An Anthology of Recent Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy from Award-Winning Editor Paula Guran Speculative fiction imagines drastically diverse ways of being and worlds that are other than the one with which we are familiar. Queerness is a natural fit for such fiction, so one would expect it to be customarily included. That has not always been the case, but LGBTQ+ representation in science fiction and fantasy—in both short and long form—is now relatively common. Even so, most of the queer science fiction and fantasy anthologies published in the last thirty-five years have been narrowly focused: specifically gay male or lesbian (or, more recently, transgender) themes, or all science fiction or all fantasy, or adhering to a specific theme or subgenre. Far Out: Recent Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy, on the other hand, features both science fiction and fantasy short fiction from the last decade and includes characters, perspectives, and stories that span the rainbow. With stories from incredible authors ranging from Seanan McGuire to Charlie Jane Anders to Sam J. Miller, it’s an essential read for anyone interested in queer science fiction and fantasy. Contents Introduction: Over the Rainbow and into the Far Out by Paula Guran Destroyed by the Waters by Rachel Swirsky The Sea Troll’s Daughter by Caitlín R. Kiernan And If the Body Were Not the Soul by A. C. Wise Imago by Tristan Alice Nieto Paranormal Romance by Christopher Barzak Three Points Masculine by An Owomoyela Das Steingeschöpf by G. V. Anderson The Deepwater Bride by Tamsyn Muir The Shape of My Name by Nino Cipri Otherwise by Nisi Shawl The Night Train by Lavie Tidhar Ours Is the Prettiest by Nalo Hopkinson Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue by Charlie Jane Anders Driving Jenny Home by Seanan McGuire I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno by Vylar Kaftan In the Eyes of Jack Saul by Richard Bowes Secondhand Bodies by Neon Yang Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar Né łe! by Darcie Little Badger The Duke of Riverside by Ellen Kushner Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer The Lily and the Horn by Catherynne M. Valente Calved by Sam J. Miller The River’s Children by Shweta Narayan
Release date: July 27, 2021
Publisher: Night Shade
Print pages: 432
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The ocean is warm enough to dive without a wetsuit. Derek wears swimwear like everyone else. Zack is the lone holdout, bulky in three millimeters of neoprene. To Derek’s eyes, it shows all the beloved-but-bittersweet changes in Zack’s body, the sags, the knobs, the lumps. At twenty, he was a muscular god. Now: mortal.
Derek’s body has changed too, heaven knows. But he didn’t have as far to fall.
Zack remains tall, thick-haired, athletic. He comes to stand behind Derek. His body is warm and solid. Gently, he asks, “What are you thinking?”
From this angle, the ocean is utterly blue. The water is mildly restive, an insistent pitch and yaw beneath their feet.
Derek says, “You can’t even tell anything was here.”
Zack points to a few darker spots. “I think those are the tops of houses.”
They’re only a brush darker than the rest of the water.
They’d honeymooned in New Orleans. They were so young then, pockets full of no money and potentials full of question marks. One of the groomsmen had an aunt who needed a house sitter so they flew standby and scrounged enough cash for meals and cheap drinks.
Jackson Square: a five-dollar palm reading that turned into a two-hour-long conversation about Katrina. (He said, “The city will come back. There’s too much will to live here to keep it down.” He was right until he wasn’t.)
Decatur Street: ten p.m. on a Monday, a tiny Italian restaurant hung with large, dark portraits of the proprietor’s family. The bored sommelier taking a shine to the newlyweds, sneaking them sips from bottles of fancy wine.
Canal Street: storefronts plumed with masks and shiny with souvenirs. Four drunk guys, a beer bottle thrown, taunts about Derek’s manicured nails and coral-colored shirt.
Endless bus loops: sitting or standing, sweating against each other’s skin. Ignoring the windows to watch the passengers—tourists complaining about the humidity frizzing their hair, sway-hipped women in sundresses, men with moist tank tops slicked to their chests.
Everywhere: grief, anger, exhaustion, work. Some were silent, but others talked, trauma honing words into catharsis, stories that took strangers by the collar and refused to let them go.
Derek and Zack: dropping the next day’s meal budget into a charity box, but prevailingly, overwhelmingly elated by each other. Floating in a bubble like the ones that rose through the expensive champagne which the sommelier had given them in a flute, holding her fingers to her lips and saying, “Shhh.”
It’s a small boat: eight divers and the dive master. They gather to listen to the site debriefing. Derek sits furthest back, watching the others. From this angle, the ocean’s surface is sporadically broken by ruins.
The dive master is a tiny woman who compensates with a loud voice and broad gestures. “Enclosed dives are dangerous. Before you even think about exploring, get out your line.” She mimes unwinding the spool at her hip. “Think of it like diving a wreck. Even if it’s just an old apartment building, even if you think it will be easy to find the bedroom window you came in through again—”
Zack listens, nodding. Derek can see the almost imperceptible movement of Zack’s lips as he compares what she’s saying to his research on the site. He is the kind of man who watches safety guidelines every single time.
The dive master jabs her finger into the side of her head. “Remember your map! Land use says you can swim anywhere within this radius. This is for your safety. Outside this zone, the ruins have not been cleared of debris and other hazards. Your LCDC will flash if you get near the boundary. Don’t make me come get you.”
The other divers are so young. Derek watches one smooth face after another. Even the dive master’s complexion is cherubic. One of the bare-chested boys left his dampening Yale shirt on the bench, in range of spray. A girl wears dark eyeliner and pink lipstick which will raccoon and wash off respectively as soon as they meet the water. She stands aside, glancing occasionally at the boys her age, body exclaiming nervousness as she cups her elbows and rocks foot to foot.
Have these kids ever known a world where New Orleans wasn’t flooded or underwater? Twenty-something tourists should have been here throwing beads or throwing up. They should have been stumbling over uneven pavement, and going to historically important bars they didn’t recognize, and throwing bottles at gay couples, or whatever it was kids did these days. They should have been bothering the locals, and there should have been locals, giving readings in Jackson Square and talking about how New Orleans would always make it through. These kids didn’t deserve a world that let everything flood, let everyone drown. Did they know anything about Charleston, Bangladesh, Baltimore—?
Derek’s breath starts to go. He knows the whirlpool will suck him down into a panic attack if he lets it.
He forces the thoughts away before it’s too late, but Zack must have heard the quickening of his breath, because he wraps his arms around Derek and whispers urgently, “Everybody got out. They got everybody out.”
Here. They got everybody out here. The omitted word stings.
Derek pushes Zack away. “I’m fine.”
The girl in pink lipstick glances in their direction, but no one else does. They’re watching the sky, the water, each other—not the old couple in back.
Three weeks ago: Zack had woken late, the arid morning already pressing close, Derek gone on morning errands. An icon lingered in the upper right-hand corner of his vision—Derek had left a note. When he opened it, all it showed was the purchase of two fares to Louisiana and a few associated bookings.
Derek came home later with groceries. He still liked to choose produce by hand.
“I don’t understand,” Zack said. “We haven’t gone diving in ten years.”
Derek said nothing as he transferred stone fruit into an apple-patterned Franciscan bowl. He ran his thumb over the soft spot on a peach and frowned.
Zack flipped through the bookings, as if they might display something different this time. “And New Orleans—we haven’t been back since our honeymoon—”
Zack gave Derek a sober look. He could tell his husband was nervous by the way he turned the peach over and over in his hands.
“Derek,” Zack said, as gently as he could. “Is this about Noah?”
Derek’s whole body flinched. They usually avoided their son’s name. He closed his eyes and steadied himself before setting the fruit in the bowl.
He turned to open the refrigerator. “They’re not refundable.”
Zack said, “You can’t tear your heart out again. I can’t go through it. You can’t go through it.”
Derek said nothing. The refrigerator exhaled a cold breath.
Arguments queued up in Zack’s brain. He’d spent most of his career in hospital administration, and he was trained to come at things from multiple angles. He tried a goal-oriented approach: What do you want from this? How do you think it will help? He tried emotional pleas: I’m worried—it hurts to see you set yourself up for so much pain. He tried guilt: Why didn’t you talk to me first so we could set a plan together? He tried pragmatism: It’s been too long since our last dive. We should take time to train back up before making decisions.
He tried intransigence. “You can’t make me participate in this. I can’t stop you, but I won’t go with you.”
(They both knew this was a lie.)
Finally, when minutes had become hours, in desperation and exhaustion, Zack lost his temper. “Why play around? Why not go straight to Baltimore?”
Derek went small and still.
Zack said, “I can’t believe I said that.”
Derek’s voice was a composed, weary monotone. “It doesn’t matter.”
After that, there was nothing left to say.
They went to bed. They brushed their teeth and put on pajamas and spoke politely in the bathroom. They lay down. Derek cuddled into Zack’s side, and Zack wrapped him in his arms.
Derek digs in his dive bag so he doesn’t have to talk to Zack, or look at the girl with pink lipstick. He feels Zack’s stare, and he knows his husband is trying to figure out whether he is okay or not, and what to do if he isn’t. Zack’s constant solicitous vigilance makes Derek feel more self-conscious, not less, but after everything they’ve been through, he can’t blame Zack for watching.
Derek is grateful for the distraction when the kid from Yale tries to strike up a conversation with the other college-age divers. “Anyone else doing a night dive? I’m going on a ghost tour tonight.”
A boy with blond dreads is, and they fall to talking about ghost stories they’ve heard from other divers. The kid from Yale wants to go see Madame LaLaurie and her tortured slaves, but the blond boy wants to go past the Superdome because he’s read that’s where the best ghosts are.
“And there’s the ghosts who died in the flood,” the blond boy says. “They must be really pissed.”
Zack moves protectively in front of Derek. He repeats his mantra, ostensibly for the kids, but Derek knows it’s really meant for him. “Everyone got out. There was an evacuation.”
The blond boy gives him a condescending look. “You know someone didn’t.”
Zack’s tone doesn’t change, but Derek can hear anger sharpening his syllables. “Real people died in American floods. Show some respect.”
Before things can escalate, the boat’s engine changes pitch. It slows. The dive master calls for everyone to gear up.
Zack shakes his head and makes a noise of self-remonstration. He worries the zipper at his collar. “They’re just stupid kids,” he mumbles.
In a calming tone, Derek says, “I know.”
“They don’t understand they can hurt people, talking like that.” Derek soothes. “I know.”
There’s an old story in Zack’s family about how, when he was six years old, Zack walked up to his uncle who had fought in Vietnam and asked, “How do you protect someone from a bullet?”
Zack didn’t remember doing it, and he didn’t remember the reply. He did remember his mother telling the story over and over again: her Zack, the protector.
That night three weeks ago, after learning about Derek’s plans for New Orleans, Zack had lain awake. He watched the pre-dawn, then the dawn, then the light of morning. Over fifty years, he’d grown to know Derek’s gestures and expressions, his beliefs, his preoccupations, the thoughts he spoke aloud and the ones he signaled with a tightened lower lip and the dark ones he’d later try to laugh off.
Memories lapped at his ankles, of the first eighteen months after Noah’s death when Derek had lost all the extra weight he’d been carrying since they met, all the roundness in his cheeks and softness in his arms, shriveling into himself. He remembered how Derek had slumped, hobbies and friendships wearing away, as he stared for days out of windows at Tucson’s thunderheads. It’s been a long, arduous journey back from that, one that still isn’t done after four years. Zack imagines crashing all the way back down again, imagines how waterlogged years would accumulate, pieces of their lives rotting like wet wood, until they were bloated nothings.
When the restless clock finally turned nine, Zack called their therapist. At their emergency session, she only said, “Derek has made a lot of progress. If he says he’s ready to do this, we should support him.”
Against them both, Zack had no recourse. Over fifty years, he’d also learned that sometimes one’s beloved sets his heart on a path of pain and will not be deterred. Sometimes all one can do is be there and be ready to help afterward.
His voice was heavy as he murmured to himself, “New Orleans. Another good memory gone.” Like Oakland where they raised Noah, and New York City where he sang with his choir at St. Patrick’s, and Houston where he spent two weeks with his grandparents every year, and Minneapolis where he went to college.
Zack sat in their den and began researching the dive.
In the old days, the dive master would have had to take them in a single group she could keep an eye on. Instead, she passes through, making sure she’s connected to each diver’s Lens-Compatible Dive Computer.
Zack and Derek rented LCDCs onshore with the rest of their gear, but a Scandinavian brother and sister don’t have them. The brother coughs up for a cheap, wrist-mounted spare; the sister shrugs and says she’ll just go down with the dive master.
Derek connects the tank to his air hose, and then double-checks Zack’s while Zack double-checks his. He cleans his mask, and feels grateful for the seals they have these days that don’t flood. Sometimes it’s nice living in the future, when it isn’t horrible. Equipment that didn’t feel heavy twenty years ago now drags on Derek’s shoulders. He snaps together a dozen buckles and clips.
While they work, Zack frets. “Try not to get too close to anything. They say they cleared the most dangerous debris before opening the site, but three divers were hospitalized in the past year.”
Zack found this news early in his research on the New Orleans site, and has been repeating some variation of it almost every day since. He does this when he’s worried, fixates on details. As far as Derek can tell, Zack is completely oblivious to it.
“The judge ruled they were being reckless,” Derek says without enthusiasm.
Zack gives his consistent answer. “It proves there’s still dangerous stuff down there.”
Sometimes, Derek privately marvels that a man like Zack, who is brilliant and incisive in any other circumstance, can’t tell that his subtext is running away with his tongue.
At the edge of the boat, masks on and regulators in, Zack gives Derek a last, entreating look. His eyes are full of the question Are you sure? But he has the courtesy not to say it.
Noah: delivered to their arms as a white infant with a mop of dark hair, startled eyes, and a strangely authoritative cry. They’d wanted to name him Devon, but his birth mother had only given him this one thing. It seemed petty to refuse. Noah was the most popular boy’s name the year he was born. Eighty thousand Noahs entering one prediluvian world.
Derek’s ears fill with the sound of his own breathing.
Gravity pulls them down a few feet before their inflated vests draw them back to the surface. They signal the boat they’re okay, clasp hands, and orient themselves for descent.
A message from Zack flashes across Derek’s lens. <<Remember, I love you.>> Zack squeezes his hand. Derek squeezes back.
They pause every few feet to clear their ears. Derek could swear he feels a thrum throughout his body from the signal the LCDC uses to repel large predators, but Zack would say that’s his imagination. Underwater, the neoprene that made Zack so awkward on land sleeks to his muscular contours. Derek could almost mistake him for the boy he’d been at twenty.
They’re somewhere in the French Quarter, but the changed environment makes it almost unrecognizable. Underwater, light disperses reds and distends blues, blotting any vestiges of vividness. Neon markers indicate unsafe areas within the cleared zone. Visibility is poor, clouding into nothing a few body-lengths away.
It’s easy to see why the kids think there are ghosts here. It’s not only stories and history; it’s a quality of the place. Even before it was swallowed by the ocean, Derek has to admit New Orleans felt haunted to him. Life went by in disjunctive vignettes, with emotions and scenery that seemed to fracture moment by moment. It was because of alcohol and giddiness and too much nighttime wandering, but his memories of the city flashed like strobes, from glaring brights to intermittent fluorescents and pink-washed neons and shop windows coughing orange glow onto the asphalt.
Derek and Zack stop, hovering six feet over the drowned street. Their bodies sway with the breath of the ocean as they linger, looking.
Zack taps Derek’s shoulder to get his attention. <<Are you okay?>>
Derek starts his reply, then stops.
Is he okay?
Strangely, impossibly, he is.
It’s shock, isn’t it? It must be shock. For the first eighteen months after Noah’s death, he’d stood at the threshold of hospitalization. How can he feel nothing?
Polar ice sheets. Methane gas pockets. He couldn’t escape the terms that ricocheted like bullets through the news. Worst-case scenario. Experts failed to predict.
He and Zack hadn’t even visited Noah’s apartment in Baltimore before he died. They were busy with their friends and their lives so they sent money for him to fly home instead. He was just renting; they figured they’d go see his place once he’d really settled.
Derek had nothing to imagine when the news came. No way to viscerally understand what had happened. Photographs were no substitute. He needed to know how the city air had smelled when it mixed with oncoming water. He needed to see the place where his son had died, what the color of the carpets was, the color of the walls, the color of the windowsills. After Noah’s death, he’d done nothing but try to imagine the drowning of Baltimore. What he ate was salt, what he heard was roaring, and what he saw was bleach and bones.
Derek spikes himself with thoughts he’s learned not to let through because they always arrow into panic attacks. The worst: Maybe if he’d stayed with his mother, he wouldn’t have died.
Maybe they should have looked at the blue-eyed bundle of him, and seen his grasping hands and brooding eyebrows, and known to send him back where he’d come from. He could have had another forty, fifty years. What could they possibly have given him to make up for that?
The thoughts race their customary track, but his anxiety is only an echo. He’s as still as water eight meters deep.
<<I’m fine.>> Derek tells Zack, but his husband doesn’t seem convinced.
They scull through the water above a side street. Derek doesn’t know which, but Zack might. There’s room for them to swim side by side, fins arcing smoothly through the water. The windows have been carefully stripped, but many stores hold furniture, even some goods.
Derek glimpses something shiny and dives the last couple of meters to street level. Zack follows. It’s a mask, surprisingly well-preserved for being at the bottom of the ocean, still sequined and decorated with brittle, stripped quills.
The store must have been one of those cheap souvenir places. If Derek digs through the junk, will he find key chains and plastic shot glasses? Divers aren’t supposed to go inside the buildings, but the mask has fallen out. Derek shakes it loose from the layer of silt that pins it to the street.
He holds it up for Zack to look at. His husband frowns. Zack points at the mask. The stream of bubbles coming from his regulator moves faster. In confusion, Derek peers at his find.
Zack’s gestures become more urgent. << Get back!>>
Derek instantly withdraws. The mask drops from his gloved fingers. Sequins shine as they fall.
Zack swims between Derek and the storefront. Derek follows his line of sight to a long, skeletal hand.
Zack was always one of the best school athletes growing up. He liked sports—as a relatively quiet boy without much else in common with his peers, it gave him something to do and a way to fit in. His build didn’t lend itself to any sport particularly, but it left him with plenty of options. His favorites were solo—swimming, biking, running—letting his muscles go while he spent time in his head.
Being both quiet and an athlete also kept anyone from noticing that Zack was gay. That meant he could keep people from picking on weaker kids—including the gay ones—sometimes, if he got there at the right time. People knew Zack didn’t like it when they made fun of the disabled class, or the fat cheerleader it was easy to make cry. So they didn’t do it if he was around.
Probably, no one from his high school would have remembered much about Zack, if it hadn’t been for the day two months before graduation when he came back late from an after-school run. As he circled back onto campus, he saw a guy with a handgun crossing the parking lot.
Zack ran him down.
The kid got off a shot by accident. It grazed Zack’s shoulder, but otherwise, he was fine.
Later, it turned out the kid had found out he was failing biology and wouldn’t be able to graduate. He’d gone home, gotten high, and grabbed his grandpa’s gun. On his way back to his teacher’s classroom, he’d stopped to make sure her car was still in the faculty lot, which was when Zack saw him.
At his graduation party, Zack’s mother urged him to tell the story to his uncle, the Vietnam vet. Zack felt both embarrassed and proud of himself as he stood beside his uncle’s chair, leaning down a bit because he didn’t hear well from his left ear.
“I guess I figured out how to protect someone from a bullet,” Zack said.
“Good job,” muttered his uncle, reaching for a handful of pretzels as he watched the muted football game on TV.
Zack was nonplussed by the reaction. “You know, my mother always tells that story? How I asked you how to protect someone from a bullet?”
His uncle looked up, eyes suspicious under heavy brows. “Stop a bullet?” He grunted, a heavy, humorless sound that didn’t seem to be meant for Zack or anyone else. He shoved a pretzel into his mouth. “Want to protect someone, stop the goddamn war.”
In the cloudy water, Zack’s body almost forms a wall between Derek and the shop window. Derek can hardly see past him to the trailing, bony fingers in the mud.
Zack pulls his flashlight from its loop on his vest and shines it down to get a better look. <<There must have been an accident. I’m calling the dive master. We shouldn’t disturb>>—
Zack’s text ends as a mass of mud shifts, throwing more dirt into their faces. His flashlight beam swings loosely for a moment, illuminating flashes of grit and dark water.
It stabilizes as Zack grabs hold again, showing the skeletal hand. It rises up from the ocean floor like a living thing, trailing forearm and elbow. The bones are uncannily articulated. The flashlight suffuses them with a weird, greenish glow.
Something bulky shifts overhead. Zack’s light, shining upward, catches the jut of ribs. Zack reaches for them with his free hand, and the bones fall on him as if attacking.
A glow catches Derek’s attention from below. ...
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