A Review of Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science-Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers
Meanwhile, Elsewhere is the science-fiction and fantasy sample platter that you’ve always wanted—imagine having access to twenty-five different worlds, bound together under one cover. Editors Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett have put together a collection that is both pleasurable (literally, sometimes very sexy) to read and that challenges readers to re-think our relationships to gender, community, and everything we’ve ever held to be true.
The collection features up and coming authors as well as writers you already know and love, among them Trish Salah, Sybil Lamb, Dane Figueroa Edidi, Imogen Binnie, Ryka Aoki, Morgan M Page, and Jeanne Thornton. The stories vary in length and genre, spanning sci-fi, such as RJ Edwards’s “What Cheer,” the story of Addie and their alien clone; fantasy, as showcased in Janey Lovebomb’s “Under the Rainbow,” the story of three friends and their encounter with Brinda, a kind of fairy godmother; and some horror, courtesy of Bridget Liang’s “Delicate Bodies,” the story of a trans girl turned zombie.
As Topside Press promises, this book is a post-reality-generation machine. In order to operate the device, simply flip the pages and you’ll be transported to other worlds. Prepare to meet Satan, travel to Mars, take part in a digital rape-revenge or experience the sensation of a brain-eating amoeba.
Science-fiction and fantasy allow for differently gendered futures. As Cat Fitzpatrick explains, “If you’re someone whose existence is deemed impossible, or someone who is given an unacceptable frame for their existence (which I think is the experience of most or basically all trans people), then sci-fi can ask, what if there was a world in which we could exist?” Many of the authors in this collection ask this question and build worlds expansive enough to think gender and bodies differently. Evelyn Deshane praises the ways authors in Meanwhile, Elsewhere deal with bodies, unconstrained by the demand for trans authors and even trans characters to explain their transness or surgeries. She writes, “these characters can have womb transplants or remove boob jobs without explanation; they swap out bodies and live in VR suits or rip off decaying flesh like it doesn’t matter. Bodies fall apart in this speculative landscape as much as they are built up.”
Though sci-fi and fantasy enable creative possibilities for gender, this collection doesn’t demand gender-only plots of its authors. In some stories gender drives the plot; in other stories, it fades into the background. Beckett K. Bauer’s “Notes from a Hunter Boy: As Filed by Girtrude the Librarian,” for example, forces readers to question gender as a category and reconsider the ways our worlds and bodies are organized through an anthropological peek into a society where the split between men and women has nothing to do with bodies and everything to do with place. In other stories, often featuring trans protagonists, gender isn’t a focal point of the plot or setting. Cooper Lee Bombardier’s “After the Big One,” for example, focuses on Payton’s search for community as a trans man over forty. Similarly, Morgan M Page tells the story of Avery, a man following his lifelong visions of a woman he’s never met.
To be clear, none of the stories in this collection shy away from transness. Rather, all of the characters are given the space to be complicated and dynamic; instead of having to explain themselves or their transitions, they “betray, rescue, destroy, fuck, fuck up.” Many of the characters in this collection get to be unapologetically trans while having to deal with fantastic and otherworldly problems.
Character development, rather than gender, is the cornerstone of this collection. In a conversation with Katherine Cross, Fitzpatrick and Plett discuss the importance of both world building and character development in science-fiction and fantasy. Fitzpatrick says: “we want this to be about all different kinds of people, and Casey as an editor is someone who can say, ‘Here’s how to take this story and make it really communicate the things you’re trying to say about humans.’” Their emphasis on dynamic and complicated characters certainly comes through in the collection, as every story contends with the thoughts and feelings of human and other-than-human characters in nuanced ways. Many of the stories take place in worlds that resemble our own, give or take an apocalypse. Regardless of its world, at the heart of each story is a complete character, whose engagement with their world asks readers to reconsider our own.
M Eighteen Téllez’s “Heat Death of Western Arrogance” forced me to rethink my relation to individual autonomy. Narrated by Inri, a “third generation Slow Stepper,™” the story makes human-normal seem strange, in a way that allows readers to encounter humanness in a different way. I felt like Addie, the protagonist in “What Cheer,” asked me to reconceptualize self-love through their relationship with their alien clone. The characters in Rachel K. Zall’s “Control,” as they cross city boundaries and class-lines, made me consider the ways power and surveillance are at play in my own life.
With Meanwhile, Elsewhere, you’re sure to get lost in other worlds. You’ll probably return to your regular life eventually, but you’ll be forever changed. It’s the collection for anyone interested in transformative lit, longtime sci-fi fans and sci-fi skeptics alike.
Recommend, recommend, recommend.