Book review: Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, edited by K.M. Szpara

transcendent-2016Szpara, K.M. (Ed.). Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2016. 206 p. Paperback. $20.00. ISBN 9781590216170.

Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction is a collection of short science and speculative fiction stories edited by K. M. Szpara. Characters swap bodies with an alien “catsnake”, leave Earth to live among aliens, and there’s even a genderqueer librarian who catalogs books with a magic wand.  The diversity of stories in this collection covers a variety of transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary themes and worldviews but makes for uneven reading.

Transcendent, to be sure, contains interesting, validating stories. Among them is “The Shape of My Name” by Nino Cipri, which follows a young transgender man whose coming of age coincides with being shown how to use his family’s secret time machine. However, some stories are an uneasy fit in a collection explicitly about transgender fiction. The most glaring example lies in “Be Not Unequally Yoked” by Alexis A. Hunter, which features an Amish protagonist who is both a human young man and a mare named Belle; a story which fails to fit neatly under either the heading of speculative fiction or transgender experience. The challenge of categorizing it is, of course, only a problem inasmuch as it seems out of place in Transcendent, where Hunter’s inclusion at best displaces #ownvoices narratives.

Still there are precious few entries in the science fiction genre by trans* and nonbinary authors, so this anthology would be a commendable addition to libraries with large science fiction collections. Other sources to consider for additional science fiction titles would be Riptide Publishing and the Magnus division of Riverdale Ave Books, which both occasionally publish science fiction by queer authors featuring trans* characters. Note: These houses also publish erotica.

Loren Klein
Head Library Assistant
Emerson Public Library

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