By Jeff Baker
As this column was going to press, (read; as I was getting off my lazy behind and typing it up) word came that “Transcendent 2” won for best Transgender Fiction at the 2018 Lambda Literary Awards. Congratulations to all involved, starting with editor, Bogi Takacs. Those who want some specifics about just how good this book is, read on. —J.S. Baker
“Transcendent 2,” Lethe Press’ second annual collection of Transgender themed speculative fiction does not disappoint. Editor Bogi Takacs’ selection of sixteen stories does not disappoint in variety, scope and plain old entertainment value. It is helped along by Takacs’ insightful introduction with an overview of the genre’s successes and “gaps” when it comes to the transgender community. The introduction briefly touches on novels as well.
“Because Change Was the Ocean and We Lived By Her Mercy,” by Charlie Jane Anders begins with an evocative, near-mystical scene punctuated by a mood-breaking fart. (!) The setting is the future after what they call “The Great Decimation.” With the environment “wounded,” the oceans must be “filtered.” But this is not a Heinleinian engineering story, rather it focuses on a group of friends. Line: “…and then I would be laughing so hard it was like I was squeezing the fear out of my insides.”
“This is Not a Wardrobe Door” by A. Merc Rustad plays with a familiar fantasy image in an excellent story which first appeared in their collection “So You Want to Be a Robot,” which should be on every sci-fi/fantasy reader’s shelf.
“Transitions” by Gwen Benaway deals with a transitioning woman who has a mystical reaction to a teaching by an Anishinaabe Elder.
An Owomoyela’s “Three Points Masculine” is military sci-fi, taking place on a world of Gender Assessment Tests and combat helmets that can heal wounds.
“The L7 Gene” by Jeanne Thornton explores a complicated relationship between Sam, a twentysomething recently transitioned to female; Sam’s mother, a genius scientist who has isolated the gene that makes people trans; and Chris, Sam’s male, cisgender clone.
“Skerry-Bride” by Sonya Taaffe, is a short-short about a jotunn, a shape-shifter who has fallen in love with a mortal. The shifter takes many forms and has been male and female “and she has been neither, crackling in your arms like a lace of ice and birch twigs, the low wind-bent sage and the bitter salt of black-cragged shores.”
The gender of the jotunn’s lover is not identified.
“Rhizomatic Diplomacy” by Vajra Chandrasekera. More hard sci-fi set on a world at war, told from the vantage point of a being who has just been born.
“The Road, And The Valley, And The Beasts” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli has the feel of a fable or folktale as told maybe by Ray Bradbury. The setting is an unnamed town by a road that is used only by the beasts who travel the road with a strange burden.
“About a Woman and a Kid” by M. Tellez takes place after a natural disaster (flooding) in a forest that has encroached on an abandoned city. “Most things have long since left the hold of human design and order.”
“The Pigeon Summer” by Brit Mandelo tells us the story of J., holed-up in her apartment following the suicide of her partner/significant other, C. From the apartment, J. can see a nesting pigeon with three chicks which J. watches obsessively. She also begins to write notes to a ghost she believes may be haunting the apartment.
Readers who have suffered a loss can identify with lines like:
The question isn’t necessarily if I want to live, it’s whether or not I can.
“Sky and Dew” by Holly Heisy deals with lovers and death and an Emperor in a magical city. No spoiler but the lovers get what may or may not be a happy ending.
In “The Nothing Spots Where Nobody Wants to Stay” by Julian K. Jarboe the “veil” is thin in a hedge just outside a junior high school, allowing some of the students to use magical portals to shoplift, play hooky (do they still call it that?) and party.
“Lisa’s Story: Zombie Apocalypse” by Gillian Ybabez. Zombie stories have been done to death, and it’s a rare spec-fic anthology that doesn’t include one. Mainly because a lot of the stories are good. This one is a first-hand account of what may be the last days of humanity’s standoff with zombies. (“I re-dressed for my first trip out into the new world. T-shirt and jeans for ease of movement. A sports bra in case I had to run.”)
“Happy REGARDS” by RoAnna Sylver, begins with a birthday party which quickly jumps into the strange, including mechanical wolves.
“The Way You Say Good-Night,” by Toby MacNutt. When a story begins “I moved in with the goddess in spring,” readers know it’s not much of an exaggeration. The narrator is a genderfluid mutant and the two of them, based in science and magic find they have much in common.
“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” by S. Qiouyi Lu tells a modern (well, 1949) tale of two ancient mythic birds with one wing and one eye apiece, a couple. One of them becomes human.
Altogether, Transcendent 2 is another excellent anthology from Lethe Press. Let us hope there will be more editions.
Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, Fantasy, Horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of each month. His recent stories about Demeter’s Bar have appeared in SciFan Magazine and QSF’s anthology “Discovery.” Other fiction can be found weekly on his blog; http://authorjeffbaker.com. He lives happily in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl and can be found on Facebook at Jeff Baker, Author.