QSFer Christina Engela has a new queer sci-fi book out (trans MTF), Quantum book 1: Black Sunrise.
Action! Adventure! Gender Dysphoria!
Cindy-Mei Winter had until recently been ‘Agent’ Winter, C.I.A. – that’s Colonial Intelligence Agency – and one of their best agents… that is, until they threw her out for coming to work in a dress.
After that disappointing and sudden end to what had been a promising career, Mei rewarded herself with a long relaxing vacation in the outback to celebrate her gender reassignment and her new start in life. The first stop on her journey turned out to be a little backwater planet called Deanna…
As a third-rate colony in the Terran Empire, Deanna had more than its fair share of dull moments… Dull – but also definitely weird… Deanna orbited a star called Ramalama – and if you think that’s funny, Deannas’ two moons were called Ding and Dong, respectively. (This was a local joke.)
Then the unexpected happened: A single Ruminarii Hammerhead – the first seen by Humans in over eighty years, arrived to invade the small backwater Terran colony! Mei had hoped to put her violent and somehow depressing past behind her, but now it seemed her new beginning (and her holiday) were going to have to wait! The Gimp were back, and this was no time to be a sissy! She faced seemingly insurmountable odds in the midst of panic, hysteria – falling sherry – and people hiding under furniture! What would she do?
Thankfully, with the assistance of an alien walking, talking plant called Fred, a local bounty hunter called Beck the Badfeller – and the Skeggs Valley Dynamite Fishing Club, she wouldn’t have to find out alone!
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The Duval’s only legitimate passenger – that is, the only passenger who had actually paid to be there – was Cindy-Mei Winter, a young lady who’d once thought that life in space ought to prove rather fun and exciting. This probably wasn’t the most appropriate word to describe space travel under the present set of circumstances. After all, it’s dangerous out there – it’s cold and cruel! In fact, insurance companies depended on the misfortunes of deep space travel for their income. Consequently, the less excitement there was, the longer one’s life expectancy ought to have been. These thoughts looped through Ms. Winter’s mind like a roller coaster – belying her innocent and naïve appearance as being only skin-deep, as she watched the stars settle back into the inky black curtain of space through the large space windows. “A voyage through some undiscovered systems, a little exploration,” She’d thought originally, “Perhaps a few alien encounters? How romantic! What fun! What a thrill!” Oh yes, this is just the sort of hopeful attitude of one who is just begging to be proved wrong.
“Funny how the stars look out here.” Said a masculine voice close to her ear. “So dull. So dead.”
Mei saw the stars in question, hanging lifelessly a few million light-years away on the other side of the large viewports – or if you will, windows. They looked, for all the universe, like little off-cut bits of badly painted tinsel.
“Oh. It’s you, Fred.” Mei said. “Yes, I suppose it’s because there’s no atmosphere to give them that luster. On Mars – and on Earth, they seem to wink at you. On Jez-El they’re all different colors because of the way the air splits their light like a prism.”
“I’ve been to Jez El.” Said Fred, skillfully avoiding getting drawn into a debate about light spectrums, atomic density fields, magnetospherics, and quantum physics. “I’ve never been to Earth.”
“Oh, it’s lovely.” Said Mei. “At night the sky is dark and they twinkle. You can feel the cool wind on a summer’s night and there’s not a cloud in the sky.”
“Wind.” Said Fred. “Yes, that’s one of the things you never get on a ship. I miss the wind.”
“Me too.” Mei sighed. “I miss taking a walk on my Grans’ farm. We used to visit there often when I was a kid.”
“Don’t walk much these days either.” Said Fred. “Don’t actually do much at all.”
“That sounds awful sad, Fred.” Mei sympathized, “You really should get out more next time we make planetfall.”
“Love to.” Said Fred.
“Get out a bit, take in the sights. Feel the wind blowing through your hair…”
“Leaves – the warm sun on your sk…” Mei stopped. “Sorry, Fred. I feel like a bit of a twit. Keep forgetting.”
“No problem.” Said Fred. “Makes me feel more a part of things. All I need is a bit of water nice and regular and some good conversation.”
“Being stuck here on the rec-dec can’t be much fun, huh?”
“Well, the music’s good. Computer plays Mozart and Tchaikovsky when I ask for it. The stuff the rest of the crew likes is… well, it’s pretty awful.”
“You mean rock music?”
“Not good for growth, that stuff. As far as I’m concerned, rocks belong in the substratum, not in music.”
“Your leaves are looking greener.” Mei remarked pleasantly. A roughly meter-high generous bush of thick fleshy green wiggled a few leaves at her in gratitude.
“Thanks. I got the computer to turn up the UV a little.”
Mei smiled, realizing that if she had seen that happen a few months earlier, she’d be half a block away by now, screaming. She made a mental note to remember to include sun-block in her morning routine – she didn’t want UV damage to her hard-won milk-white complexion.
“Something I’ve been wondering about…” She paused. “I don’t mean to pry.”
“Well, as you Terrans say – spit it out.” Said Fred plainly. “Ask away.”
“Erm. Okay, what’s it like to be a plant?”
Fred sighed. Being on the rec-dec meant that he spent a lot of time alone. The other plants weren’t much company. The ships computer was very accommodating, acceding to his requests for what he called good music – but its capacity for reason and conversation were somewhat limited. However, being the only member of his species on board meant that he spent a lot of his time, well, vegetating. The ship’s tiny crew came here fairly often in an attempt to relax. Crewmen would often sit and talk to him at odd hours of the cycle, often while slightly pickled – while wondering where that strange disembodied voice was coming from. Sometimes they would unload their worldly troubles on him and make him feel like a bartender – and a rather confused one, at that. They asked him questions that presupposed he somehow soaked up the wisdom of the universe through his aerial roots. He still didn’t understand the animal obsession with reproductive activities.
“Well,” said Fred after considering the question carefully. “Suppose I asked you ‘what’s it like to be human?’ I suppose you’d say, ‘Well you’ve got lots of muscles to move, squishy bits inside, you feed by actually sticking things into yourselves and you’ve got rocky bits inside called bones that stop your body from collapsing into a blob of goop on the floor.’ Well – now suppose I told you being a plant I don’t get around much, being pretty much rooted to the spot. I don’t like the nightlife ‘cos it’s too dark and people keep picking my flowers in spring. Suppose someone came along, ripped your balls off and walked off sniffing them? The point being, actually, that you couldn’t imagine my life as a plant any more than I could imagine being human. Understand?”
Mei waited for a definite pause before answering. “Umm. I suppose.”
“What kind of name is Winter, anyway? Not some sort of seasonal thing, is it?”
“It’s my last name. My full name is Cindy-Mei Winter.”
“That is a full name.” Said Fred. “Mine’s just Fred. Plain old Fred, first and last, all in one.”
“Tell me, Fred.” Said Cindy-Mei, risking another question, “What is it you like most about being a plant?”
Fred barely hesitated.
“I suppose it’s not having to pause for breath.” He replied almost smugly.
“Christina Engela is a South African editor and author of horror, fantasy and science fiction novels. Her books are never short of suspense, adventure and humor, while her colorful characters and thought-provoking settings take readers into another world, making her one of the most gifted and creative storytellers. A firm supporter of the LGBT community, Christina believes that Sexual and Gender Minority characters aren’t reflected enough by authors due to a number of reasons. As such, Christina’s writing isn’t stereotypical, and her characters aren’t stereotypes, regardless of their sexuality or gender.” – Booksradar.com, June 21, 2021.
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