Creating Utopia in Love After the End edited by Joshua Whitehead

“Tomorrow will be kinder,” I whisper as I am swept into the rushing river of my dreams. 

—”The Ark of the Turtle’s Back” by jaye simpson 

Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead, is a follow up to the anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time. These nine stories offer visions of the future that showcase hope and resilience in a ruined world.

Regarding the decision to focus on utopia rather than dystopia, Joshua Whitehead describes it as “…an important political shift in thinking about the temporalities of Two-Spirited, queer, trans, and non-binary Indigenous ways of being. For, as we know, we have already survived the apocalypse—this, right here, right now, is a dystopian present. What better way to imagine survivability than to think about how we may flourish into being joyously animated rather than merely alive?”

In these stories, topics often treated as theoretical in post-apocalyptic fiction are highlighted as realities of Indigenous people. For example, in “History of the New World,” Adam Garnet Jones shows a family being given the “opportunity” to move to another planet. As the protagonist is well aware, she is being asked to leave her ancestral home in order to colonize a planet that has been recently confirmed to have intelligent life—and does not trust her government’s plans for this “new” world and its inhabitants. Her wife, who is a white woman, brushes aside these concerns, insisting that leaving is the best thing for their young daughter. The fissure this creates in their family shows how even in the future, history cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, in “The Ark of the Turtle’s Back,” jaye simpson takes a different tack with the concept of humans moving to another planet, imagining a future in which a select group of people plan to form a healthy and mutual relationship with their new, uninhabited home. 

Not every story grapples with the fate of humanity. In “Eloise” by David A. Robertson, virtual reality allows people to live out whole lifetimes in the span of a few minutes. A young woman who has been ghosted grapples with what another woman is willing to do rather than return her calls. I liked how this story showed that even in a future where technology creates so many grand opportunities for both good and ill, people are still dealing with something as personal as rejection.

As a fan of Darcie Little Badger’s writing, I also enjoyed “Story for a Bottle,” in which a girl is abducted under mysterious circumstances and writes a letter to her sibling. While she tries to escape, she uncovers the secrets of a floating city called New America. This story’s suspense and worldbuilding kept me intrigued through the end. Another story that I found intriguing both in its premise and how it is told is “Seed Children” by Mari Kurisato, which opens with its cyborg protagonist dramatically narrating her situation while bleeding out.

Overall, the stories differ in style as well as apparent audience, with some leaning more YA and some more adult. Though readers may thus end up favoring some stories over others, this anthology has a particularly solid thematic through line that makes it feel like more than the sum of its parts. The protagonists’ worlds have been stolen from them, and they must seek out space to heal and start anew. These characters are searching for security, connection, and home. If any of this resonates with you, I recommend this anthology, which also contains the works of Nathan Adler, Gabriel Castilloux Calderón, Kai Minosh Pyle, and Nazbah Tom.

Though these content warnings aren’t comprehensive, be aware that this anthology contains themes of climate change, colonialism, violence including state violence, bigotry including anti-Indigenous racism, children in peril, and an allegory for conversion therapy. 

Til reviews The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell by Kate Brauning

the cover of The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell

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This is the sort of review best begun with a caveat that I intend no ill will toward those who enjoyed the book… but maybe they’ll want to give it a miss, because I really do not like this book. In fact, I found the reading experience so thoroughly a misery that I resent myself for sticking with it—and I have a bit of resentment left over for whoever approved that misleading summary.

Ostensibly, The Ballad of Dinah Caldwell is a futuristic revenge story in which a girl seeks justice for her deceased family. That does happen—but summarizing it this way is like describing Cinderella as the story of a girl who needs new shoes. Both are technically accurate descriptions of stories focused on a girl’s romance with her prince charming. That’s not inherently a bad thing, loads of people enjoy Cinderella, but it’s dishonest.

And I don’t like Cinderella.

Or this.

I chose this book because I love a morally grey badass heroine and I was excited to see a main character from the Ozarks. There are too few dynamic country girls leading YA adventures. Learning that said country girl was pansexual was a pleasant surprise, and as I continued reading, I even looked forward to reviewing this for the Lesbrary—positively. The villain, Gabriel Gates, felt appropriate to the heroine, too: not a President or a world dictator, just a capitalist baron ruling a few counties. He was a big enough bad to matter, but a small enough one that a girl might take him down.

Quickly, the shine came off. Dinah wasn’t a badass at all. This could have worked, too, but it only served to get to what seemed like the point of the story: Dinah’s romance with Johnny. Johnny is your stereotypical dreamboat love interest. He lives in a cave—but it’s a nice cave, and he has traplines so he never goes hungry and a hot spring for warm baths; he’s a musician and luthier; he’s a talented, ethical bootlegger; he’s got connections everywhere and inexplicable devotion to Dinah. Johnny is the real main character. The most emotional conflict even occurs when his little brother is taken in by Gates and begins parroting his rhetoric. It’s not a particularly well-executed conflict; I found it predictable, probably because the book focuses (inexplicably) on Dinah.

This goes back to my Cinderella complaint. The summary only mentions Johnny in the third paragraph, so I expected some romance. I did not expect the entire plot to put itself on hold for what felt like at least half the page count. It quickly became clear that the setting and plot served the romance, at massive detriment, because the plot still tries to happen. The result is a conflict that wants to be complex but instead is rushed, a denouement that someone forgot to write, and a romance that I didn’t want to read, all spearheaded by a character who thinks her grief entitles her to other people’s lives.

Yeah. People die in Dinah’s little revolution, and she doesn’t really seem to care, and nor does the narrative. It protects the characters it deems worthy—the ones who merit page time. In a way, I respect this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a sweeter-than-bitter ending. When paired with the amount of time spent on the romance, though, it begins to seem like the author really didn’t want to write the plot.

A few positives, to end on. The sex scene was good. It was awkward and required communication, that set a good example. I appreciated the worldbuilding—things like advanced tech being available only if people have resources to afford it.

Finally, I liked the metaphor of the pears. Near the beginning of the book, Dinah looks at three buckets of pears traded to her family for access to their well. Angry, she kicks over one of the buckets. She immediately regrets this and gathers up most of the pears, but so much happens that she misses one. There’s no closure on those pears—not once her mother and brother die, kicking off the plot—except that one outlasts the rest, crushed in the road, broken but still present. And had Dinah actually been a single thing like that pear, had she ended the book broken or even scarred instead of on a happy road to everything, it would’ve been a really strong metaphor.

Trigger warnings: animal death, child death

Mary reviews Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and trying to figure out what it will look like. Will this blow over in a couple of months and will things steadily return to normal? Or is the future forever changed and doomed? I guess it’s nice to think that even if it is the worst-case scenario we’re heading towards, there’s still hope for the LGBTQ+ community.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey takes place in a future southwest where society is under the control of a fascist, religious, and patriarchal regime. The protagonist, Esther watches her best friend and lover Beatriz hang for deviant behavior and having “unapproved materials”. She runs away in the back a wagon owned by a couple of librarians, planning to join their group and somehow find a way to get rid of what she believes is a horrible part of her. She wants to become what the posters proclaim them to be, upright women.

What she instead finds is an underground LGBTQ+ community, bandits, violence, many secrets, and women that are leagues better than what the posters described.

Esther is a very real character in that she has a lot of issues and internal confusion to work through. It was interesting getting to see a character work through that in real time with the story and see her gradually overcome with it the help of people around her.

The characters were just as real. There was Bet and Leda, the couple’s whose wagon she initially snuck onto. Bet is gruff and tough, but has a heart of gold and genuinely cares for everyone in her crew. Leda is just as tough, but also shows more of her compassion externally than her partner. Finally, there’s Cye, who goes by they, is an apprentice to Bet, and doesn’t initially like Esther too much, but the two of them eventually grow to like each other and more.

The world building was wonderful. Every inch of struggle that would come with such a harsh environment is included here, no short cuts taken. This really is a post-apocalyptic future where our current comforts are not to be found. The author clearly did a lot of research and this comes through beautifully.

My one complaint is that the plot felt a bit rushed. There were a few beats and character developments that could have taken more time and build up. The characters, concept, and world building is great, and I just wish the plot had taken the time to give them to time they needed.

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed this, and if you’re looking for a western story with adventure and romance, this is just for you

Danika reviews All Good Children by Dayna Ingram

all good children

This book is a trip. All Good Children is set in a post-apocalyptic world where The Over–huge, mythological bird creatures–have conquered the human race. Life goes on almost as usual, except that a good percentage of children are taken by the The Over for food and reproduction. Some are selected at birth, while others are taken in their teen years. Jordan has just reached the age where selection is made, and her ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) makes her a prime candidate for sent to one of The Over’s “summer camps”, where they decide unlucky teens’ fates.

All Good Children is told in alternating points of view, giving the perspectives of Jordan; her mother, June; and the Liaison between Jordan and The Over, Heaven Omalis. Each of these perspectives fit together neatly, showing the ways that individuals fight and become complicit in a system where they have lost any sense of power or control. Jordan is a fascinating character to see in this situation, because she has no hesitation in making a stand against The Over, even when it severely compromises her safety, because she has no patience for authority. Omalis’s POV offers a glimpse into what it’s like to side with the enemy, and how someone could choose to partner up with ruthless overlords. At first I chafed against reading her chapters, because I couldn’t understand how anyone could let themselves be used in that way, but as I read on, that became the most compelling element of the story. June bridges the gap between Jordan and Omalis. She loathes the system and The Over, but she participates in separating parents from their children in order to give them over as food or worse. It becomes more difficult to judge Omalis for her method of survival, when June has chosen a similar, though less extreme path.

I was surprised at first to find that Omalis was the main queer character–I had pegged Jordan as a swaggering queer girl–and at first rankled at the villain of the piece being queer, but I shouldn’t have doubted Dayna Ingram. Omalis is a complex character even when you hate her, and the relationship she has with Marla is intriguing. (Luckily, I didn’t need to pick, because Jordan’s swagger is also of the queer variety!)

This is a short read–under 200 pages–but it manages to convey this world and an engaging plot without seeming rushed. Dayna Ingram has a gift for imagining rich and disturbing worlds. Although The Over are fantastical, the rest of the world seems brutally realistic. I was hooked from the first fire-and-brimstone chapter, and was kept clinging on until the very last page. Eat Your Heart Out is one of my favourite books (who can resist lesbians and zombies?), and All Good Children definitely lives up to those expectations. Disturbing and enthralling, All Good Children is the queer post-apocalyptic YA we’ve been waiting for.

Laura reviews “Thicker Than Blood” by Avery Vanderlyle

Publisher’s Blurb:

When the Nanotech Plague began killing off the large population of America using the tiny, implanted robots, the so-called “normals” took it upon themselves to wipe out the rest to prevent the spread. Now, fourteen years later, performer Ayana is in a dangerous position. Her nanotechnology implants are impossible to hide, having been tattooed onto her skin. Worse, the nanobots in her brother James are malfunctioning and slowly killing him. The pair of them, along with Ayana’s lover Yan, are slowly making their way across the fractured country, hoping to find a sanctuary and a cure.

David was only five when his parents died in the Plague. It wasn’t until he was grown that he realized that he’d been born with his own ‘bots, passed down from mother to child. Now, his second generation nanobots may be James’ salvation, if only Ayana and Yan can convince him that the nanobots aren’t a curse or a disease, but the key to rebuilding their ruined society.


Some thoughts:

  1. For an 11,000 word short story, there’s an awful lot of exposition. I mean, there’s definitely a need for explanation when the setting is… what it is. But this format really struggled to accommodate it all. A little breathing room would have been nice.
  2. That said, I wasn’t exactly choking it down. I found the premise really interesting. If Vanderlyle wrote another piece set in this world, I’d probably pick it up.
  3. It totally took me by surprise when the characters started boning. Storm Moon Press is apparently an erotic fiction publisher — and I’ve read another story of theirs, so I probably should have known that coming in. But, uh, yeah. This is erotica.
  4. Regarding the sex scenes: there was a lot of shimmying. I wasn’t crazy about it, but… I guess it could have been worse? There’s no lesbian sex, although there are two women in a relationship together. There are explicit M/F and M/M scenes.
  5. What actually happens in this story is ridiculous. You think it’s going to be mediocre erotica, and then at the end… Well, it’s one of those things where it’s so bad, it comes back around again and is brilliant. And hilarious. On this basis (and this basis alone), I recommend it.


“Thicker Than Blood” by Avery Vanderlyle is available for $1.99 in eBook format.