk about that hand though, because ?? ??? ????
Is she sticking it in her armpit? Is that what making out will look like in the future
Like..a fart joke?
Apparently it’s been a thing for straight kids in Utah for quite a while. They have a large number of euphemistic names for it which I will not sully this space with – leave that to the fart jokes.
“Can I… check your deodorant, wink wink”
(yes, i have been periodically coming back to this post all day)
With a stock photo search result for “lesbian sex”
“No Sister of Mine” is the book you write when you’re sick of the clueless straights always assuming your wife is your friend/roommate/sibling
And some kinda sequel for the ones that STILL refer to her as your ”friend” even when they know better..
Probably gonna need a heptalogy at least
I have laugh/cried at Space Lesbians for 20 minutes solid. I also feel it should be capitalised with a stack of exclamation points as in SPACE!!! LESBIANS!!!!
wow I want to own all of these and put them on prominent display
Thank you, Sally. This post is a thing of beauty.
There are so many… Take a look at JS Fields’ excellent Ardulum series (the cover for the third book: https://jsfieldsbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Ardulum-ThirdDon-f500-360×570.jpg) or Rachel Ford’s Black Flag series, with covers by May Dawney.
If you’re into wlw sci-fi, I’ve reviewed a few books on my blog, but there are a lot more: https://judeinthestars.wordpress.com/category/book-reviews/sci-fi/