Here's a chance to express some opinions about the way that
gay men are depicted, or not, in fantasy and science fiction,
even if I can't make this as entertaining as my songs Kinsey Scale,
Captain Jack and His Crew, etc.
It's interesting to compare the way that <A href="#SF">science fiction</A> or fantasy
novels present male characters that happen to be gay or bisexual.
Mostly it doesn't happen at all, of course; even though writers feel
they have to give at least a glimpse of the characters' sexual feelings
to make them seem well-rounded and three-dimensional, somehow 100% of them
turn out to be heterosexual
in most authors' fantasy and SF universes, instead of 90% in the real world.
Gay or lesbian characters appear rarely, and when
they do, their sexuality is usually central to their role in the story
-- too often as a villain, e.g. Baron Harkonen in
. But there have
been a few novels where the hero happens to be gay, and it's neither
more nor less important to the story than any straight character's
The first I ever read, back as a freshman in college
-- at least, if you don't count
, which indisputably hint (in three different places)
that the men who
ride green and blue dragons do the same thing as the men who ride
bronzes and the women who ride golds, but so subtly that it's lost
on most readers --
but beside those, the first was
Door into Fire
, Diane Duane's excellent first novel.
She presents a society where it has apparently never occurred
to anyone to invent a taboo that says you can love, settle
down with, or even "share" yourself with only the opposite sex.
So the main characters have no repressed guilt if their lovers
are of the same sex, and can get on with the business of being heroes.
(And with the business of being tormented by repressed guilt
over unrelated issues having nothing to do with whether they
have same-sex lovers.) That was really refreshing to
see, and I'd go so far as to say that it's the kind of book that could
prevent a few of the gay teenaged suicides if more of them could read it.
They would surely want to live long enough to read the fourth book in
the series, which should be out before they're 60, at this rate!
It was years before
The Door into Shadow
was published, and I
had to wait through a large chunk of my adult life before
The Door into Sunset
finally came out. I'm hoping that by a combination of a low-fat diet,
exercise, looking both ways when crossing the street, safe bedroom practices,
and maybe cryogenic suspension, I can be sure of getting to finish the
series if the last book is even written at all, even if Diane lives
to a ripe old age and the book is published posthumously.
For a more depressing book, try almost anything by Mercedes Lackey, who
has never been kind to any of her characters. But relevant to this review is her
Last Herald-Mage series, which has a gay protagonist.
quite a bit. Not only was it nice to see some magic in Lackey's
universe after three books about Heralds with wimpy "mind magic"
Arrows of the Queen
, <i>Arrows of Outrageous Fortune</i>),
but it was also the just about first book I'd read in a decade that
had a gay character, after about a thousand blatantly heterosexual characters in a row.
(I also vaguely recall a lesbian character in
Arrows of the Queen
a slightly stereotypical one.)
wasn't a bad sequel, although for a while I thought that
the unseen enemy Vanyel was holding off on the cover art might be his own parents.
much less, especially the part where Vanyel has to endure the
fate that seems to be the lot of almost every major Lackey character.
Still, it's a good series. I was disappointed when I heard that the tape that Firebird
Music was doing, based on the series, would have no love songs about Vanyel
(pretty unusual, since the tapes tend to focus on the emotional aspects of the stories,
for a tape to have no love songs), and I wrote the song parody Condemnations in reaction to that.
I finally got tired of Lackey's Valdemar fantasies somewhere around
Winds of Fate
Winds of Fury
or some such long-winded book. They weren't bad, but there's some kind of didactic
undercurrent to the writing style, in the use of emphasis, that makes me feel vaguely like I'm being
lectured to, though I'm not always sure about what. After a dozen books, it started
wearing on me. Also, it really bothered me that the
enchanted sword Need (from
By the Sword
and the song "Kerowyn's Ride"),
who previously had been
very consistent about being used only be females, and it even says so on her warning label,
casually decides to let a gay male mage use her in a ceremony because he's "in touch with
his female side". It would be easy to get the impression that he was "in touch with his female side"
<em>because</em> he was gay, or conversely that being gay automatically put him
"in touch with his female side" -- presumably that's what he used to connect to the "male side"
of other men. I would like to read more books where men are in love with other men
<em>because</em> they're both men, not because one or both is "in touch with his female side"
or even because "they're two people in love happen both to be men". We never hear that
about heterosexuals, that they're two people who fell in loved despite their differences
As far as Lackey books with male relationships go, my favorite is another
one with a windy title but set in a different (shared) universe,
Reap the Whirlwind
I like the depiction of the strong friendship forming between two men from different
cultures, and it's fairly central to the book. Now, there's no evidence that the two characters
are sexually interested in each other; in fact, both are planning
to marry women. (Cf. <A href="#2010">2010, below</A>.)
But the nomad leader must marry out of political necessity,
and the scholar is assuming, by default, that he'll marry a woman he's
been close friends with since childhood. And actually, there <em>is</em>
evidence, in the way the storytelling is arranged, that their
relationship might have a dimension beyond friendship.
We see the scholar's oldest male friend brooding over
how they're both in competition for marriage the female member of their trio
from childhood, and thinking, effectively, "If only he'd meet some nice young
girl to settle down with, I wouldn't mind adding a fourth person to our trio."
In the very next chapter, the scholar realizes that he's taking such a liking
to the nice young guy from the nomadic tribe that he's started thinking of him
as though he were a fourth member of the trio. The characters never realize
it, but the implication is there for the readers, since we get to hear
what everyone's thinking. Anyway, I personally like reading that sort of stuff,
with the good-natured banter even if minus the sex,
better than the more maudlin writing in the Vanyel books (
, <i>Magic's Profit</i>, <i>Magic's Cost-Benefit Analysis</i>; see above),
where Vanyel has an out-and-out sexual relationship with another man,
but they never seem to have time to enjoy it. Diane Duane always gives me
the feeling, in the subtly worded love scenes in
Door into Fire
The Door into Shadow
The Door into Sunset
, that Herewiss and Freelorn matter as much to each other
as their respective quests for magic power and kingdoms do, and that when they
get a chance to spend time together, it's a temporary but welcome respite from
the political, personal, and tactical problems each has to struggle with. Their
dialog has the flavor of a male relationship, while being a loving and passionate
at the same time.
As for science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, I can't think of many examples.
I've been told that it's because "hard science fiction doesn't deal so much with social issues",
but somehow, even hard SF keeps portraying heterosexual characters and that isn't
considered to be dealing with a social issue.
One really good book that has a minor character that just happens to be a gay man
, a well-thought-out virtual reality novel.
(That's how you can tell it wasn't written solely by Larry Niven.
The character, that is.
It never seems to occur to Niven to populate his Known Universe with
anything but heterosexuals. Maybe it was bred out of the race
in prehistoric times in that universe, since in that universe,
even a quality like luck can be bred if it makes someone produce more children.
His books with Barnes tend to have a richer viewpoint.)
The character was named Alan, and I wonder whether they consciously named him
after computer pioneer
. I realized by the end that they had
put the character in to balance something else that happens later.
But I really enjoyed the book in general, and its sequel,
The Barsoom Project
and would immediately buy anything else they write in that series.
One of the grandmasters of the SF field, Arthur C. Clarke, seems to have made it
a practice in his more recent work to include one or two gay or bisexual men as minor
characters. Sometimes it's very subtle, as in the description of the relationship
of the first two men to explore Rama in
Rendezvous With Rama
It was much more explicit in the
, <A name="2010"></A>with the fling that the American engineer
has with the Russian pilot. Actually, I was dissatisfied with that, compared to the
In the movie, there's no evidence of a physical relationship, but there's a really
good portrayal of a strong friendship forming between the two men, despite the
uneasy relationship between their countries.
It's just like <A href="#Whirlwind">what I said about <i>Reap the Whirlwind</i> earlier</A>.
In the novel, we hear that they're having an affair, but there's little sign that they care
about each other beyond satisfying physical desire, and at the end of the novel they're
both planning on marrying female crewmates. Given the choice, I think I liked the version
of them in the movie better, although combining the two would have been idea, in my opinion.
Finally, I should mention
Ring of Swords
by Eleanor Arnason, which is
an SF novel that actually explores a culture where homosexuality is the norm
and they have taboos limiting interaction between men and women.
It's very well written and thought out.