“Transcendent,” edited by K.M. Szpara, is the latest “Best Of” collection from Lethe Press. The question arises, would there be enough Transgender-related speculative fiction for a full anthology, let alone an annual series? The answer, judging from the fifteen stories assembled here, is “yes.” The stories display a surprising variety, never straying from Trans characters, (some not obvious) or themes.
Transformation is an obvious recurring motif in the stories but when it occurs, it is often in subtle and startlingly different, and entertaining ways.
“The Librarian’s Dilemma,” by E. Saxey, features a group “seeding” an archive, The Hairad Collection, which contains revelations about the collection’s founder. There are also implications about who can allow books to be used in the first place.
“Contents of a Care Package to Etsath-Tachri, Formerly Andrew Curran (Human English Translated to Sedrayin),” by Holly Heisey, is written in the form of three letters to a young man who has transitioned into an alien species.
Nino Cipri’s “The Shape of My Name” opens with the line; “The Year 2076 smells like antiseptic gauze and the lavender diffuser that Dara set up in my room.” It is a fine opening to the story that starts the collection in an equally fine way. The title character is dealing with not wanting a girl’s name in a family where certain members can time-travel within a four-hundred-year span.
Transformation is, of course, a theme of these stories. The young hero of Alexis A. Hunter’s “Be Not Unequally Yoked” lives in an Amish community and regularly turns into a horse. The hitch here is that his horse form is female. This well-written story is filled with horse analogies such as a reference to young men “jostling each other like good-natured colts.” Well worthy of being in any “Best of” anthology.
In its brief four pages, “Treasure Acre” by Everett Maroon moves from a backyard treasure hunt sprinkled with cultural nostalgia and into a moving science-fictional tale.
“The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad,” by Molly Tanzer. Mixing Lovecraftian tropes and cheerleaders sounds like a perversely funny idea, and Tanzer takes the notion to the edge of the abyss and then jumps in. The story is a masterpiece of misdirection and among the cleverest new stories I’ve read all year.
“The Scaper’s Muse,” by B.R. Sanders features a man banished/promoted to a position in another solar system after an incident at an office party and moves through a twist on one of science fiction’s clichés which does not come off as clichéd, as he encounters the planet Stahvi’s only other human being. (“It had been nearly a Terran year of living among aliens; the idea of sex with a mammal was extremely enticing.”)
“Where Monsters Dance,” by A. Merc Rustad puts its young heroine through the rigors of a fairy tale in what seems a darker version of the now-ancient “Stanley and His Monster” comic book.
“Chosen,” by Margarita Tenser turns the clichés of heroic fantasy on its ear as a powerful mother goddess appears before a prospective champion who is not who the goddess expects her to be. Very funny.
“The Need for Overwhelming Sensation,” by Bogi Takacs is set in an alien starship powered by magic. More specifically by the magic-user who narrates the story.
The main character of E. Catherine Tolber’s “Splitskin” is a seer, whose gift is sought out in a gold rush town. The story is full of Native American beliefs about “two-spirit people.”
“Everything Beneath You,” by Bonnie Joe Stufflebeam is a mystical tale of boats, dragons and love. And, of course, transformation. “Those that drown smell of the sea.”
“Into the Waters I Rode Down,” by Jack Hollis Marr. Rambling stream-of-consciousness narrative of a spy who is hooked up to or has become a war machine.
“The Petals Abide,” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew is set in a fantastic world of prophecies and assassins reminiscent of C.L. Moore or Clark Ashton Smith the latter for the exotic names dropped like petals throughout. (“She stops at the basin f faces, whose bone dunes in a hundred twenty-seven colors—most visible, a few not—rotate hourly, resolving into the faces of the first memorialists.”)
“Kin, Painted,” by Penny Stirling, closes out the anthology with a world of body painting and tattoos, often “witched” where the narrator must decide which paint, if any, is right for her.
This collection, comprised of stories first published in 2015, bodes well for the prospect of a fine, annual series. Highest recommendation.
Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of each month. His fiction has most recently appeared in QueerSci-Fi’s “Flight,” and in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #21. He blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com and wastes time on Facebook as Jeff Baker, Author. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl.