Space Gaze 10: LGBT (let's get Barbie tickets)

Space Gaze 10 banner art

Is Barbie out yet? No. Is that going to stop us absolutely reveling in the complete and utter camp it is sure to bring? Absolutely not. It has been a while since we've been able to rec you all a substantial list of queer sci-fi and fantasy, but what better time to break our fast than the blessed convergence of Pride month and the (soon-to-be) release of live action Barbie?

This Barbie is - saying there is none. 

If you haven’t checked out Space Gaze before, take a look at our previous installments in the drop down below: 

Previous Installments
Space Gaze 1
Space Gaze 2: Electric Boogaloo
Space Gaze 3: Failure to Launch
Space Gaze 4: Roll Initiative
Space Gaze 5: Transcendent
Space Gaze 6: All You Need is Love
Space Gaze 7: March Madness
Space Gaze 8: Let's Get Graphic
Space Gaze 9: Take a Chance on Me




This Barbie is not "just Ken"
Galaxy: The Prettiest Star cover art

Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod & Jess Taylor [2022]

Rin: Trans allegories! I love how Taylor may be an alien, but her story is very much still a trans story: forced to present as a boy for her own safety and suffering for it, Taylor just wants to be able to be herself. Plus her community’s reaction when she “transitions” is heartbreaking and very true to what many trans people (especially trans women) face when they come out. The art in this graphic novel is saturated and luscious, and I kept finding myself returning to panels of Taylor in her true form over and over again. The artist captured her joy and vibrancy so beautifully that it really made the story for me. 

On another note, it took me several Superman references to realize that this was set in the DC universe, which is slightly embarrassing. But you don’t need to know anything about the current state of DC works in order to enjoy this wonderful, heartwarming story and its beautiful art. 4.5/5 stars

Rae: Such. Good. Artwork. The colors and art style in this novel are absolutely gorgeous. I don't even need to read the words, I could just look at all the fantastic character designs and clothing choices and be perfectly happy. That said though, the story underpinning all the spectacular design choices was a bit on the simplistic side for my taste. While the allegory itself is well handled and poignant, I couldn't help wishing there was a little more focus on the world outside of Taylor's coming of age story. Surprising no one, my final judgement for Galaxy (like for most books) is that there could have been more aliens. It would be a great pick for anyone interested in a cool, vibrant art style or solid coming of age narrative, but will probably come across as a bit light for readers more interested in substantial plot developments. 3/5 stars from me. 

Final: 3.75/5 stars


This Barbie is going to find you
Hide cover art

Hide by Kiersten White [2022]

Rae: Yes yes yes yes I love this book! It's creepy. It's suspenseful. It's got adventure and action and a fantastic cast of characters. And the relationships between those characters (who ((mostly)) have an astounding amount of depth given the novel's 'and then there were none' structure) are the highlight of the novel. AKA, that found family hits so so SO good. This is a book that's prime for a blockbuster movie adaptation, and if the universe hears my plea and it somehow happens I will drag everyone I know to go see it at least three times. It's fun, it's scary, you root for the heroes, hate the villains, and the social commentary is blistering. What more could you want in your horror? 5/5 stars

Rin: I didn’t know what to expect going into this, except that it’s been classified as a horror book and Rae reassured me that it wouldn’t be too scary (because I am a giant wimp). And they were right! It wasn’t too scary! But it had that great creeping feeling of being hunted and not knowing what’s hunting you, without scaring me so badly that I couldn’t sleep at night. I really liked the social commentary of this book, because it was very clear as to what it was saying about our society without being too heavy handed (though others might feel differently about that). Plus, I really love to see characters who have suffered so much throughout their lives start to find peace with one another. That’s the good stuff right there. 4/5 stars

Final: 4.5/5 stars


This Barbie could really use a hug
A Taste of Gold and Iron cover art

A Taste of Gold & Iron by Alexandra Rowland [2022]

Rin: Ah, the return of my beloved friend, the romantasy. I was so excited about this book that I requested (and received) an Advanced Reader’s Copy several months before the book actually released. And it was worth it! The worldbuilding is lush and gorgeous, the dynamic between Kadou and Evemer is so spot on, and the plot is mostly a vehicle for the romance, which is just how I like my love stories (sorry Rae, I know you don’t). This is very much in line with some of the other romantasies/sci-fi romances we’ve read before, namely Winter’s Orbit, with the added bonus of Kadou and Evemer very much reminding me of Maia and Deret Beshelar from one of my favorite books, The Goblin Emperor (that is, if Maia and Beshelar ended up falling in love). This one wasn’t for Rae, but it was very much up my alley. 5/5 stars

Rae: Ah, one of my least favorite sub-genres, the romantasy. (Sorry, Rin. Couldn't resist the parallel). All jokes aside, this isn't a bad book. Although I personally could have done with a less of the standard Hallmark tropes (oh no, they don't like each other at first! Will they ever get over this misunderstanding and get along??), I do recognize that they were well done and will appeal to a lot of readers. For all the other grumpy anti-romantics like me, there's still plenty to recommend this book. Rowland sets up a unique and inventive magic system and packs in plenty of mystery and political intrigue on top. Add a full slate of badass characters and while this isn't my favorite book in the list, it's still worth a read. 3.5/5 stars

Final: 4.25 stars


This Barbie is definitely not a werewolf.
Blackwater cover art

Blackwater by Jeannette Arroyo & Ren Graham [2022]

Rae: I hate to say it, but I'm pretty meh about this one. It's got a lot of elements I like in a book, a spooky atmosphere, werewolves, a mystery to solve, and yet it never quite came together for me. I think the main issue is that I found both of our main characters.... slightly irritating. Neither of them are terrible or anything, but through pretty much the whole book I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and yell 'just stop being so mean to each other!'. On top of that, the plot was a little scattered, and may have been better served if the author had a tighter focus and saved some elements for sequels. Ultimately not a bad book per se, but certainly forgettable. 2/5 stars

Rin: Blackwater is a solid YA graphic novel. The art style matches the mood of the story and the town, but I’ve always had a personal preference for full-color rather than monochromatic illustrations. It gets extra points for having a trans character and not having that be a major point of conflict or tension in the narrative—it gets mentioned once, nobody makes a big deal, everyone moves on with the story. I’d love to see more trans characters treated that way in fiction. Other than that, there’s nothing really special about this book. Like I said, it’s a solid story, but not groundbreaking or something that’ll stick in my mind for a long time after reading it. 3/5 stars

Final: 2.5/5 stars


This Ken is going to save the world
Magical Boy cover art

Magical Boy: Volumes 1 & 2 by The Kao [2022]

Rin: This was so cute!! I love to see the intersection of the magical girl genre with a realistic depiction of being young and trans and struggling to find your place in the world. Max is a super relatable character and I love seeing him find his own way to embrace the magical girl talents that run through his bloodline (plus, the phrase magical boy has a nice ring). The art is super cute, blending manga and western comic traits, and I love how much hope saturates the whole story. I don’t often cry at books either, but the final pages of the second volume definitely made me tear up. It’s a breath of fresh air to see transmasc stories told, honestly and authentically, and to see them in my favorite genre is just icing on the cake. 5/5 stars 

Rae: What happens when you're prophesied to become the next incarnation in a long line of evil defeating, world defending magical girls but you're decidedly NOT a girl? You grab some friends, try to pretend you're not wearing a poofy dress, and start swinging away with your magical.... staff? wand? Whatever it is it really doesn't need to be that sparkly does it? Max is an incredibly likeable and relatable main character for this series, and following along as he deals with high school, coming out to his parents, a new crush and, oh yeah, developing stubbornly feminine magical powers to kill world dominating evil bugs with, is a true joy. Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the magical girl genre is going to have a ton of fun with this duology. It keeps some of the best tropes of the genre, turns some others on their head, and tops it off with an incredibly colorful and energetic art style. 4/5 stars

Final: 4.5/5 stars


This Barbie is going to Destroy the world
A Deadly Education cover art

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik [2020]

Rae: I've been a huge Naomi Novik fan ever since her Temeraire series came out almost 20 years ago now. She has a fantastic tendency to introduce what I call sleeper characters. Characters who you think are perfectly normal, standard characters for whatever sub-genre she's writing in and then BAM. They do something absolutely irrational and yet so very them that you find yourself falling head over heels. Now El, the protagonist of A Deadly Education, starts out completely feral and enraged at the entire world, so it's actually more of a surprise when she does something sensible, but my point stands. Novik's characters are complex, utterly charming, and a blast to follow along with. I was thrilled when I saw she was dipping her toe into the magical school genre, and she absolutely did not disappoint. It's hard to go into too much detail for this one plot-wise without spoiling so I'll leave it at this: It's queer-inclusive Harry Potter if Hogwarts was trying to kill you and the 'chosen one' absolutely did not have time for any of that destiny nonsense. Mostly because, as mentioned, Hogwarts is trying to kill her and that sort of thing will take up a lot of your attention. The series starts out good, and it gets better. Give this one a shot. You'll be glad you did. 5/5 stars

Rin: I had no idea what I was getting into when Rae told me I should read this book; I’ve never read anything by Naomi Novik before, and I was wildly unprepared for how hard her books would hit me. Despite being treated as a monster for most of her life, and despite hating pretty much everyone she has to interact with, El is, at her core, a remarkably kind person who desperately wants to do the right thing. She spends most of this first book learning to 1) let people care about her and 2) believing that they do, in fact, care for her simply because of who she is and not what she can do for them. Plus, the worldbuilding is good enough to make me go feral every time I think about it for too long. The second book, The Last Graduate, is probably my favorite of the series, but we couldn’t get there without A Deadly Education, and it does its job incredibly well. 5/5 stars

Final: 5/5 stars


This Barbie is one half of a dead alien
Ocean's Echo cover art

Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell [2022]

Rin: We read and reviewed Everina Maxwell’s first book, Winter’s Orbit, way back in Space Gaze 4: Roll Initiative. And Ocean’s Echo is set in the same universe, which I think is going to eventually lead into some very fun crossover potential between the characters of the two books. 

I loved the main characters, Tennal and Surit, even more than the main characters in the first book. Surit, in particular, hits that same niche for me that Deret Beshelar and Evemer (as mentioned above) do (I don’t have a fictional type, you have a fictional type). That being said, the plot of this one, while stronger than Winter’s Orbit, didn’t hit the mark for me in the same way. All in all, for Surit alone, I’d still give this one a solid 4/5 stars

Rae: This is going to sound really harsh, and I feel a bit bad for saying it like this because it's not a bad book, but I can't think of any other way so. The premise of this one kinda grossed me out. A little. The mind control, military conscription, and non-consensual brain melding all added together to give me the ick vibes. I would like to be clear though that the book 100% introduces these elements in a negative light. The characters know they're bad, the author knows they're bad, the reader knows they're bad, there's absolutely no non-consensual mind-control apologists here. But the fact that they were elements in a romantic relationship at all gave me some bad feels at the beginning, no matter how well the characters handled the power imbalance given the circumstances. And they do handle them well. Both Tennal and Surit, at different times in the book, find themselves holding incredible power over the other, and they bend over backwards ensuring they don't take advantage of that fact. Buuuuuuuut. Add the ick factor to the fact that I don't really care for romantic books to begin with.... and I can't say I loved this one. Even though Tennal is my absolute favorite type of character; an absolute rabid trash fire of a human being. If I could steal him and Surit out of this universe and drop them in another I think I would have had a blast with their dynamic. Unfortunately, instead I'm going to end this mess of a review the way I do with most romance books. If you like romance with a dash of sci-fi, you'll probably like this. If you like sci-fi with a dash of romance, maybe not so much. 3/5 stars. 

Final: 3.5/5 stars


Some Desperate Glory Barbie Icon
Some Desperate Glory cover art

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh [2023]

Rae: I started out not liking this book at all because the protagonist, Kyr, is an absolutely terrible human being. Reading from her perspective made me want to tear my hair out and, if it weren't for Rin encouraging me to keep going, I probably would have abandoned this book 10 pages in. I am so so SO very glad I didn't though. Yes, Kyr starts this book as truly awful person. But Some Desperate Glory is a book about trauma, desperation, and the grinding terrible need to put one foot in front of the other even after your entire world has been ripped from underneath you. Tesh's unflinching honesty about the ways in which hate and fanaticism poison everyone involved, particularly children, is both necessary and timely. And she somehow does it in a book that, in the end, is hopeful about humanity, our ability to come together, and our ability to rise above. I may have started out not caring for this book, but by the end I was utterly in love. 4.5/5 stars

Rin: This book is a doozy. But I loved it from the beginning, even when Kyr was awful, because I could see why she was awful and I was desperately hoping that things would get better for her. This is also definitely a polarizing book; reviews from both readers and other sci-fi authors are either all for it or completely against it, and I can see it from both points of view. I would strongly recommend reading the content warnings—and take them seriously—before deciding if this book is for you.

But I can say with absolute certainty that this book was for me. Kyr had so many obstacles to overcome to become a better person, to the point where it often seemed like she'd never manage it, but despite everything, she did. I think that's a really powerful message for the world today, and for all of that, I'll give it 5/5 stars.

Final: 4.75/5 stars

Content Warnings for Some Desperate Glory

SOME DESPERATE GLORY contains sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist & ableist attitudes, sexual assault including discussion of forced pregnancy, violence, child abuse, radicalisation as child abuse, militarized cults, genocide, suicidal ideation, and suicide.



This Barbie is not a villain. Probably
The Meister of Decimen City cover art

The Meister of Decimen City by Brenna Raney [2023]

Rin: This book has a lot to say—and says it very well—for a sort of campy book about superheroes, super-villians, and super-genius dinosaurs. It was a fun romp through an alternate, powered version of the world that doesn't take itself too seriously, but also doesn't pull its punches. Rex was a really fun character to follow, even if it was slightly maddening at times to watch her (unintentionally) sabotage herself. And, as will come to no surprise to anyone whose read my reviews and reads the book, I absolutely love Lewis. My favorite part of the book—other than the dinosaurs, of course—was the blatant analogy of Rex's dislike for cheese to the queer experience, particularly the asexual experience. Seriously, the sentence "maybe you just haven't found the right cheese yet" was uttered by a supposedly well-meaning hero. Ms. Raney was pulling absolutely no punches there. Overall, this was an amusing and quick read that was still thought provoking enough to keep me engaged for the whole story. 4/5 stars

Rae: Fun fun fun, this book is an absolute blast from start to finish. Raney clearly adores comic books, and is having the time of her life (lovingly) poking fun at all the various tropes and clichés they rely on. Following along with Rex, our clueless super-genius protagonist (and no that's not an inadvertent oxymoron, she is in fact both), is a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish. Particularly once the dinosaurs get involved. If I have the very slightest criticism, it is only that the book could have used just a smidge tightening up in some places. Maybe like, 5% could have been cut down. That being said though, the rest of the novel is definitely worth the slight padding. And let's be honest, is it really a comic book universe if there's not a little bit of plot meandering? Overall this book is  kind, it's fun, and it has a lot to say about understanding and forgiveness. 4.5/5 stars

Final: 4.25/5 stars


By Rin on June 23, 2023