Book Review | Beyond: The Queer SFF Comic Anthology

TITLE: Beyond: The Queer Science Fiction & Fantasy Comic Anthology
AUTHOR: edited by Sfe R. Monster
SERIES: Beyond: Queer Anthology Series
RELEASED: September 2015; Beyond Press
GENRE: Science Fiction & Fantasy
FORMAT: e-Book

KEY INFO: comics, adorable fluff, queerness, family, acceptance, love and squish
REPRESENTATION:
women of colour, f/f, interspecies families and romances, interracial families and romances, m/m, trans woman, polyamorous, people of colour, bisexual, trans masculine, gender fluidity, non-binary, Asian woman
CONTENT NOTICES:
appropriation of two-spirit & Native American culture in ‘Twin Souled’

beyond press // goodreads

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Beyond: the Queer SFF Comic Anthology is a cute, kickstarted collection of 18 stories by 26 contributors which center the diversity of queer people across different ages, genders, sexualities, races, species, body types, and family units as they swashbuckle, explore the galaxy, make new friends, and love in all its multifaceted glory. The anthology also comes with a really nice little foreward written by editor Sfe R. Monster who explains how Beyond came about and the importance of having a queer SFF anthology which challenges queer villainous tropes and celebrates queerness in all of its different forms. Like every anthology, Beyond can be a bit of a mixed bag of really great queer stories and some which are either really confusing or just a whole lot of nope, as in the case of one.

→ Luminosity. Words by Gabby Reed & pictures by Rachel Dukes – ★★★☆☆ ← 
The first story in the collection, Luminosity straight away focuses on the love between two women of color. One who has always dreamed of becoming an astronaut and who becomes friends with the other character, who seems to be some kind of sciencey-space experiment whose brain powers spaceships. It was a really nice way to open the anthology and I would have rated it higher if not for the ending, which, unfortunately, rather than challenging queer tropes seems to play right into the trope of dead queer women.

→ Islet by Niki Smith – ★★★★★ ← 
Islet is beautifully illustrated with a story that I really enjoyed. It’s a snapshot into the lifeScreenshot (132) of a little female, interspecies family as the human woman prepares to depart on a journey to discover and defeat a plague which is wiping out the alien species on the planet and that she fears will take the lives of her family. It’s a touching story and one of my favourites in the anthology.

→ Of Families & Other Magical Objects by Reed Black – ★★★★☆ ←
This is a super squishy and cute story of an interracial family with two dads who find one night that their daughter has been replaced by a goblin changeling and have to ‘rescue her’ from the goblin house at the end of the road. Only to find that not only is their daughter not in need of any rescuing, but that their family is about to get a whole lot bigger! The story and the illustrations are very reminiscent of Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends. A top pick for other readers, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as other people (just down to preference rather than anything wrong with the story itself!)

→ A Royal Affair by Taneka Stotts and Christianne Goudreau – ★★★☆☆ ←
A fun little story about a female pirate of colour who thinks that she’s at the royal palace to carry out a dastardly theft of the royal vault, but the King/Queen has very different ideas! Not a whole lot to say about this one although it is a nice addition to the anthology.

→ The Graves of Wolves by Ted Adrien Closson – ★★★☆☆ ←
Another interspecies family, this time with two dads and a little alien boy who are surviving in a kind of snowy post-apocalyptic setting. We find out that this little family are the sole survivors of a disastrous plague which devours anything in sight. Like some of the other stories in the anthology, I didn’t quite understand the story or the ending but enjoyed the rest of it.

→ Versus by Wm Brian Maclean – ★★★☆☆ ←
Screenshot (133)Versus is a really nice, short little addition which plays on the fact that the anthology is produced in black and white and so utilizes the Yin/Yang symbol to tell a little story about love and has absolutely no dialogue in it! Sadly though its another story which, once again, ends in death.

→ Optimal by Blue Delliquanti – ★★★★★ ←
Another one of my favourites! Optimal has a lovely trans MC android who was made as a replica of her creator’s research partner who died unexpectedly. The story explores our MC’s journey to discover who she really is and finding love and acceptance from her father.

→ Duty & Honour by Shing Yin Khor- ★★★★★ ←
Duty & Honour is a fantastically written and illustrated piece which really stands out as a complete gem in Beyond. I was super into the story and loved the fact that not only did D&H have racial diversity and different sexual orientations, but its MC’s were part of a polyamorous relationship! It made me so happy to see this, as I feel that polyamorous relationships are often left out of depictions of queer diversity and I think it might also be the only story (if not one of the only stories) which actually has a bisexual character!

→ O-Type Hypergiant by Jon Cairns – ★★★☆☆ ←
The Giver was quite a long and complicated story that tbh… I didn’t really enjoy very much. The most that I could gather of the story is that it’s about three “Instamen”, artificial humanoids who live in space and catalogue stars. It has three cis male characters who all seem to have a name which is a variation of James (Jim, James, and Jamie) and can apparently regrow parts of themselves or each other in entirety should one of them die (spoiler: one of them does and it brings the other two characters together). I found the story far too long, full of complicated scientific discussions about stars, and by this point was starting to get annoyed at the frequency of death.

→ The Dragon Slayer’s Son by Sfe R. Monster & B. Sabo- ★★★★★ ←
Yesssssss. I loved this one A LOT. I had been wondering throughout the other stories whether there would be any trans masculine characters and there was! The illustrations are absolutely wonderful and I really enjoyed the story about gender-fluidity and dragon slaying! As pointed out by some other reviewers, there is a slightly problematic element in the story as gender-fluidity seems determined by social roles. Although the MC and his mother are no longer part of their tribe, our MC, who was born female, wants to go through the dragon slaying rite of passage to become a man. We also find out that his mother had also gone through this rite of passage, was previously male, but is now a woman (because of child rearing?) Very enjoyable and cute, but I do think there needs to be some critical reflection on the representation of gender fluidity.

→ Twin Souled. Story by Bevan Thomas and art by Kate Ebensteiner – ★☆☆☆☆ ←
I’m hesitant to even give this story one star if my understanding of it is correct. This story is about Native Americans who regard themselves as ‘twin souled’ as a result of being able to converge with their totems to protect their village. Now, I just want to unpack this a little bit. While I was reading the story, I got some really weird vibes from it because it did not seem like it was written by an indigenous person at all. From doing some research, it appears that neither the writer or the artist are indigenous people. In fact, the writer, who appears to be a white cis man, even goes so far to describe himself as having “been enthralled by tales of magic and myth since he was a little boy, and is especially intrigued by stories where the magic is used to transcend boundaries… He has Screenshot (134)often imagined what it would be like to put on his own creature suit to become a bear, a bird, or some other beast”. This story and the writer is highly problematic and it really made me side eye the decision to include this story in the anthology at all. If you’re interested in reading comics written by indigenous people I highly, highly recommend you check out Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1.

→ The Monster Queen by Savannah Horrocks and April J. Martins – ★★★★★ ←
I LOVE THIS ONE SO MUCH. It’s another lovely, super squishy story about a princess who does not agree with her kingdoms prejudice against monsters and ends up in the most adorable romance with a very tall, elegant female monster when the princess returns her monster rhino-dog to her. ITS SO CUTE and you all need to read this one because it’s so great.

→ The Valley of the Silk Sky: ‘Medicine; Run’ by Dylan Edwards – ★★☆☆☆ ←
Another one that I really did not enjoy despite its racial, gender and interspecies diversity. It is the only story in the anthology to use gender-neutral pronouns, which I loved, but to be honest, I didn’t enjoy the story at all and found it far too long.

→ Mourning Tea by Kori Michele Handwerker- ★★★★☆ ←
A lovely ghostly story full of strange and wonderful creatures, and two Asian female MC’s. The illustrations are lovely, the story is quite magical and overall I really enjoyed it. Screenshot (137)Although I didn’t understand the story 100%, the bits I did understand I liked a lot and it reminded me quite a lot of Spirited Away (which is never a bad thing!)

→ They Simply Pass by Kristina Stipetic- ★★★★★ ←
LOVED THIS. It’s about a little robot who stumbles across an alien (or robot, not sure) colony during something called the Bethrothulation. The alien-robots appear to not have have a gender, but rather are divided into Transmitters and Aggregators. Transmittors are programmed to mate with Aggregators (who bear the eggs), and Transmittors die when this process is complete, much to the horror of our little robot friend! But fear not, rebellion is afoot as two brave Transmittors stand up against a society which says they should reproduce and die for the “good of the society”. Super cute illustrations, a really good story and one which actually has a very interesting wider point!

→ Barricade. Written by Alison Wilgus and art by Anissa Espinosa – ★★★☆☆ ←
Female astronaut romance in space! After a temperature core accident which brings down some space infrastructure, our MC is on a mission to rescue her fellow female astronaut who is trapped behind a broken door. Pretty cute but nothing too amazing in terms of story.

→ Eat at Chelle’s. Story by Leia Weathington and art by Lin Visel – ★★☆☆☆ ←
Another story features a female interracial couple (and a little pig!) I felt like the story offered a lot of promise but never quite achieved it! As a reader, we are kind of plonked down in the middle of a story and ended in the middle of the story without ever really explaining what was going on. I cannot tell you what this one is about because I don’t even know myself, other than it having something to do with a restaurant?

→ The Next Day by A. Stiffler and K. Copeland – ★★☆☆☆ ←
In a world that has been destroyed, had its sun stolen and launched into darkness by a great wolf, two men find each other in the wilderness and fall in love. Previously their life had been almost unbearable as every day had become a struggle, but with each other, each day just got better and better. There’s a bit of a sad blip towards the end when the white male MC becomes blinded, but the resolution seems to be that now he has found his love (his guiding light) his life will always be full of light? It was an okay story and the illustrations were quite good, but I felt it was such a weak end to the anthology

→ FINAL THOUGHTS ←
On the whole, I am super glad that the Beyond anthology exists because we do desperately need more queer stories, more queer SFF, more queer comics! Anthologies like this are SO important for expressing the sheer diversity of queer people and their lives. However, I don’t think the Beyond delivers so much on its promise to “challenge queer tropes” or on its story delivery. In the first instance, it’s not enough to just not cast queers as villains because there are so many other queer tropes. I was so surprised at just how many stories ended up in death. The wonder of SFF is that ANYTHING is possible! We are not limited to our own experiences of queerness but can explore so many other possibilities, and I feel this wasn’t really achieved. Moreover, despite the few wonderful 5-star stories hidden within the anthology, a lot of the stories were quite lackluster or confusing! I do know that there is a Beyond 2 currently in the works, so I have a lot of hope that the editor will take on board constructive criticisms and we’ll have something even more amazing for the next edition! Either way, SUPPORT SUPPORT SUPPORT work by queer creators and keep working towards even better diversity!


EST. 2015 (1)

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