Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Brave Boy World: A Transman Anthology by Michael Takeda (#trans #scifi)

Although Brave Boy World: A Transman Anthology is billed as a collection of tales that "explore what it means to be a man, even when one was born female," I think that does it a disservice. This is really an anthology about gender, both male and female, with some valuable insights into both branches of the transgender experience. Michael Takeda has really done a fantastic job of gathering such a deep, diverse collection.

According to His Substance by K.C. Ball was a great opener, a story about suicide, parallel worlds, and gaining perspective, while Spoiling Veena by Keyan Bowes was a sweet story about love, acceptance, and the gender of designer children. It was Fluidity by Eric Del Carlo, though, that really convinced me there was something interesting going on here, inverting our expectations and exploring a world of natural gender transition where the social outcasts are those who do not want to cycle to the next gender.

After a story that just confused me and forced me to move on, the always amazing Brit Mandelo swooped in with Liner Notes For the Crash, a gorgeous story that's less about gender and more about the queer experience, set within the context of music and social rebellion. Boy Rescue by Ace Lo got back to gender with a cute story about a robot who chooses to masculinize himself, which I see as a sort of companion piece to Robinson Faces the Music by Ryan Kelley, which uses aliens rather than robots to explore gender expectations.

Like many anthologies, I felt this had a soft middle with some stories that just did not work for me, but I felt like it got back on track with The Three Ways of the Sword Man by Jaap Boekstein and LGB(T) by Maverick Smith, two stories that use sword-and-sorcery and superheroes to explore gender, sexuality, and relationships. In fact, LGB(T) was one of my favorite stories in the collection, and the final selections that follow it are all strong, well-written pieces with a lot to say. Often strange and confusing, as the best science fiction often is, but they blend big ideas with intimate emotions very well.

Brave Boy World: A Transman Anthology is well worth a read, not just for transgender readers, but for genre fans who are interested in exploring the very construct of gender.

Michael Takeda is a writer of speculative fiction that has been called "dark" by Publishers Weekly and whose gender-bending themes Analog has compared to those of Theodore Sturgeon. He has also worked as a translator and teacher of English and Italian language and cinema, had a brief stint as a music reviewer for local newspaper "PDXS", completed two degrees in Italian literature, and has published various novels and other fictions. He currently lives in Worcester, Massachusetts where he attends nursing school and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Pink Narcissus Press.

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