'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Laura Lam: The Somewhat Hidden Rainbow in Fantasy

As part of LGBT April, Pantomime author Laura Lam is here on my blog to talk about LGBT within the fantasy genre. Over to Laura:

The Somewhat Hidden Rainbow in Fantasy

At first glance, it seems like GLBT fantasy is few and far between. And yes, compared to most fantasy published, it is a small percentage (hard numbers to come later). Science fiction seems to focus more on GLBT than straight up fantasy as well. Yet rather than write a doom and gloom article, I wanted to celebrate all the great GLBT fantasy there is out there and list some resources where people can find more. Lastly, I’ll write a little bit about my own GLBT fantasy series, Pantomime & Shadowplay

Fantasy with GLBT characters is out there, but you have to look. Of fantasy series, there’s only a few I grew up reading that featured GLBT casts:

Lynn Flewelling’s work (the Nightrunner series and the Tamir Triad). The Nightrunner series features a gay duo who go on adventures, and one of the later instalments features a neuter character. The Tamir Triad features a girl who, through dark magic, had her twin brother killed and her disguised as him. Raised male, with no one telling her she’s actually female. I read the Tamir Triad at least three or four times growing up. Even though I do not have gender dysphoria, I  connected so much with Tobin/Tamir. I also loved Mercedes Lackey’s work. Particularly the Valdemar series, which has a gay main character, but also The Oathbound, which has a kyree or person of neuter gender.  Some of Robin Hobb’s work also looks at gender. Particularly the character of the Fool, whose gender is never made completely clear, and her Rain Wilds Chronicles has several gay characters. I was also very interested in books where girls dressed as boys to show they could do anything boys can do, such as the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce and Ash by Mary Gentle.

But I read a lot of fantasy growing up, and most of them had straight (and white) people everywhere, to the point where these books in particular stood out to me for being welcomingly different. I do think there’s a changing trend towards more diversity, but it’s a slow change.

Here are some resources to find more:

Wikipedia list of LGBT-themed speculative fiction. This Wikipedia list goes as far back as 125-180 CE. I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale (SF), Tithe (F), the first Darkover book (SF), Dhalgren (SF), The Forever War, (SF), Lynn Flewelling’s books (F), The Left Hand of Darkness (SF), Ash (F), and that’s it on that list. GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resources has more lists, as does this Goodreads list of books tagged by users as GLBT fantasy.

There are also a lot of great awards and lists out there to highlight GLBT fiction, though they’re often not fantasy-specific. There’s the American Library Association Rainbow List, and last year the American Library Association also did a specific GLBTQ section for their Popular Paperbacks List. The James Tiptree Jr Award looks at books that explore gender in some way in SFF. There’s also the new Bisexual Book Awards which looks specifically for bisexual themes in fiction, and they do have a speculative fiction subcategory. There’s also the Lambda Awards, the Stonewall Book Award, and more. 

But more on the list seem to be science fiction than fantasy. Why is that? Is it easier to imagine a future where we are more progressive, and if fantasy is based on a past era, it must automatically be more regressive? This Wikipedia article, LGBT themes in speculative fiction, does an excellent round up of why, traditionally, SFF has been pretty puritanical and regressive and has an overview of GLBT SFF throughout the decades. Notably, “In speculative fiction, extrapolation allows writers to focus not on the way things are (or were), as non-genre literature does, but on the way things could be different.”

What about some concrete numbers? There’s been some statistical analysis of GLBT characters, but the most in-depth one I’ve found looks specifically at YA, which, in some ways, still seems puritanical in many ways. It’s for the children – heaven forfend there are different sexualities! That’ll make them think of sex! Or something. Malinda Lo looks at diversity in YA, both PoC and GLBT characters. Here’s a post she did of GLBT YA speculative fiction books published last year, in 2013. That’s ten titles. Out of how many YA SFF books published? Hundreds. And this is probably an increase over previous years. Malinda Lo recently looked at diversity in the YA bestsellers (all genres) and found that diversity has stayed stagnant on that list since last year. So there’s still a long way to go, both for more GLBT titles, not just in all fantasy but all genres, as well as having more diversity full stop.

I’ve written two books with an intersex, bisexual protagonist. Pantomime & Shadowplay star Micah Grey, who was raised as the daughter of a noble family named Iphigenia (Gene) Laurus. When she eavesdrops and discovers her parents want to change her in an irrevocable way, she runs away and joins the circus as Micah Grey. Throughout the series, Micah often presents as male, but he never conforms entirely to either gender. He still enjoys wearing dresses occasionally, and some of his interests/mannerisms could be considered more female. He’s also bisexual, first courting a woman, and then later a man. There are other secondary GLBT characters as well.

I wrote these books because the story wanted to be told. Micah was who he was, and I wanted to bring his story to life. It was challenging, and frightening, but I’m very proud of these books and of Micah. I’m glad that I was able to give back and add another GLBT fantasy to add to the books I loved growing up, and I hope people find them and enjoy them for years to come.

I hope that as time passes, more people will write GLBT fantasy. Yes, we’re unfortunately still in a time where they’re relatively rare, and some of the current ones are almost straightwashed to appear more “mainstream”. My own blurb for Pantomime is guilty of that, making Micah and Gene seem like different people, though Shadowplay’s blurb makes it clear Micah used to be the daughter of a noble family. Ash by Malinda Lo’s blurb also skirts around the lesbian love story. It does make it more difficult for people to find GLBT fantasy, which is why having resources like the ones listed are so important. I’d love it if more fantasy reflected the world we live in, with people of all sexualities and races and abilities. I think we’ll get there.

Are there any other GLBT fantasies you’ve read? Do you know any other good resources to find GLBT fantasy? If so, stick them in the comments!


Laura LamLaura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.

Pantomime was released February 2013 through Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot Books and is a Top Ten Title for the 2014 American Library Association Rainbow List, is on the American Library Association 2014 Popular Paperbacks List in the GLBTQ category, and was a finalist for both the Cybils and the North East Teen Book Award. The sequel, Shadowplay, followed in January 2014. This summer, she will self-publish stories set in Micah Grey’s world called Vestigial Tales.

She can be found on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, and Pinterest (not that she uses social media as a procrastination tool, or anything…).

About Pantomime:
R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera  is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

About Shadowplay:

The circus lies behind Micah Grey in dust and ashes.

He and the white clown, Drystan, take refuge with the once-great magician, Jasper Maske. When Maske agrees to teach them his trade, his embittered rival challenges them to a duel which could decide all of their fates. People also hunt both Micah and the person he was before the circus – the runaway daughter of a noble family. An Micah discovers there is magic and power in the world, far beyond the card tricks and illusions he’s perfecting…

A tale of phantom wings, a clockwork hand, and the delicate unfurling of new love, Shadowplay continues Micah Grey’s extraordinary journey. 


  1. Absolutely brilliant! I never knew there was so many GLBT+ fantasy books! I will definitely look this up and have a read! :)
    Thanks for sharing, and let's hope there's more books like these to come!

  2. Such an incredible post! So much info and resources! I loved Pantomime, really looking forward to Shadowplay! :)


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