You can find Rob's previous Weekend Picks at this link. Just scroll down to April and you will find them.
Space: A New(ish) Queer Frontier
Gays in Space in YAL
But I digress. I’m here to talk about books, and ones that, like newer franchises such as Star Trek: Discovery, Killjoys, and The Expanse, acknowledge gender and sexual diversity elsewhere in the galaxy (and not just through a 0.5 second on-screen kiss between secondary characters. *cough* Star Wars *cough*).
Gays in Space in Young Adult Literature
I also believe these texts offer teaching possibilities, and in particular, they offer the possibility to give young readers hope for a queer future—a future where LGBTQ+ people can thrive not only on earth and in reality, but in dreams and utopias. Jose Esteban Muñoz, in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, looks at the future through the concept of a “concrete utopia,” or a future that is “relational to historically situated struggles” (p. 3). He notes that “Utopia is not prescriptive; it renders potential blueprints of a world not quite here, a horizon of possibility, not a fixed schema” (p. 97). So while these YA texts are not necessarily setting up realistic futures, they do allow educators and youth readers to see potential in what the future can hold for LGBTQ+ people, including themselves, whether on earth, or out among the stars.
Without further ado, here we go!
Peony is a baker on earth, who is called upon to be part of the Universe’s hottest reality TV show, Space Battle Lunchtime. She agrees to be a part of the show, but later learns that the show is filmed on location, in a spaceship. As she gets further into the competition, she realizes that her competitors are not beyond bending a few rules to get their way. Throughout the narrative, Peony has to ask herself if she is up to the challenges and the backstabbing. There is also a beautiful queer love story at the center this delicious graphic novel series that will make get readers’ hearts all aflutter.
A comet is on its way to earth and Denise and her family are assigned a temporary shelter, but they might not reach the shelter in time. A last-minute change in their journey leads them to a generation ship scheduled to leave earth, but will Denise, who is autistic, be able to prove her worth to the crew? Trans and queer secondary characters show the possibilities of a queer future in space, even if the majority of the narrative is grounded on planet earth.
Nasir “Nax” Hall wants to be a space ship pilot. A really good one. But he’d somehow managed to fail his entrance exam, making his dream a lot less plausible than he’d hoped. But then the academy gets attacked and Nax and a group of “intergalactic wash-ups” because the only hope to save the universe from disaster. England’s novel is a delightful mix of science fiction, mystery, and adventure that features a cast of characters representing a number of genders and sexualities, all of which also intersect with race, class, and ability, among other components of identity. A story that goes beyond coming out tropes or struggles for acceptance.
Representing ace, trans, and pansexual experiences, this novel follows Aisha Un-Haad as she tries to protect her family and the Fleet (the name given to the collective of starships they all live on.) Meanwhile Key Tanaka, who is from the privileged section of the Fleet, wakes up as a cyborg soldier with little recollection of how she got there. Together, they must unite to stop a potential uprising.
A hard-to-describe, but absolutely phenomenal graphic novel about a group of teens who make up a reconstruction crew that travels through space to restore crumbling buildings. It may sound strange, but it works so well, and the sexual and gender diversity throughout the cast of characters is a beautiful sight to behold. Mia’s journey is central to the narrative, from falling in love with Grace, another girl at her all-girls boarding school, to losing her, and the ways that this loss affects her relationships with others in the present. This is a sensational and complex graphic novel that fans of sci-fi and fantasy will very much appreciate.
Ryann wants to travel through space but coming from a trailer park means she is unlikely to realize her dream. When she meets Alexandria and the two become more than friends, they spend their days trying to catch radio signals from Alexandria’s mother, who has embarked on a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system. Though not set in space, this narrative touches on intersections of race, class, and sexuality and the power of connection when it comes to a loved one flying off into space to seek possibilities for the future of humanity.
This first one is cheating a bit because it doesn’t actually include space travel, but it does take place at NASA. So rather than “gays in space,” Stamper’s novel is more “gays talking about space.” Cal is a social media influencer with a lot of followers, who ends up heading to NASA with his parents, when his father is selected as a pilot for a mission to Mars. But when Cal meets Leon, another “Astrokid,” the two hit it off even as they discover some unfortunate truths about the Mars mission and have to sort out who to tell. A debut well worth exploring!
Noa wakes up in space, floating outside a ship called the Qriosity—which, of course, is about the explode—and he has no idea how he got there. Another boy named DJ is also aboard the ship, and he also can’t seem to remember how he arrived. The two boys find a girl named Jenny and together they work to figure out how they got into space, where they are, and how to get back home. Nothing is simple, and as they get closer to one another, Noa and DJ develop a connection deeper than friendship, but can it last? With his signature flair for the bizarre and the outlandish, Hutchinson’s novel is one that will both surprise and delight readers of all ages.
Ambrose and Kodiak find themselves on a ship called the Coordinated Endeavor, on their way to rescue Ambrose’s sister from Titan. But things aren’t adding up. There seems to have been strangers on board at some point, and Kodiak is hiding away in a remote corner of the ship. Not only that, but Ambrose can’t remember getting onto the ship in the first place, and for some reason the ship’s computer is voiced by his mother. The boys need to survive the mission to Titan, but in order to do so, they need to work together, and in doing so they just might end up falling for each other.
Rob Bittner has a PhD in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (SFU), and is also a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He loves reading a wide range of literature, but particularly stories with diverse and intersectional depictions of gender and sexuality. You can read his work in The ALAN Review, Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture, Bookbird, and The Journal of LGBT Youth, among other journals. You can find out more about him on his website (docrob.ca) or on Twitter (@r_bittner).