TRANSING SCIENCE FICTION: BORDER-HACKING AND QUEER UTOPIAS OF SENSE8 AND TRANSFINITE
Bridging the fields of Science Fiction (SF), utopian studies, queer/trans theory, and media studies, this article offers a conceptualisation of a subgenre of SF – Trans-SF – through two recent examples of trans-authored and trans-centred SF cinema/television – the Netflix series Sense8 (2015-2018) and an independent omnibus film Transfinite (2019). Trans-SF visually and structurally embodies trans aesthetic through what the author terms border-hacking elements, which include cinematic techniques, narrative choices, and subversion of genre expectations. The author argues that Science Fiction has the potential to not only represent various gender identities and sexual orientations but embody queerness and transness as theorised by queer/trans scholars — as a radical refusal of hegemonic binary thought and oppressive hetero-patriarchal systems in favour of other forms of being and relating to one other.
QUEER COMMUNITIES AS UTOPIAS OF POTENTIALITY IN THE GRAPHIC NOVELS OF KAY O’NEILL
The graphic novel works by Kay O’Neill (they/them) present a diverse range of ethnicities and hybridities through the anthropomorphised animal and fantastical races that populate their fictional worlds. Additionally, they depict a range of physical abilities, identities, and orientations across their works. O’Neill’s whimsical tales deal with brokenness, grief, loss, and finding one’s place and purpose in and through the support of queer communities. Throughout their series, O’Neill presents worlds where individuals are not empowered through violence or power, but by their strength of character, kindness, ability to accept themselves, and the encouragement and acceptance of others. Their series repeatedly shows how inclusive communities can be possible through their presentation of deaf, genderqueer, homosexual, and disabled individuals all existing in provincial and urban Fantasy spaces. These spaces embrace rather than ostracise, presenting potentialities: worlds with loss and pain, but also support and healing. Applying José Esteban Muñoz’s definition of a queer utopia, this article argues that O’Neill’s graphic novels Princess Princess Ever After (2016, PPEA), The Tea Dragon Society trilogy (2017-2021, TDS), and Aquicorn Cove (2018, AC) present different ways queer community spaces are utopias-in-progress that shape individuals’ ability to recover, accept themselves, and find purpose, presenting “blueprints of a world not quite here” to inspire readers and present a “realm of educated hope” (Muñoz 97; 3).
DETOXIFYING MALE FANTASY: QUEER NAVIGATION OF A HOSTILE GENRE LANDSCAPE IN THE COMIC BOOK DIE
While the queering of Fantasy is not a recent project, the convergence of social justice discourse with critical analysis within various fandom spaces in the twenty-first century has encouraged a renewed focus on LGBTQIA+ representation amongst writers, readers, and fans. The comic book series DIE (2019-2021) by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, and Clayton Cowles is a queer negotiation of Fantasy genre culture, represented here through the microcosm of a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG). Through the journey of the genderfluid protagonist Ash, Gillen implies that queer voices are one means of ‘saving' the Fantasy genre - however, the queer subject must first understand and celebrate their own authority.
This article examines DIE’s use of the TTRPG to encapsulate a snapshot of contemporary Fantasy genre culture, before exploring how and why the queer subject is treated as newly empowered within this imaginative ecosystem. Gillen utilises TTRPGs’ capacity as a metatext to comment on Fantasy’s history, traditions, and contemporary climate, and positions Die itself as a ‘grimdark’ setting, treating this subgenre as the epitome of the trends of hypermasculinity within Fantasy’s canon. The comics then explore Ash’s struggle against the self-imposed limitations that result from existing as boundlessly queer within a subculture working to limit them. It is only through Ash’s disruptive manipulation of desire, and acceptance of themselves, that they can progress in DIE’s final quest, take on the mantle of hero and author, and save the world that stands for Fantasy itself. TTRPGs are therefore shown to not simply enshrine Fantasy’s legacy, rather they enable players to also respond to it transformatively. Alongside the context of Ash’s queer subjectivity, DIE implies that a generative future of Fantasy lies with these newly empowered creators, who grapple with the genre’s conservative traditions and remake them anew.
NEW BODIES IN SUBURBAN FANTASTIC CINEMA
Suburban fantastic cinema is a subgenre that was originated in the 1980s and is marked by male, heterosexual and white bodies as protagonists. Their narratives often involve young people overcoming disruptions caused by exogenous elements while telling coming-of-age narratives associated with the hero's journey. Due to the nature of these hegemonic bodies in the protagonism of this subgenre, suburban fantastic cinema has an inherently reactionary syntax – where the elimination or assimilation of what is different is necessary for the re-establishment of the status quo of the suburban middle class. With the return of the subgenre in the 2010s, new works began to bring new bodies into the spotlight of these narratives – such as, for example, that of women, blacks, Latinos, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In this present article, I investigate how these new heroines affect the syntax of suburban fantastic cinema and bring new potentials and horizons to the subgenre. For this, I will analyse the Fear Street trilogy, which brings a black and lesbian woman to the forefront of the narrative. Then, I will discuss what are the peculiarities and new possibilities brought by these films and how this compares with classics of suburban fantastic cinema starring white men.
“WEYRBRED IS BEST FOR GREENS”: CONTAINMENT AND WORLD-BUILDING IN ANNE MCCAFFREY'S DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN
This article considers the treatment of queerness and especially male homosexuality in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (1967-2012) in order to explore the gaps between its explicit statements and its actual portrayals of queerness and queer characters. The imaginative possibilities opened by Science Fiction allow Pern to portray spaces where queer sexualities and desires are not only accepted by expected, and these spaces – and, by extension, queerness – are consistently centred within the series’ narrative. At the same time, however, the series constantly undermines the utopian elements of its world-building with significant intra- and extratextual homophobia. The result is a tension between the series’ obvious homophobia and its consistent foregrounding of male homosexuality, in particular.
Through a detailed examination of the ways in which homophobia structures Pern’s world-building, focusing on Dragonquest (1971) and Red Star Rising/Dragonseye (1996/1997), this article argues: first, that several of Pern’s core world-building elements serve as containment strategies for queerness; and, second, that these containment strategies ultimately fail, instead drawing attention to the centrality of queerness to Pern’s world. I argue that this failure illustrates the ways in which world-building is simultaneously shaped and limited by the social context in which authors are writing and also has the potential to move beyond that context in unexpected ways, including ways authors might consciously reject, and that close attention to failures of this kind may reveal unexpected, if circumscribed and limited, elements of radical possibility even within conservative or reactionary texts.
MONSTROUS PURITY: VIRTUE, WOMANHOOD, AND THE FLUID NATURE OF THE UNICORN
The unicorn is a fantastical creature that has captivated the Western imagination since the ancient Greeks, although the familiar iconography of the unicorn was consolidated around the Medieval period. Through the narratives that have been crafted for it, the unicorn acquired a multitude of roles and meanings, the most ambivalent of which relate to the creature’s gender. This paper examines the way meaning and gender codes have been applied to the unicorn’s body over time without ever firmly trapping the creature in a single gender identity. The paper examines the historical examples of the unicorn’s role in Christian faith and in the Medieval trope of the Hunt of the Unicorn as Christ and as virgin, respectively. It also looks at more contemporary examples in the case of Ridley Scott’s film Legend (1985), Rebecca Horn’s wearable sculpture Unicorn/Einhorn (1970-72), and Peter S. Beagle’s Fantasy novel The Last Unicorn (1968). In so doing, this paper argues that the unicorn’s propensity to transform from divine to mortal, animal to human, male to female, make it an androgynous and queer being, even an ontological “monster,” one that exists outside of the human understanding of the gender binary.
GIRL WIZARDS AND BOY WITCHES: GENDER IN TERRY PRATCHETT'S DISCWORLD NOVELS
Far from being wishful escapism, the Fantasy genre offers a its audience a conscious distance from reality from which they might critique the norms and hegemonic ideologies of contemporary reality. This potential has been identified as “cognitive estrangement” by Darko Suvin, who applies it to Science Fiction. This article extends Suvin’s argument to the related but consensually distinct genre of Fantasy, which I argue is particularly well-placed to explore the historical and ontological instability of gender. Fantasy, especially secondary world Fantasy, brings about estrangement by excavating the insidious mechanisms through which metanarratives such as gender come about.
This paper examines two of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: Equal Rites (1987), which is about Eskarina Smith, a female wizard, and The Shepherd’s Crown (2015), which features Geoffrey Swivel, a male witch. Both novels are highly satirical takes on the pre-existing trope of gendered magic and undermine the processes through which these tropes are reproduced within the secondary world of the novel and at the broader level of what Pratchett identifies as the “consensus fantasy universe.” Drawing upon Judith Butler’s notion of the ontological instability of sex, a queer reading of these texts demonstrates the multitude of ways in which Fantasy can be a highly effective medium of exploring queer experience, deconstructing gender, and critiquing fixed notions of embodiment.
"SWEET TITS OF BILLY": REMAKING QUEER HISTORY IN EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES
Mihaela Precup and Dragoş Manea
In this article, we examine DC’s The Snagglepuss Chronicles (2017-2018), a six-issue comic written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Mike Feehan. The comic rewrites the initially coded queerness of animated cartoon character Snagglepuss (of Yogi Bear Show fame) and transforms him into a famous gay playwright who is blacklisted during the McCarthy era and who also channels United States playwright Tennessee Williams. In Russell and Feehan’s adaptation, whose storyline develops between 1953 and 1959, humans and anthropomorphic animals live side by side during the Lavender Scare, a dark time in American history when alliances are fragile, conformity is brutally preserved, and difference is swiftly punished. In this context, Snagglepuss is recovered as a canonical queer coded character with added flamboyance, swagger, and a penchance for spending time at a gay bar evocatively named the Stonewall.
We ask what the recuperation and rewriting as a “sexy gay daddy” (as The Advocate described him) of both Snagglepuss and Tennessee Williams contributes to the cultural memory of the gay community persecuted during the Lavender Scare. We inquire how the cultural hierarchies at play in the United States as depicted in the comic can help readers understand the potential of popular culture (more specifically, animation) to foster political subversion, dissent, and create a shelter for gay creators persecuted during the 1950s and after. We also consider how DC’s Snagglepuss’s strong masculinity is visually and verbally constructed in the comic – against the softer masculinities of the initial two characters incorporated in him – and whether it acts as a corrective of these alternative masculinities as it is proposed as a site of resistance and political dissent.
Images of Potential and Capture: Recent Approaches to Posthuman Portrayal in Science Fiction Cinema
Science Fiction (SF) cinema abounds with depictions of the posthuman. While the term posthuman encompasses a wide array of cyborgs, Artificial Intelligence and androids, the posthuman of SF cinema has largely been portrayed as the female-coded gynoid. In posthuman theory, both Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti describe the posthuman disrupts humanistic hierarchies, due to its liminal existence between human and machine. As a result, the posthuman offers a liberatory potential for marginalised groups. Despite this, the filmic treatment of the posthuman often fails to capture this potential, instead portraying the posthuman in ways which uphold racism and misogyny, through objectification and sexualisation. However, this stereotypical portrayal has been challenged in recent years. Indeed, as cultural attitudes have grown increasingly distasteful of such blatant Othering, particularly over the last decade, recent trends in SF cinema have seen an attempt to refrain from such practices. In theory, this allows for portrayals of the posthuman which remain true to its theoretical potential. Indeed, both Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014) feature portrayals of female-coded posthumans which challenge the norm of posthuman objectification, by fundamentally altering the expected subject/object relationship of visual narratives. However, due to the conventions of genre fiction, these more recent portrayals remain limited by the conventions of both genre and medium. Indeed, while evoking the tropes of objectification and sexualisation, albeit in an attempt to subvert them, the evocation of these tropes appears to reimpose the restrictive language of psychoanalysis. I incorporate a theoretical framework of posthuman theory from Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti, as well as the schizoanalytic theory of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Doing so, I examine to what degree Her and Ex Machina can accurately portray the liberatory potential of the posthuman while also engaging the tropes of filmic Othering.
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