Space Gaze 6: All You Need is Love

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Space Gaze 6: All You Need is Love banner

Welcome back, friends. We're here (again), we're queer (as always), and we have a list of LGBTQIA+ sci-fi and fantasy just for you. In honor of Valentines Day we're focusing on love this time around, so whether you're looking for some steamy romance, some not-so-steamy queer platonic romance, or some NON-romantic fiction (look sometimes the last thing you want around Valentines Day is more romance. We get it, man.), we've got what you need. So scroll down to your favorite type of love (even if that's non-love) and let's get this show on the road! 

And, in the spirit of Space Gaze—though too late for our previous, more thematically appropriate trans round-up—we have a name change! Naturally I (Rin, previously M[redacted]) had to make things confusing and choose a name with the same first initial as Rachael, so you'll be seeing us as "Rae & Rin" from now on!

 

If you haven’t checked out Space Gaze before, take a look at our previous installments here: Space Gaze  —  Space Gaze 2: Electric Boogaloo  —  Space Gaze 3: Failure to Launch  —  Space Gaze 4: Roll Initiative  —  Space Gaze 5: Transcendent

 

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Romantic Love (we can't use emojis, but pretend there's a kissy face one here)

 

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A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske [2021]

Rae: We're jumping right out of the gate with some classic romance right here. As readers of previous Space Gaze blogs may be aware, I am not typically a fan of books where falling in love is a significant portion of the plot. Give me an established romance so we can focus on the magic or aliens instead please. That being said, the mystery and world building in A Marvellous Light was so inventive and detailed it kept me invested throughout the more mushy bits of the book. In addition, Robin is exactly my type of main character (aka: himbo. My man here is an act first, maybe think later type of dude and I love him for it), and following along as he stumbled his way through magic and politics waaaay outside his comfort level was pretty great. Fans of romance will absolutely adore A Marvellous Light, and fans of fantasy and adventure will find plenty of action, suspense, and laughs to draw them in as well. 4/5 stars. 

Rin: Nobody does pining like the Victorians. Nobody. And nothing gets me quite like two people who think that they're so fundamentally different being thrown together by circumstances outside of their control and having to learn to work together. And unlike Rachael, I love reading about people falling in love. I spent the first 25% of the book salivating over the potential for Traumatic Backstories(tm) and the rest of the book feeling vindicated. This is probably the steamiest book we've ever recommended here on Space Gaze, but even if you're not a fan of foreground romance, this book is worth a shot because the magic was just that interesting. 4/5 stars

Final score: 4/5 stars

 

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White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton [2020]

Rin: Hm. Okay. How to articulate my thoughts. I liked White Trash Warlock. It was just predictable enough that I could see some of the ~twists~ coming and feel good about how incredibly smart I am (yes, that is sarcasm), but urban fantasy is far enough outside of my normal wheelhouse that it didn’t feel too formulaic. And I really liked Adam, gently sad man that he is (gotta stay on brand, after all). I loved seeing Adam, as a gay man, coming to terms with having gentleness in his life and not having to hide his attraction to another man. But, that last chapter or two… I was disappointed. I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel, but I’m also not against the idea. Especially if Adam can get a happily ever after. 3.5/5 stars

Rae: Let's address the elephant in the room first. The name's bad. It's real bad. I have a variety of feelings about the phrase 'white trash', and none of them are good. That being said, I really appreciate Slayton's desire to write a fantasy novel (a gay fantasy novel at that) from the perspective of a character who grew up in a poor, rural community. You won't find many books that fit in the center of a queer/fantasy/trailer park Venn diagram, so I will put aside my feelings about the name in order to enjoy the content. And, like Rin, I do love Adam. Kind, sweet, wounded man that he is, it's impossible not to root for him pretty much immediately. Now I have read the sequel, Trailer Park Trickster, and while I cannot promise a 'happy ever after', I do very much appreciate the direction the series is taking. These books aren't the most well written of our list, but they are a lot of fun and the characters are 10/10. 3.5/5 stars. 

Final score: 3.5/5 stars

 

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Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett [2019]

Rae: Miranda in Milan is a truly lovely and magical novella set in the universe of Shakespeare's The Tempest. It follows Miranda, Prospero's daughter, as she attempts to fit in to the world of Milanese high society after the events of the play. Duckett does an excellent job of breathing life into Miranda's character, giving her much needed personality and agency, all while staying true to Shakespeare's propensity for wild plot twists and narrative coincidence. The tone of the book is lyrical and dreamy despite the mysteries and intrigues that abound, and I was absolutely swept up in Miranda's journey of self-discovery. Fans of Shakespeare or Shakespeare re-interpretations are definitely going to want to give this one a shot. 4.5/5 stars. 

Rin: The most important thing to know going into this book is that it's a continuation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. I did not know this going in, so I had to pause after about a chapter and read the Sparknotes' summary of the play so I could understand what was going on. After that, though, Miranda in Milan was a gorgeous, lyrical story that kept me on the edge of my seat. Miranda is learning an entirely new world and its treacheries, though not without missteps of her own, and the magic that soaks into Milan is intoxicating. I'm not sure this is my favorite book we've ever read, but it was atmospheric and enchanting, so it was worth the time. 4/5 stars

Final score: 4.25/5 stars

 

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Queer Platonic Love (shout out to my fellow space aces) 

 

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    Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh [2021] 

    Rin: Okay if you’re anything like me and secondhand embarrassment makes you break out in hives, this book is a little dicey in places. But Thirsty Mermaids is the story of a pod of merfolk who turns themselves human without knowing how to turn themselves back, and yes, it’s just as good as it sounds. Better, even. Tooth and Eez and Pearl are goofy and actually really stupid at times, but we love them for it. I’ve never seen a graphic novel with such diverse body shapes and sizes before, and it’s refreshing. And to top it all off, I found myself giggling madly throughout most of the book because some of those panels are golden. Give it a go, you won’t regret it. 5/5

    Rae: I want to live in this world. I want to take a magic potion and turn into a mermaid so I can join Tooth, Eez, and Pearl on their completely unnecessary, ridiculous, drunken adventures. Why is this not my life? Someone give me a cocktail and let's GO! Thirsty Mermaids is pure joy, with fantastic artwork, oh-so-very lovable characters, and plenty of comedy gold to go around. To top it all off, themes of love, acceptance, and support positively shine through the narrative. Beautiful artwork, beautiful people, beautiful world. Give yourself a pick me up and read this book. 5/5 very drunk stars. 

    Final score: 5/5 stars

     

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    Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir [2020]

    Rae: Readers of previous space gaze may recognize Tamsyn Muir's name from her excellent Locked Tomb series (Gideon the Ninth & Harrow the Ninth). If so, you might be looking at the title and cover of this princess book and mentally comparing it to the skull covered, metal and goth glory of The Locked Tomb and coming up with a ??? That, my friends, is a trap. Floralinda is every bit as metal as Gideon or Harrow, it's just hidden under many many layers or proper princess behavior. Which is not to say Floralinda is anything like the Locked Tomb series (except violent. They are both most definitely violent). It's a strange book, one that takes a single look at princess and fairy tale stereotypes and decides to come after them with a baseball bat. A baseball bat with nails in it. This book is not going to be for everyone, but I had an absolute blast with it. So if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, go ahead and take a forty-flight journey of self-discovery and murder with Floralinda. 4.5/5 stars

    Rin: Rachael is right; Floralinda is nothing like The Locked Tomb. But oh, it's wonderful anyway. Basically: Floralinda gets locked in a tower, because that's what meant to happen to princesses. She tries to wait to be rescued, but there just aren't as many knights in the game as there used to be, and none of them can make it past the first floor, let alone the fortieth. So, quite by accident (at first), Floralinda sets about saving herself, instead. She isn't my favorite character, I'll be honest, because there are times when she just doesn't... grow. But this is a fun, lighthearted read that turns a lot of fairytale tropes on their head, so it's worth the read for me. 4.5/5 stars

    Final score: 4.5/5 stars

     

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    Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

    Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie [2013]

    Rin: A lot of people compare Ancillary Justice with Murderbot (All Systems Red), who you might have noticed by now is my absolute favorite. Despite that, it’s taken me this long to read it and boy do I regret it, because this is my type of book. Sure, there are some similarities between Breq and our beloved Murderbot, but both these series are their own unique entities and Breq and Murderbot are also pretty different (for instance, Murderbot cares far less about politics than Breq does, and I don’t blame it. Trying to wrap my brain around some parts of this book was delightfully painful). But I really, really love Breq in ways I didn’t expect going into this book, and I love so many of the supporting characters (but no names, for fear of spoilers). I already have the second book checked out and am ready to dive right in, but at the same time I want to sit in the feeling Ancillary Justice left me with for a while longer, which is just about the highest praise I can offer a book. 5/5 stars

    Oh, and since this is Space Gaze after all, I do feel like I should comment on the queerness of the text, since it isn’t readily apparent from what I’ve already said. Leckie turns language on its head and makes you really think about pronouns and what we assume of people; in the Radchaai language, there are no gendered pronouns and (from what we’re left to guess at from Breq’s limited point of view), not much gender either. It’s not so in other parts of the galaxy, and we’re confronted by that every time Breq uses the default pronouns—which Leckie elected to have as she/her instead of he/him or even they/them—or tries to guess at someone’s gender/pronouns and gets it wrong. I dunno, I just really vibe with it.

    Rae: This is the book Rin and I disagree with most on this list (now it did win a bunch of awards so my opinion is probably the one that's wrong lol). I struggled with Ancillary Justice a bit. There's A LOT going right from page one, and at times I felt like I was losing the plot or overlooking important elements. I also lost some motivation after An Event took my favorite character out of commission. That being said, there is plenty to recommend this book. The universe building is both expansive and incredibly impressive. I could read an entire book about Breq traveling to different worlds and exploring their cultures and music. No plot, no stakes, just vacation time with Breq and friends. I also adored the relationship between Breq and Awn, and could have read an entire series focused on that as well. Ultimately, I'm pretty mixed on this book. The parts I liked I liked a lot, but other aspects (like the political intrigue) just didn't hit the right note. I would say give it a shot because if it's a book for you, it's REALLY gunna be a book for you. And if it's not, you'll know pretty quick. 3/5 stars. 

    Final score: 4/5 stars

     

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    Non-romance (When the only good thing about Valentines Day is the discount candy on the 15th)

     

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    A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1) by Becky Chambers [2021]

    Rae: Mrs. Chambers we just can't quit you. Yes, we have recced Becky Chambers books before and in general we try not to repeat authors (we have failed before though, I'm not going to pretend we haven't). But y'all. This one's so good. Chambers dedicated Psalm to anyone who needs a break or rest and man does she deliver. It's gentle. It's kind. It's a love story to wild places, harmony, and the inherent value of personhood. Is there a plot? Vaguely, yes. But it's secondary to the atmosphere and effect. If you've ever asked yourself what your purpose is this is the book for you. If you've ever wanted to forget worldly obligations and disappear into the mountains, this is the book for you. If, in the words of Chambers herself, you just need a break, this is the book for you. 5/5 stars

    Rin: Becky Chambers my beloved. A Psalm for the Wild-Built immediately beat out To Be Taught, If Fortunate (which we reviewed last blog) as my favorite book of hers. Psalm is so very restful, and I didn't know how much I needed that until I read it. Sibling Dex, our tea monk, is longing for something more than what their life currently offers, and I think that's something we can all relate to on one level or another. Psalm doesn't shy away from tricky concepts such as personhood or purpose, but that doesn't change that this book is, as one Goodreads reviewer put it, "cozypunk" (which is now my new favorite subgenre, I want twelve more books immediately please). Psalm is a book that I know I'll find myself revisiting in hard times, and I think that says a lot about the value it brings to its readers. 5/5 stars

    Final score: 5/5 stars

     

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    The Black Coast (The God-King Chronicles #1) by Mike Brooks [2021]

    Side note: although there are romantic relationships included in The Black Coast, none are a main or even major focus of the novel so we have categorized it as non-romantic.

    Rin: I feel like I start so many of my reviews with wow but: Wow. The Black Coast is the type of epic fantasy that swaps you between so many different points of view that you’re always desperate to get back to someone else’s story, even when you love the one you’re reading at that moment. I love the culture clash that we see and the way each culture has their own unique faults and prejudices. The gender system for the Alaba islands is so cool (six different gendered addresses in spoken language? Sign me up!), and I love how it’s contrasted to Narida, where a person refers to themselves in the third person, situated relative to the person they’re talking to (“this lord” and “your servant” versus “your wife” and “your brother”). Oh, and dragons! Feathered! Dragons!  Beyond the awesome worldbuilding, the characters are real and sympathetic, even when you don't always like them very much, and that's what kept me going when I struggled with some of the story lines. 5/5 stars

    Rae: Fantasy dinosaurs! Fantasy dinosaurs! Why haven't you put this book on hold yet there are fantasy dinosaurs and you can raise them to be your friend! They're called dragons but let's be real there's a thin line between dragons and dinosaurs already and when you throw them in a fantasy setting and give them feathers all bets are off. Beyond the fantasy dinosaurs, The Black Coast is an absolutely epic, sprawling, high fantasy adventure of the highest order. The world building alone (which jumps between multiple countries and lands btw so it's like world building times 4) is absolutely stellar. Each culture is distinctive and unique, and watching them blend and interact is fascinating. Brooks expertly establishes multiple converging storylines and I cannot wait to see them weave together over the course of the series. I am always slightly torn when books jump between characters because half the time they do it on a cliff hanger and you want to finish the storyline you're already on darnit, but I fell in love with so many of the main characters in this one I didn't mind as much (except Tila. I hate Tila). If I had to describe The Black Coast in one sentence it would be: Game of Thrones except it's actually good. 5/5 stars

    Final score: 5/5 stars

    Content Warnings for The Black Coast

    Decapitation, death of a minor, homophobia

     

    Non-romance Choose Your Own Adventure. 

    We couldn't decide which non-romantic, set in a world where people have super powers, narrated by a supervillain, queer, sci-fi/fantasy book to include for our final self-love pick, so we each chose one option and brought you both. Pick your poison, dear readers. 

     

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    We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen [2021]

    Rae: On the surface this book switches perspectives between a super villain and a superhero as they both attempt to figure out how on earth to function as normal people in their down time. In actuality, this book is about an anxiety riddled 'villain' who just finds it easier to not talk to people and continue supporting his cat in the manner its become accustomed to if he robs banks (I feel you, man), and an on the verge of having an alcohol problem 'superhero' who really would prefer to keep using her super speed to deliver food orders. Aside from the powers, neither is particularly super... or are they? I won't say this is my favorite book of the list, but the characters and mystery are compelling, the action is fun, and you gotta love a 'maybe the real heroes where the friends we made along the way' storyline. If you want something light with a good bit of heart give this one a shot.

    3.5/5 stars 

     

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    Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots [2020]

     Rin: I’m not normally one for stories about villains, but Hench proved to be an exception (as many of our Space Gaze books are, I’m just realizing). Anna’s story—working part time through a temp agency, just trying to survive day to day—is very relatable for a lot of us; even the idea of superheroes and villains being forces of nature that can (and will) destroy your life without noticing was a very familiar sensation, even if we don’t have super-powered individuals in our world. I also appreciated that her “power” is basically excellent data entry, because girl, same. Anna’s anxiety throughout the book as she tries to balance her own morals with her desire to get justice is interesting, and I really enjoyed her awareness of how slippery a slope that is.

    However. I will say that they are not kidding when the inside cover says there’s body horror. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the tameness of the first ~350 pages, but the last fifty pages were pretty sickening, not gonna lie. This one probably isn’t for the squeamish or faint of heart, which is why I’m going to give it

    3.5/5 stars

    Content warnings for Hench

    Body Horror

     

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    By RachaelR on February 14, 2022