Danika reviews The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

If you’ve been looking for the queer Hunger Games (or, at least, queer Mockingjay), this is the book for you.  Do you want to read about crushing oppression and the horrors of war, but with a bisexual protagonist? The Scorpion Rules is the book for you!

This was a bad choice for a readathon. I should have seen that coming, since this is clearly a dystopia, but the premise made it seem like a Fantasy novel:

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

A queer Canadian princess dystopia! I was expecting a page-turner. I was not expecting a YA 1984. At the beginning of the novel, I definitely was getting those Fantasy-esque sci fi vibes. Once Elián arrives on the scene though, things get darker. The group of hostages that Greta is a part of have grown up that way. They have been trained to be hostages. To follow the rules. Behave. They know the deal: just get through until they turn 18, and then they will go home, and become rulers–if they live to 18. If their parents don’t declare war. Elián has not been raised with this expectation. He is the hostage of a newly-established nation. He resists. He rebels. And he poses a threat to all of them.

This is a world that is ruled by an AI. The hostages are held captive by robot enforcers. There is a panopticon. The AI has aerial weapons. Machines don’t get tired. Which is all to say that escape is impossible. You can be shot down from the sky at any point. You will be electrocuted if you say the wrong thing, if you question the system. But Elián refuses to comply, and they are punished collectively–with increasing harshness.

This is not a light read. In fact, it becomes brutal. There is torture. The end has one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve read in a book. That was what reminded me of 1984: the ending.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned a romance to this point, and that’s because although Greta has love interests, it really isn’t a significant part of the book. I did like Greta’s relationship with Xie, because it develops from such a close friendship, but I wasn’t exactly getting warm and fuzzy feelings.

I had mixed feelings about the villain, Talis (the AI). He speaks very casually (even in his “scriptures”), which toes the line to silliness at some points–but on the other hand, it almost makes him a more sinister character because of that. He does seem human.

As you can probably tell from this review, I have mixed feelings and thoughts about this. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but that’s my own fault for not knowing what I was getting into. I am definitely interested to pick up the second book, and hopefully I will have more coherent thoughts at that point.

Mallory Lass reviews Rescue Her Heart by KC Luck

Rescue Her Heart is a fun debut novel featuring a mysterious disappearance of both father and fuel, space girlfriends and pirate battles. I would call it science fiction light, so if you are interested in a lot of word building, this might not be for you. However, if you are a fan of adventure romance and can go along with some space travel and blaster battles, you will enjoy this whirlwind romance.

This novel is told in round robin style, ping ponging every chapter between the two main characters points of view:

Captain Nat Reynolds is an expert and experienced Space Ranger Pilot. She has been in the Rangers since she turned 18. Now she is 28 and recovering from a brutal battle where she lost a fellow Ranger. Her recovery is by way of a cushy space patrol assignment. Well, it was supposed to be a cushy assignment. That is until a seemingly run of the mill fuel theft incident down on planet Prospo threatens to upend her life.

In 18 short years, Catherine Porter has lived a hard life. Her mother died when she was young, and her drunk of a father has been missing for nearly a month. She has been evicted from her home and has minimal credits to her name. How will she survive?

Nat is in desperate need of a morale boost, which comes by way of a risky rescue of Catherine following the crash of her ancient space craft she purchased in a last stitch effort to find her father. Now that the galaxy has brought them together, will they be able to find Catherine’s father? Catherine’s father’s disappearance isn’t the only mystery these two need to solve. Their discovery mission brings fierce queer space pirate Sal into their orbit and she is definitely hiding something. Nat and Catherine have instant chemistry, even if Catherine doesn’t know what that feeling overtaking her is just yet.

The age-gap between the two is not an overshadowing part of the story, but it is definitely a factor in their relationship and how it progresses. Catherine has survived a hard family life, but she has hardly lived. Nat has survived a solitary life in the Rangers, but hasn’t really loved. They both have a lot to learn from each other. For Catherine, there is nothing like being swept away by a real life hero to start her on the road to discovering her sexuality. For Nat, protecting people is what she does, but its different when it is someone she is undeniably attracted to.

Another thing that really warmed me to this story is the friendship between Nat and Dee. Dee is a dispatcher for the Space Rangers, and in their communications together you can tell there is a lot of history and a lot of love for one another. Dee shows up throughout the story, as well as some of Nat’s other queer friends who we get to meet in a Sapphic space bar. Space pirate Sal is the shining secondary character but Dee and Vic and the others bring their own sparkle to this story. A significant number of my friends are queer, so seeing queer friendships reflected is really great.

Through their many adventures, Catherine and Nat are constantly tested. Watching their relationship develop and kept me interested. Pick this one up and find out how all these mysteries resolve themselves and whether Nat and Catherine can make their relationship work beyond their mission.

By day Mallory is extremely passionate about higher education fundraising and by night she is a hype girl for all things Sacramento, CA and all things queerkru (especially fandom rarepairs). Her favorite trope is age-gap. She wishes she could read all the things and eat more ice cream, alas hermione refuses to lend out her time-turner. Give her a follow on twitter @datalover916 or over on tumblr.

Marthese reviews Time Will Tell by M. Ullrich

‘’One hundred and fifty steps was all it took for her life to get worse’’

Through Netgalley sometimes we find really good reads! I did not know what to expect. I half chose this book because of its cover, but it was fantastic!

If you could undo the past and start anew, would you?

Time Will Tell follows Eva and Casey. As time plays a crucial role in the plot, we get to see different times; the plot isn’t linear but still easy to follow. Whilst time traveling plays an important role, the discovery and dilemma only arise towards the end.

Eva is an aspiring writer living with her abusive uncle. Casey is her best friend, the star student and whose family is Eva’s refuge. Casey is a popular kid but she prioritizes Eva…until Eva runs away, leaving Casey with a multitude of issues.

Luke is a prime asshole which you cannot help but hate, and you don’t even feel guilty about it. From the synopsis the reader knows that he’ll die – that’s what you’ll look forward to. His behaviour towards Eva is truly disturbing and tragic because this sort of abuse happens one too often in real life.

Eva and Casey are really sweet together. We get to see both their point of views and they are both crushing on the other big time. There is also so much banter. For their first kiss, there was no build up, which I think subverted a common trope.

The McCellans, Casey’s parents, are great people. They also are rooting for the two to get together. It was really sweet. Parents that stand up to bullying are great! They were also a balance for Luke.

Their sexualities, while discussed casually, are not the major point! The major conflict happens after a time jump. At 23 and 24, Eva and Casey have major issues. Casey has spent years worried. Eva has formed another social group and changed a lot. The characters seem to switch personalities, which I think considering the context and their background, was quite realistic. They are not sure whether they fit with each other, after all this time and all these changes.

The lead up to sex was seamless and it was hot (this coming from a person that skims over if it’s not written well and believable). In my opinion, there were a bit too many sex scenes/intimate scenes, but I guess this could be explain by the characters having a lot of making up to do and not wanting to be away from each other.

The conflicts and issues are real, despite the time machine and sci-fi elements. The time machine was not even a major plot point until the end, although it did affect their lives from before. I was expecting the time machine to be discovered earlier, but instead, we get to see Eva and Casey growing up and getting to know them. I liked this.

I recommend this to people that like sci-fi in moderation and people that want to see character development and conflict.

Rebecca reviews Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas is a cute space romance novella between two older women with a happy ending. While I did like the characters and the plot, I wish Jo’s character was more developed and the setting was better written and more established.

After twenty-five years of dedication and determination, Marianne Gordon has finally achieved her dream of becoming principal of the prestigious Vesper Station School for Zero-Gravity Artistic Display. However, her big moment is ruined when she is forced to co-principal with Josephine Knight, a famous zero-gravity performer who is recovering from a terrible accident and who doesn’t know anything about teaching. Both women must learn to work together and sparks soon begin to fly between them. They must also stand together when the future of Marianne’s beloved school is in jeopardy.

I like that the book shares perspective between Marianne and Jo. They both have very distinct voices and personalities. However, there’s always a drawback to featuring two viewpoints because one character always suffers. While I do like Jo, I really wish I knew more about her, especially her past.

The romance between Marianne and Jo is sweet and fairly well-developed given the book’s length. I really like that they learn to appreciate and understand each other before the romance takes off. I’m also very happy that both characters are older women who act their age and handle their conflicts maturely and organically.

I went into this book expecting to really love the space setting but I was disappointed by it. The setting is not as well established as it could be. I did not feel fully immersed in this futuristic space world at all. Furthermore, I also want a better explanation of the performing art that is such an integral part of the story. I struggled to figure out what exactly it was and what was happening and my confusion really took me out of the story.

Sparks Fly is a fluffy and good read. I like the characters and the romance is sweet. Although I wish Jo had been better developed and I wanted the setting to be much more fleshed out, I did like this novella. If you like happy endings and are looking for a super quick read, check out Sparks Fly!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Shira Glassman reviews Sparks Fly by Llinos Cathryn Thomas

I don’t know what quirk of God’s imagination caused “arts college in space” to suddenly become a trope in the lesbian book world, but I’m eagerly on board. First Jennifer Linsky gave us Flowers of Luna, in which the heroine finds love while attending fashion design school on the moon. And then just now I recently read and enjoyed Sparks Fly by Welsh author Llinos Cathryn Thomas, set at a dance academy on a space station. (I said this in an interview elsewhere earlier this week, but if the next step is music teachers on Mars, sign me the heck up!)

I love everything about these setups. It takes a real life setting I’ve occupied in one capacity or another for literally half my life and transposes it into the glittery, sparkling world of the science fiction fantastic. Gone are 83rd St or Newell Drive; now there are stars and comets and space-dust just beyond the story’s stage. I also adore that arts-college premises are inherently intimate; my personal preference is for fantasy and science fiction on a small, character and relationship driven scale rather than epic sagas deciding the fates of nations and planets.

In other words, if you are like me this way, Sparks Fly is your next cute lesbian sci-fi read.

The first of the two protagonists we meet is next in line to become headmistress at the dance school, after working there for years upon years and devoting her life. Imagine her shock when she finds out she’ll be sharing the post with a celebrity dancer while she recuperates from an injury sustained during a performance accident. I wouldn’t call it enemies-to-lovers; more like awkward-to-lovers, with some friendship and chemistry in the middle.

Things don’t start out great for these two, but they’re both appealing, sympathetic characters and eventually they have to team up not only to achieve their artistic goals but to battle external conflicts.

A little about the worldbuilding – the “dance” in the story actually involves people zooming around a three-dimensional stage area in anti-gravity pods, so it’s definitely got one foot firmly planted in science fiction, not just set on a space station. Other details are very easy to picture, so this is probably not a story whose imagining will strain your brain as you read to relax.

As someone whose writing muse often tosses her keys at me early and says “okay, drive me home now, I’m done,” I hesitate to mirror my own critics with a wistful comment about wishing it were longer. However I do think maybe the story would have been stronger if we spent more time at the end after the plot resolution, getting to see/enjoy the happy ending in the direction the ladies took their professional lives. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m right! I’m just glad for the existence of stories like this one. (And honestly about the length – novellas are a good thing; it’s a lot easier to fit one of those into a busy life than a full book.)

Catch Shira Glassman’s latest f/f adventure for $1.99 preorder for a May 7 release: Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor, which is a superhero/damsel in distress romance. She’s rescued her so many times — now can they finally go on a normal date or are there too many Monsters of the Week?


Susan reviews Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet by M. Fenn

Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet is a hardboiled scifi mystery by M. Fenn; Piper Deez is sent to investigate thefts on a mining planet owned by the clan that she serves, where there are definitely no factions, no bubbling undercurrents of resentment, and only a few murders.

Hello, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, lesbian detective fiction is where I live. Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet was always going to be my jam.

The world building is quite cool, and has some interesting imagery – I felt a bit blinded with science at first, but once the story finds its stride it’s easier to enjoy the imagery of a tiny town huddling beneath a permanent ice storm and unpick the politics at play. I also find it a cool distinction in the world building that there is a specific difference between being married and being monogamous, as the default appears to be polyamory in this setting.

Plus, I did like that it tried to talk about class privilege in this universe – there are multiple clans, which have a definite hierarchy, and I enjoyed the discussions of smaller clans unionising to gain more bargaining power. Making Piper Deez a member of a more prestigious clan is an interesting choice however, as it gives her more privilege (and ability to get her job done, or protect people) than I expected from a hardboiled investigator. It does engage with it a little, but it mostly seems to be “Piper hates using the power of her clan but does when it would help her,” which is appropriate for the setting… And kinda nice to see for a queer woman of colour, actually. (And yes, people without clans are treated exactly as well as you expect from all this.)

I found this to be part of the interesting spins on the hardboiled detective tropes – Piper Deez is a newly-wed who is very upfront that she used to be into casual sex before she got married, but is now monogamous, and she actually (tries to) stick to that even in the face of the classic femme fatale, which is honestly more than I expected of a pulp detective. (Her wife doesn’t show up in the story, but is mentioned a lot and with genuine fondness.) And as I said, she’s not only gainfully employed, but she’s actually coming into this story from a position of (relative) privilege, which is fascinating.

The mystery itself is a lot of fun, and it was honestly nice to see a story where the protagonist did reach out to others for help and received it without immediate betrayal. There were aspects that didn’t feel quite built up enough, but they were close enough to genre conventions that I could roll with it – police corruption and harassment are a staple of the genre, so the scenes of look closer, not everything is as it seems weren’t exactly a surprise. On the other hand, the last third felt quite rushed in terms of reveals, consequences, and how the actual ending went down; I had my suspicions about who was behind everything but even with that I was left going “Wait, no, slow down, shouldn’t you talk to someone about this reveal —?”

But it worked! Piper Deez and the Case of the Winter Planet was a short and pulpy mystery, and while the ending didn’t quite gel together for me, I really enjoyed it rolling familiar tropes into a sci fi setting.

This review was based on a copy provided by the author.

[Caution warnings: partner abuse, abuse of power, police harassment, oppression]

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Danika reviews The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

I’ve got to say, with a title like “The Cybernetic Tea Shop,” I expected this to be a fun, silly, quick read. Instead, it was thoughtful and quiet, seeming to take up more space than the pages it occupied. This is set in a world where sentient, sapient robots were once mass-produced, but given the ethical problems they raised, they’re now illegal to make. Hundreds of years later, some of those original robots are still around, with questionable legal personhood and a lot of animosity aimed at them by a public who wants to forget the whole thing ever happened.

But it’s not about the sci fi world, really. That’s just backstory for Sal, who has been running a tea shop for more than 200 years, continuing after her old “master”/partner died, while facing constant harassment and even violence. She meets tech Clara when she visits the shop, and despite Clara’s wanderlust and Sal’s complicated situation, they hit it off.

Although the word isn’t used, both Sal and Clara are asexual. Clara explains that she doesn’t have sexual attraction to people, even when she has a romantic relationship with them (and Sal isn’t programmed for that):

[Sal:] “I mean, I’m not designed to be sexual. That’s to say, I can act on others, but I don’t want—”
“That’s okay. Me neither.”
“Oh, but—”
“It’s not something I need from someone else,” Clara said firmly, willing Sal to understand. It wasn’t something that needed explanation, but something that too many people had wanted one for. Love, romance; those were things she’d felt before, even if she wasn’t often inclined toward them. But she didn’t need anything from or with that person, never felt attracted to them even with the addition of love. If her body wanted something, she could spend five minutes with her hand. Another person never needed to factor into that for her.

(I include that quotation because before reading this, I saw that people referred to it as having asexual representation, but that it didn’t use the word “asexual.” I wasn’t sure whether there was just no sex on the page, or whether there was more textual rep, so I wanted to put the paragraph out there for anyone else wondering.)

I really appreciated how character-based this is. In a small amount of time, I felt like I really got to know both the character and how they complemented each other. I’m interested to read more by this author! (Especially when I found out after reading this that we live in the same small city! What a fun coincidence!)


Danika reviews The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang

This is a fascinating novella. It’s a dark, reversed retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” from the point of view of a human scientist who acts in an anthropological capacity studying the atargati (definitely not “mermaids”). If “dark queer retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid'” didn’t already hook you, I don’t really know what else to say.

I really liked the author chose to not only have the atargati not have gender, but to also have a nonbinary human character (who uses hir/zie prounouns), so that it wasn’t presented as an alien concept:

We did try to describe binary genders to [the atargati] once. Of course Dr. Hansen jumped in and tried to expand the conversation to sex versus gender, and to explain intersex and genderqueer people, and I tried to stop hir because I thought that would be too confusing, but it turned out that part made more sense to them than what we tried to tell them about men and women.

This also had personal appeal to me because the main character falls in love with one of the atargati (of course), and really grapples with what this means for her identity as a lesbian, especially when she had to fight so hard to claim that space in the first place:

I lost my whole identity. I had to rebuild myself brick by brick and seal a shield around myself with the label “lesbian.” I’m attracted to women. I was born that way. I’ve always been that way. If that’s not true, then my whole life, every relationship, every broken tie—it was all a lie. …

I’ve never been attracted to a human man, and still can’t conceive of such a thing. But maybe… maybe I can’t be slotted into a box either. Maybe I don’t have a definition

Have I mentioned that this is a dark retelling? And that it is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s original, and not the Disney version? I probably should have paid more attention to that, because I was disappointed by the ending. I was looking for a little more from the story: I think I was so intrigued by the world that I wanted to spend more time with it, even outside of this specific story. I wanted to know what happened after the story was over. I wanted to learn more about the atargati.

Still, this science fiction, queer, dark take on “The Little Mermaid” is compelling and memorable. You can easily finish it in one sitting, but it will stick with you long after that.


Danika reviews Biketopia edited by Elly Blue

A smart person once told me that the key to having a good life in the face of world’s uncertainty is to find something that is meaningful for you and go all-in for it. For me, that’s the real appeal of both bicycles and science fiction–no matter how grim the world looks, each other can take you to a place where you can see another perspective, explore your options, and even if they each have the potential to create as many problems they solve, at least you’ve gone somewhere in a way that feels good.

The introduction to Biketopia 

If I’m being entirely honest, I’d have to admit that my favourite part of Biketopia is the cover. That’s not a slight on the stories! It’s just that the sight of this beautiful illustration of a badass woman raising a bike above her head is arresting. Add on to that these are speculative fiction, feminist, bike-centered stories? I’m sold several times over!

There are only two blatantly queer stories in this collection, but all the stories do focus on women and their relationships with each other. The premises range, including semi-utopias, horrific dystopias, classic sci fi, as well as settings that seem all-too-possible.

The first sapphic story is “Meet Cute” by Maddy Spencer, the only comic of the collection. It is wordless, and shows our main character bringing her bike-powered bookmobile through a town. Although we obviously don’t get a big backstory, this seems like a peaceful, cooperative place, and bikes look to be the only means of transportation (other than by foot or wheelchair). When her bikemobile tips over, an adorable mechanic with an artificial (robot? magic??) arm repairs it for her, and hands her a phone number while they both blush furiously. It’s very short, but super cute.

The other queer story is “The Future of Flirtation” by Leigh Ward-Smith. Mika runs a mobile shop in a post-climate-change, water-starved world. When a 6-foot-something muscled figure strides up to her stand, she is immediately smitten, even though she has no idea the gender or even species of the person behind the mirrored helmet. She spends the story attempted to flirt with them, while bartering over a cold can of Coke.

This was a fun read, and although there weren’t many stories that were incredibly memorable, I did find the variations on “feminist bicycle science fiction” stories interesting. They definitely went in different directions. This is actually the fourth volume of the Bikes In Space series, each of which explore feminist sci fi stories about bicycling, so that sounds like your style, you should pick one up! (Probably this one. It has queer stories and a sweet cover.)

Danika reviews Meanwhile, Elsewhere edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett

This is a huge book. Metaphorically, of course: it’s a big step in queer lit that we have a collection like this now, a collection of SFF stories all by and about trans people. We’re finally moving towards having stories that neither minimize queerness nor make it our only defining feature. But actually, I’m talking about it’s physical size. It’s 447 pages, and the book is taller and wider than your average paperback: more like a textbook than a novel. Although I really enjoyed reading this, it did take me a while to get through, because its physical size makes it awkward to hold and the length was intimidating.

It was well worth the time it took me to read it, though! I was happy to see that there are plenty of sapphic stories included: in fact, at least 10 of the 25 stories has a women-loving-women main character. Although this collection is sci fi and fantasy, and trans people in general, there’s definitely a stronger presence of science fiction and trans women.

As always in an anthology, some of these were bigger hits than others, but even the stories I didn’t personally enjoy I could see other people loving. (Like “It’s Called Fashion,” which I found difficult to follow, but I can see other readers really clicking with.) The stories vary a lot in their scope and premise. Some build a complex cyberpunk world in 20 pages, while others imagine a world only slightly different than ours. One story follows someone in space quietly ruminating about microaggressions, while another follows a woman whose brain-eating amoeba communicates through dreams and grows via orgasms.

A few stories I found so fascinating that I could easily write papers about them: “Satan, Are You There? It’s Me, Laura.” by Aesling Fae attempts to reclaim Satan as a trans woman, and as the protector of trans women. Outside of context, the devil and a trans woman sounds offensive, but Fae makes it an empowering thesis. Like Carmilla the series takes the monstrous lesbian and turns her into a hero, this story does the same thing with the devil.

The other story that really made me think was “Rent, Don’t Sell” by Calvin Gimpelevich. In this world, the technology for body-swapping had been made viable, but under capitalism, it’s used for things like: swapping your body with a trainer’s so they can do your exercise for you, hiring someone to detox for you, and, of course, having sex while inhabiting someone else’s body. This has a lot of interesting discussions about identity. The side character is a trans women who swapped bodies with a trans guy, but now regrets it and wants to transition with her own body, so she’s suing to try to get it back.

Some of my other favorites were “What Cheer” by RJ Edwards, where the main character spends a couple days with her alien close, and learns appreciation for herself and her life; “After the Big One” by Cooper Lee Bombardier, where a motley crew of queer argue about discourse and privilege, but have to come together to survive disaster; and “Gamers” by Imogen Binnie, which is about Zelda and time travel and being in an unhealthy relationship with a dependent girlfriend.

I do want to mention some serious trigger warnings for transphobia, transmisogyny, violence, gore, and rape in various stories. Specifically, the one story I had a problem with is “Delicate Bodies” by Bridget Liang, in which the main character is a zombie who rapes and then kills her ex-boyfriends/crushes. I get the zombie revenge fantasy, but I was getting nauseated reading about her brutally raping multiple people, and the text seems to suggest that they deserve it. They may have been jerks, but they didn’t do anything comparable. It soured the collection some for me. I also want to mention a trigger warning for suicide in “Visions” (though that’s not one of the sapphic stories).

I highly recommend this collection to just about everyone. It’s ambitious and necessary and has some fantastic stories. (And that sapphic story abundance doesn’t hurt!)