Queer Quills and Nerdy Thrills: Glimpses Through My Geeky Glasses – Science Fiction and Space Opera

Greetings, esteemed readers! As a 100% real human person and not a droid, I am thrilled to embark on this literary journey with you, delving into captivating books that traverse distant galaxies while shedding light on LGBTQIA+ and Queer-Coded experiences, all in the spirit of beloved geek culture. Strap on your seatbelts, and let us get a”byte” of adventure in the wonders of the following literary gems.

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR): Check out these titles!

“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer

“The Disasters” by M.K. England

“The Darkness Outside Us” by Eliot Schrefer

“The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden

“The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers

And, for those of you still with me, on to why I recommended you put these stories into your brain!

5. “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer: 

Prepare to be enchanted by this imaginative retelling of the classic Cinderella tale with a sci-fi twist. In a futuristic world, cyborg mechanic Cinder, an LGBT+ character, is entangled in political intrigue while exploring her identity and desires. A narrative that challenges gender norms, “Cinder” blends futuristic tech and romance.

Within the pages of “Cinder,” Marissa Meyer gracefully introduces readers to the complexities of identity, love, and self-acceptance. Cinder’s journey of self-discovery unfolds seamlessly against a backdrop of futuristic technologies and social stratification. Through this futuristic retelling of the beloved fairy tale, Meyer empowers LGBT+ readers by presenting a cyborg protagonist who embraces her uniqueness and navigates her burgeoning feelings without restraint. By defying traditional norms and expectations, “Cinder” ignites a spark within us, urging us to embrace our authentic selves and champion those who dare to be different.

Meyer creates a cybernetic wonderland brimming with steampunk aesthetics and diverse characters, celebrating individuality and love in all its forms. “Cinder” stands as a beacon of hope, promoting acceptance and showcasing that our uniqueness is what makes us extraordinary.

4. “The Disasters” by M.K. England: 

In this fast-paced sci-fi adventure, a motley crew of cadets must band together to thwart a sinister plot. Geek culture takes center stage, entwining fandoms and pop-culture references with identity exploration and burgeoning romance.

“The Disasters” propels readers on an exhilarating rollercoaster of action, friendship, and geek culture, all while celebrating diverse identities. England creates a thrilling narrative filled with witty dialogue and pop-culture references that resonate with readers.

As they navigate a treacherous mission and their own identities, their experiences serve as a testament to the beauty of authenticity and the strength of unity. “The Disasters” is a vibrant testament to the power of found family, geek pride, and the courage to be true to oneself.

England captures the essence of geekdom, enveloping readers in an exhilarating escapade. Through witty banter, queer empowerment, and found family dynamics, “The Disasters” strikes a chord with those who revel in embracing their true selves.

3. “The Darkness Outside Us” by Eliot Schrefer: 

Amidst the interstellar void, two young astronauts find themselves in a gripping tale of mystery, betrayal, and unexpected alliances. Our main characters grapple with their identities as they embark on a high-stakes mission. The exploration of love and trust is central to the narrative, showing the intricacies of queer relationships.

In this gripping and psychologically charged narrative, Schrefer delves into the complexities of human relationships as our protagonists, set adrift in the vastness of space, must confront external threats and the internal struggles.

Schrefer’s deft storytelling prompts readers to question the barriers imposed by society and to embrace the fluidity of human connections. “The Darkness Outside Us” reminds us that love and acceptance can be beacons of light guiding us home in the darkest times.

Schrefer weaves a mesmerizing narrative, blending sci-fi and psychological drama elements. This absorbing read challenges the boundaries of human connection and explores the complexities of self-discovery.

2. “The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden: 

Enter a fantastical South African world where mythology and technology converge. This genre-defying novel takes readers on a thrilling ride with a rich cast each on their own journey of empowerment. Fluid identities, extraordinary powers, and battles for acceptance create a vibrant tapestry in this unforgettable tale.

In a stunning tapestry of mythology, technology, and queer empowerment, Nicky Drayden weaves a tale that leaves an indelible mark on readers’ hearts. The vibrant characters challenge conventions and embody the power of self-discovery. In a world where the boundaries of identity are fluid, and the definition of heroism is reshaped, “The Prey of Gods” celebrates individuality and reminds us that our diverse identities are a wellspring of strength. Drayden’s exquisite portrayal of queerness and the embrace of nonconformity make this novel a dazzling gem in the constellation of inclusive sci-fi literature.

Drayden crafts a breathtaking universe that combines the best of speculative fiction with cultural depth. “The Prey of Gods” is a kaleidoscope of wonder, challenging norms and embracing the extraordinary.

1. “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers: 

A voyage awaits you in this enchanting space opera that unfolds on board the Wayfarer, a diverse crew of interstellar misfits. This heartwarming tale of camaraderie explores love, friendship, and gender identity among alien species. LGBT+ themes find a tender portrayal through the endearing romance between two characters as they navigate their emotions amidst the vastness of the cosmos.

In the heart of the Wayfarer’s crew, readers encounter an eclectic mix of personalities, each grappling with their pasts and embracing their true selves. Through this diverse ensemble, Chambers deftly explores the nuances of gender identity and sexual orientation, fostering an environment where acceptance and respect flourish. The interplay between cultures and species serves as a poignant mirror of our society, prompting us to cherish our differences and celebrate the beauty of inclusivity. A touching portrayal of LGBT+ love and camaraderie amidst the stars, “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet” becomes a hopeful reminder that unity and empathy can conquer even the most daunting challenges.

Chambers skillfully crafts a universe where acceptance, inclusivity, and personal growth converge in a masterful symphony. This book transcends the boundaries of science fiction, resonating with readers on a deeply human level.

Another great thing about this entire series is something I’ll gladly go on a separate rant about later … pronouns and honorifics. In this series, in the Galactic Common Language, Kliptorigan frequently referred to as Klip, if a being’s gender is not known or stated, then ze/zir is understood to be appropriate, and the honorific M. is used for elders and formal settings, pronounced “Ehm”. Used like, “Good morning M. Johnson” or “I’d be happy to help you with that M.” It’s wonderful, it’s understated but it feels so right.

As we close this cosmic chapter, we celebrate these five exceptional works for their portrayal of LGBT+ and Queer Coded experiences alongside the captivating tapestry of geek culture. These books transport us to far-off realms and remind us that love, acceptance, and the exploration of identity are timeless quests that resonate across the galaxies. Until next time, may the force of understanding and inclusion be with you, dear readers!

Interview with Ari North, Creator of Always Human

Ari North is a queer cartoonist who believes an entertaining story should also be full of diversity and inclusion. As a writer, artist and musician, she wrote, drew and composed the story and music for Always Human, a complete romance/sci-fi webcomic about two queer girls navigating maturity and finding happiness. She’s currently working on the webcomic Seven Days in Silverglen, a modern fantasy romcom about the masks we wear to fit in when we feel monstrous. She lives in Australia with her husband.

I had the opportunity to interview Ari, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi, thanks for having me! I’m Ari, I live in Australia, I make webcomics, and I’m really bad at answering this type of question! Some people are really good at talking about themselves and I’m not one of those people.

I’m bi and use she/her pronouns.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Love and Gravity, a sequel to Always Human?

Love and Gravity is the print edition of the second half of the Always Human webcomic.

It’s a YA sapphic romance set in a future where sci-fi body-modification is all but ubiquitous. The first book followed the two main characters as they met, formed a relationship, and worked through their first fight. Book two continues their story, as – with each other’s support – they figure out this adulting business, and what they really want out of life.

What was your inspiration for your comic, Always Human? What inspired this queer sci-fi world?

I’d been wanting to draw a practice comic – something maybe 20-30 pages – as a way to develop my skills, and was thinking about a short romance between a girl who was an ordinary human, and a girl who had a secret about her identity (maybe she was a vampire, or a witch, or a spy, I didn’t know exactly, this was a very vague idea.)

At this time I saw that webtoons.com was running a sci-fi comic competition, and decided to enter (I wanted the comfort of an external deadline).

Obviously this meant the girl with the secret couldn’t be a witch – maybe she could be a robot, or a cyborg? But that didn’t seem like any fun to draw, so I stopped thinking about mechanical parts and started thinking about bioaugmentation – genetically engineered super strength? cat eyes to see in the dark? a prehensile tail, for convenience? neon hair, because it’s cool? – and then I started thinking about sci-fi fashion, and how much fun it would be to draw this sort of stuff.

And that was where Always Human started to take form: I no longer wanted to tell a story about a girl with a secret, who was hiding her bioaugmentation from her normal human crush. I wanted a story set in a world where bioaugmentation is everywhere, and a romance where a girl who uses this technology falls for a girl who doesn’t.

The sci-fi setting is equal parts inspired by what I wanted to draw, and what I’d want to do to myself, if this sort of technology existed now.

Spoiler: One of the elements that struck me about Always Human was the inclusion of disability into its worldbuilding, i.e. Austin’s autoimmune condition, Egan’s syndrome, that prevented her from using mods (modifications that other individuals in this world can use.) What inspired this element within the story?

So following on directly from the above question – at this point in the story development process I had a vague story idea about a girl who uses bioaugmentation technology (mods) falling for a girl who doesn’t use mods.

I needed to figure out who this girl was. Did she not want to use mods? Or was it that she couldn’t use mods?

Since I’m the type of person who’d use mods in a heartbeat, I didn’t think I’d be able to do a good job of writing a character who chose not to use them. I needed this character to be a person who wasn’t able to use mods. An autoimmune condition seemed the most sensible explanation for why mods might not be accessible for her.

I continued to think about the character who became Austen. What jobs might be available to someone who can’t use mods? How would she do in school if she can’t use the focus and memory mods everyone else uses? It occurred to me that I’d created a setting where Austen – a person who wouldn’t be seen as disabled in the world we live in – was in practice disabled by a futuristic society built around technology that wasn’t accessible to everyone.

At the time I was developing these ideas I was a newly graduated primary school teacher, doing casual work in (mostly) underfunded schools. During my degree there had been a lot of focus on making sure that lessons are accessible to everyone. I was thinking in these terms when developing Austen. Schools often fail when it comes to accessibility – often not for lack of trying on the part of teachers, the support and budget simply isn’t there – and kids who would thrive in a different environment can struggle to succeed in the socially constructed environment that is a school.

I mirrored this in the setting of Always Human, by having an apparently utopian future built around technology that isn’t accessible to everyone – because no one’s willing to put the time, money and effort into supporting the very few people who can’t access mods. Austen knows she would thrive in a different environment, and her frustration throughout the story was very much inspired by the frustration of some of the children I met while teaching.

What inspired you to get into comics, particularly webcomics (which Always Human was originally)? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

A friend got me into anime and manga when I was 12. I fell in love, and immediately trawled the internet for anime art tutorials. At some point I followed a link to a webcomic, then followed more links to more webcomics, and I was hooked. I was amazed by the idea that anyone could do this, could create any story they wanted and just post it online. How wonderful!

I’ve been wanting to make my own since back then, and went through multiple never-to-be-seen attempts at webcomics before starting Always Human.

The manga that most inspires my storytelling is Honey & Clover (the way Umino Chika weaves together contrasting narration, dialogue and images is incredible.) 

*I probably didn’t use google, it was a long time ago!

Seven Days in Silverglen

As a queer comic creator, what does queer representation mean to you?

Someone told me once that representation in fiction can either be a mirror (reflecting parts of the reader’s own experiences back at them) or a window (giving the reader a glimpse of experiences unfamiliar to them.) I love it when queer representation does both – I love seeing myself in stories, and I love seeing other people too.

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

I mentioned above falling in love with manga. I love the cinematic paneling, and the way the eye flows so easily from text to art to text to art, it’s so immersive. I’m especially inspired by shoujo manga – the big expressive eyes, the delicate hair, the backgrounds that are more about atmosphere than setting.

I’ve also always loved Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau. Delicate, flowing lines!

For those curious about the process behind a comic/graphic novel, how would you describe the process? What goes into creating a script and translating that into panels?

Since I create webcomics in the mobile-scrolling webtoon format, I thought about scripting in terms of episodes (for Always Human this meant around 20-30 panels per episode, which is very short for a graphic novel chapter.)

I’ll start scripting with a short sentence describing what happens in the episode, and what parts of the story I want the episode to progress eg. “Character A has been waiting for a letter, it finally arrives. We see A’s normal routine, and how impatient they are. Hints that a storm is coming. End with the tension of the letter containing unexpected news.”

I’ll then write a panel by panel script which looks something like:

  1. Long panel showing menacing clouds over a city skyline. A snippet of a phone conversation flows down the panel: Yes, I just want to know when –
  2. Smaller panel, zoom in to A’s apartment. Phone conversation continues: No don’t put me on hold again I- CLICK
  3. A is standing in the kitchen, medium shot, surrounded by meal prep debris. They’re holding a mobile between shoulder and face, and look very annoyed.
  4. etc.

I’ll then roughly sketch all the panels for the episode on a very long canvas, with the layout they’ll have when read as a webcomic. I place dialogue and speech bubbles at the sketch stage, and if I’m using 3D models to assist with backgrounds I’ll add them as well. Then I ink all the panels, then colour all the backgrounds, then colour all the foregrounds, and then add any final details.

I think the process of moving from script to panel layout is a lot more complicated when you’re drawing a comic for printing – since the panels have to slot together on a page while guiding the reader’s eye through the story – but I’ve always drawn comics for webtoon format, where there’s a lot less choice in how the panels are placed, they just have to flow down. I imagine people who write for page/book comics might script in a different way (probably with page divisions?)

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

I love colours! Figuring out the colour scheme for a scene is one of my favourite things to do, it’s so satisfying seeing it come together.

I don’t particularly enjoy inking. It’s fiddly and doesn’t really involve making creative choices (since these choices mostly get made while sketching.)

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I don’t like pineapple, unless it’s on pizza.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

A lot of artists (comics and otherwise) listen to audiobooks/podcasts/youtubers/streamers while drawing, and I’m always curious to know what they’re listening to. Since this is a question I’d like to ask of other people, I guess it’s a good question to ask of myself.

Some of my favourite listens are: The Locked Tomb series, The Parasol Protectorate, Discworld, Skulduggery Pleasant, The Murderbot Diaries, A Master of Djinn, Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, The Magnus Archives, Welcome to Nightvale, Jessie Gender’s youtube channel, WithCindy’s youtube channel, Princess Weekes’ youtube channel.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about? 

I’m currently working on another webcomic, Seven Days in Silverglen, a modern fantasy romcom starring a gorgon who really shouldn’t have agreed to fake-date her crush, what a terrible idea.

The webcomic is currently on hiatus, courtesy of long covid, but I hope to be back to regular updates soon.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both to those who write, those who draw, or those who both draw and write )?

Read lots of comics! Storytelling with words and (still) images is very different to storytelling with prose, or animation, or any other medium. Start with a webcomic, webcomics are great 🙂

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

An incomplete list of queer webcomics that I love (and which you can read for free!)

Ava’s Demon, Miracle Simulator, Sleepless Domain, Muted, Covenant, Blades of Furry, Vampire Magicka, Straylight Tiger, Namesake, Mage & Demon Queen, Apollonia, Susuhara is a Demon!, Diamond Dive, Love Not Found, High Class Homos, My Dragon Girlfriend, Heir’s Game, The Witch, Heartstopper, REEDS, Kiss it Goodbye, Facing the Sun, The Right Knight, Castle Swimmer, Console Her, Novae, Electric Bones, How to be a Werewolf,

An incomplete list of queer, non-webcomics that I love.

Donuts Under a Crescent Moon, Bloom into You, Given

Graphic novels:
On a Sunbeam, Mooncakes, Bloom, The Tea Dragon Society, Basil and Oregano (I got to read this early, it’s so good!!)

Prose novels:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Legends & Lattes, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Gideon the Ninth.

Interview with Claire Winn

Claire Winn spends her time immersed in other worlds—through video games, books, conventions, and her own stories. Since graduating from Northwestern University, she’s worked as a legal writer and editor. Aside from writing, she builds cosplay props and battles with LARP swords. Her next book is City of Vicious Night (sequel to City of Shattered Light), a queer YA sci-fi adventure coming May 2023.

I had the opportunity to interview Claire, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hey, thanks for inviting me on! I’m an author of YA sci-fi, and I’m working on fantasy and adult-category manuscripts as my next projects. My first published duology is the Requiem Dark series, which began with City of Shattered Light and finishes with the upcoming City of Vicious Night (May 2023). I’ve told stories through tabletop role-playing, LARP storylines, and now books!

I love writing large casts of characters with lots of queer rep—this reflects my experiences and the friend groups I’ve made in nerd circles. Storytelling has always been a safe avenue for me to explore my thoughts and interests, and it helped me to understand and recognize my own bisexuality.

What can you tell us about the series, City of Shattered Light and its upcoming sequel City of Vicious Night? What was the inspiration for this project?

City of Shattered Light is a neon-drenched YA sci-fi adventure that’s often compared to Six of Crows and Netflix’s Arcane. It’s led by two fierce girls—a runaway heiress, Asa, who’s fled home to save her test-subject sister, and Riven, a gunslinging smuggler who needs a heck of a bounty to secure her place in one of the city’s matriarchal crime syndicates. The girls clash when one kidnaps the other, but they end up with bigger problems when a brilliant, tech-corrupting A.I. monster locks down the city and begins pursuing them. It has two bisexual leads and major themes of found family, body autonomy, and questions of technological dependencies.

My initial vision for the story was a girl on a rickety transit ship, hiding her identity and concealing a strange alien heart in her backpack. I worked backwards to determine who Asa was and what had happened to her. I determined that her backpack contained a piece she needed to save her sister, but what piece of her sister was missing? Who’d done this to her? All sorts of awful answers came to mind, and eventually I wrote the lead-up to that scene.

Aside from this, a few other pieces came together for the initial concept. Riven was a space gunslinger with a strange neuro-spore illness; because she felt she was running out of time, she was desperate to make her mark on the world. I also wanted to explore the damage a superhacker could wreak as more devices go online, so I imagined a nasty, sentient A.I. that had taken over a high-tech city and could hack anything as it pursued the main characters.

The setting and aesthetics were inspired by lots of video games and anime, but the emotional basis for the character arcs was a bit personal. Asa’s arc is about fiercely resisting what the world expects of you and finding happiness on your own terms, while Riven’s is about finding something to fight for despite an uncertain future.

The sequel City of Vicious Night was so much fun to write. I had years’ worth of ideas simmering after writing the first book, and I knew the characters and world so well before I even started it. It almost felt like writing fanfiction of my own work. Having the world and characters already established in readers’ minds meant I could deepen everything in unexpected ways.

As an author, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult fiction and speculative fiction?

I’ve always loved the exploration and escapism of other worlds—video games, in particular, are a storytelling medium I can’t get enough of. Sci-fi and fantasy are exciting because they allow me to build new worlds, play with exciting scenarios, and challenge characters in ways that aren’t possible in our current reality.

The manuscripts I’ve finished have been YA because I was a teen when I started writing, and I love the fast pacing and character-driven stories YA allows. I’ve also found that I have an easier time writing character perspectives and experiences that are firmly in the rearview mirror; I feel I finally have enough perspective on being a young adult to write convincing characters and meaningful arcs! I do have several adult projects in progress, but I really enjoy being part of the YA community as an author, since YA fans are unapologetically enthusiastic about books they love.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer? 

I grew up in a small conservative town, and this meant queer media was either discouraged or inaccessible. It took me a while to discover my own identity, which I did through nerd spaces and the safety of creating my own stories.

I love the found-family trope (especially featuring queer characters!) because it reflects much of my experience in nerd culture. These communities celebrate individualism and acceptance, so they tend to have a higher concentration of LGBTQ+ people.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

Gaming has been a big one for me, since I love the immersive, player-driven exploration of RPG video games and the collaborative storytelling of tabletop and LARP. You learn a lot about yourself and your friends while gaming—you’re creating characters that aren’t quite you, and reacting under pressure to a variety of fictional scenarios. While these scenarios haven’t directly influenced my stories, they’ve provided a great perspective on developing characters and their interactions.

When it comes to writing style and storytelling, I adore the work of Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab, Tracy Deonn, Brandon Sanderson, and N.K. Jemisin.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult? 

I love writing big action, fight scenes, and snappy dialogue! It’s also fun to explore nooks and crannies of worlds I’ve built, and to set scenes through vivid descriptions.

The hardest part for me is pacing it all out. I tend to write plot-heavy stories with lots of content, so I often slam into YA word count limits. It requires a careful strategy to engineer the best possible scenes to make the plot, character development, and world-building unfold at exactly the right times. Weaving together all these plot threads is a challenge, and it’s one of the reasons I’m a bit of a slow drafter.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I’ve had a lot of miscellaneous hobbies outside of writing, and I think these experiences have been important to keep my creativity fresh (and to take the pressure off writing). I used to do hip-hop dance. I sometimes create cosplay of characters I love. I have a B.A. in history and political science. I lift weights. Most days, I explore running trails at a nearby park. I do much of my brainstorming while out in the woods alone, and it’s been great for my writing process.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring artists?

Start writing for yourself. Writing a book is a long, uncertain, and lonely path, and the only guaranteed fan you’ll ever have—the one spending the most time with the story—is you. There’s so much work involved that it’s only worth going the distance for a story that resonates with you. Plus, writing something you love also means there’s a greater chance it’ll find readers who love it. So start with an idea you’re passionate about and pour your heart into it, even if it feels daunting.

Also, don’t feel guilty about taking time away from your art when you need it. Unless publishing is already paying you a living wage, or you’re under contract, you don’t owe this industry anything. It’s not worth sacrificing your mental or physical health to push creative work that doesn’t have your full heart.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

There’s a small but exciting thing for the Requiem Dark series that I hope to announce soon! I also have a dark fantasy and a science-fantasy project in the works, both with queer lead characters. I hope to share those with readers someday.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

A few recent faves are Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, and The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake.

Interview with Cartoonist Wes Molebash

Wes Molebash is the creator of several popular webcomics, most notably You’ll Have That (Viper Comics) and Molebashed (self-published). He has also created cartoons for companies and organizations such as the Ohio State University, Target, and PBS Kids. Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! is his debut graphic novel.

I had the opportunity to interview Wes, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks for inviting me to participate! I’m honored! My name is Wes Molebash, and I’m a cartoonist in Southern Ohio. I’ve been drawing comics for a couple of decades now; mostly webcomics, but I’ve recently published my first graphic novel!

What can you tell us about your debut graphic novel, Travis Daventhorpe for the Win!? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! is my first graphic novel, and it came out at the end of March from 01:First Second Books. It’s the first in a four-book series. The story follows a socially awkward eleven-year-old who discovers he’s the prophesied hero of a kingdom in another dimension. The book has robots, wizards, magic, dinosaurs, and tons of video game references. It’s a lot of fun!

The biggest inspirations for the series are my two sons, Parker and Connor. When they were really little, I started brainstorming ideas for a story I thought they’d enjoy. The initial idea for Travis Daventhorpe popped in my head while I was playing with them on the living room floor one afternoon.

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, particularly comics? What drew you to the medium?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cartoons and animation. Newspaper comics were also fun to read, but I didn’t fall in love with the medium of comics until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. That changed everything. It inspired me to learn everything I could about making comics.

During middle school, I began collecting comic books like Batman and Superman. They were fun, but I didn’t love them the way I loved Calvin and Hobbes. But then I found Bone by Jeff Smith, and that book was another game changer. It had the heart, imagination, and visuals of a comic like Calvin and Hobbes, but it was in this much larger comic book format. So the worlds could be bigger; it felt like there was more to explore. I loved that, and I wanted to make comics like that.

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

Well, as I said before, Bill Watterson and Jeff Smith are the BIG TWO. But I’m also inspired/influenced by other cartoonists like Mike Cavallaro, James Burks, and Michael Jantze. Movies, books, and video games are also huge influences. Speaking of video games, Travis Daventhorpe was heavily influenced by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. So if you like those games, you’ll probably find some nods to those series in my books.

Besides your work as a creative, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I was the 3rd Grade Spelling Bee Champion, I was class president my junior year of high school, and I can play the guitar.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

No one has ever asked me who I would want to voice Belazar if Travis Daventhorpe for the Win! was made into an animated movie. The answer is Andre Braugher from Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

Right now we’re wrapping up the edits on Travis Daventhorpe Book 2, and I’ve started writing Book 3!

Finally, what books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Here are a few of my faves:

The Nico Bravo series by Mike Cavallaro

Agent 9: Floodageddon and Agent 9: Mind Control by James Burks

The Real Friends series by Shannon Hale and LeYuen Pham

The Margo Maloo series by Drew Weing

Interview with Rii Abrego & Benjamin A. Wilgus

Rii Abrego is a Latina illustrator and comic artist who resides in the very humid southern United States. Rii has provided work for Random House, Oni Press, BOOM! Studios, Lion Forge, OMOCAT, Harmonix, Kazoo magazine, Ascend Comics, and Power & Magic Press, among others. She is the illustrator of the graphic novel The Sprite and the Gardener, co-written with Joe Whitt and published by Oni Press.

Benjamin A. Wilgus is a cartoonist and writer of comics and prose, including Chronin, a graphic novel duology from Tor Books. He has also written two works of graphic nonfiction for First Second Books: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared, illustrated by Molly Brooks, and The Mars Challenge, illustrated by Wyeth Yates.

I had the opportunity to interview Rii and Ben, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome back to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Rii: Thank you for having me!

I’m Rii, and I’m an illustrator and comic artist who lives in the southern USA. I studied drawing and painting at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, and since then I’ve provided art for a variety of comic titles, including the original graphic novel The Sprite and the Gardener. I also have several cats (they gave me no choice in the matter)

Ben: And I’m Ben! Very happy to be here! I’ve been neck-deep in comics for most of my life at this point — I had my brain chemistry altered forever by both the Mirage Studios and Archie TMNT comics series in middle school, and I think that pretty much locked me in. I’ve drawn a lot of comics and zines over the years (including Chronin, a big two-part graphic novel) but these days most of professional comics work is either writing or editing. I live in Brooklyn, and at the moment I’m sad to say I only have one cat, but I have high hopes for what the future may hold.

As a creative, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically within the graphic novel medium?

Rii: I’ve always loved the visual aspect of storytelling in comics. It’s a lot like real life in that there’s so much that can be communicated without words. Gestures, expressions, colors, angles, and framing can all be used to either emphasize or contradict the dialogue, to control the impact of the scene, etc. It’s like the script has a second script layered on top, and every artist approaches it differently. I want to explore it more!

Ben: Rii put it perfectly! I love that a given comics page can be so dense with nuance and meaning while also feeling breezy and effortless to read — there’s an elegance to a really good comic that’s so unique to the medium. I also write prose, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about the specific strengths of graphic novels as a format, and I do what I can to lean into those strengths instead of fighting them. There are emotional moments between characters which would take hundreds of words of text to explain, but are immediately clear in just a couple of panels. 

There’s a certain type of comics writer who tends to overwhelm pages with captions or dialog that aggressively explain to you what you’re looking at and how you’re supposed to feel about it, often unnecessarily reiterating what’s perfectly clear in the art. But I think it’s a mistake to think that comics writing is just about cramming as much text as possible onto the page. I feel like my job is to be collaborating with the artist to use the entire comics toolbox to tell a story, whether that be the pacing and paneling, the details included in the frame, the facial expressions and body language of the characters, the color palette, the list goes on and on! 

“Collaboration” really is the a key word here, too! Many many comics are collaborative — as opposed to prose, which tends to be more solitary — and I think that makes for better books. Everyone brings their own voice and perspective and talent to the table. I love it!

Rii Abrego

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? And as a team, how would you describe your collaboration style for this project?

Ben: As the writer, I was the first runner in the comics relay race, for the most part. I had met with our editor, Whitney, very very early on to talk about the kinds of books she was interested in for RHG, and Grace Needs Space! — originally called Space Moms before we came up with the final title — was born from those conversations. And writing a full outline for the book was actually part of the pitch process in my case, so by the time I got the official go-ahead to start working on the script, I had all the major plot beats figured out.  

After Rii joined the team — after the outline, but before the script — she and I talked about our big picture vision for the book and what we wanted it to be like. And with those early conversations in mind, I went off to my little corner and wrote and wrote and wrote. And while I was writing, I was also putting together big folders of reference images for some of the locations and objects and such that were part of this far-future deep-space setting, in order to help give Rii a jumping-off point for bringing Grace’s world to life. I’d recently written a non-fiction comic about human spaceflight (The Mars Challenge, drawn by Wyeth Yates) so I was in a great position to really dive down deep into the nerd mines with this one.

Once I was done with the script, though, I honestly tried to be as hands-off as possible! Rii is a fantastic cartoonist with really strong instincts for how to best tell a story, and I trusted her completely. Honestly,  I think a bunch of my notes involved taking out or trimming down dialog that it turned out wasn’t needed — Rii’s art speaks volumes, sometimes that text was just getting in the way!

Rii: In this book’s case, I designed the characters early on, but I didn’t start drawing the book itself until the script was completed, so I had the story laid out for me start to finish. That might sound limiting, but aside from the dialogue being set in stone, I was actually given a lot of room to freely interpret how each scene would look.

My basic process for this graphic novel was to roughly thumbnail each page to get a sense of where everything would go, then come back and refine everything in cleaner sketches, then draw over those sketches with the final lines, and then color it all. So rather than finishing one page at a time, I’d essentially work through the entire book and then circle back multiple times. It’s kind of interesting to see how it evolved with each pass!

Many authors would say one of the most challenging parts of writing a book is finishing one. What strategies would you say helped you accomplish this?

Ben: In the cast of this specific book, the biggest challenges were bad timing and bad luck on a global scale, to put it very mildly. I was juggling a few different projects, and had specifically set aside March of 2020 as the month when I was going to write the bulk of this script, which…you know. Ended up not working out so well.

I wish I could tell you what I did to get this script done. I cannot remember writing most of it. I DO remember turning it in a little behind deadline, and feeling absolutely awful about having been late, which in retrospect is insane to me. Like…Benjamin. Sir. You were in the deepest depths of a global pandemic, my guy, you did FINE.

More generally, though — when I’m writing things under less hilariously terrible circumstances — my big strategy for finishing things is to tell myself, over and over, that if the first draft is bad I can always fix it. I have an editor, I have a wonderful agent, I have smart friends who give great feedback, I have talented collaborators. If the draft is broken, we’ll figure it out. But you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Ben: As a queer trans person who was born in the 80s, this is a complicated question. Like…big-time haunted chuckling as I look back on what I hyper-imprinted on as a kid, only to then not figure my transgendered self out for another couple decades. I watched Mulan a frankly insane number of times. I think Pricilla, Queen of the Desert was the first truly queer movie I ever watched, and it shook me to my core. I was really really into Phantom of the Opera in a way that can only be described as deeply homosexual. I recorded George Michael’s Too Funky and Freedom 90 music videos off VH1 and let me tell you, I wore those tapes OUT.

These days, I do everything I can to surround myself with queer stories told by queer people, I am marinating in the best possible content at all times, there’s simply too much to even begin to list off here. But I will take a moment to say that probably the most transformative media in my personal queer journey was both reading and writing deeply vulnerable fanfiction. AO3 is my church, truly.

Ben Wilgus

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative/artistic influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

Rii: That’s a really difficult question! As a kid, I was extremely influenced by anime and manga in general (and I guess maybe that’s still true), with very girls-oriented titles like Tokyo Mew Mew, Sailor Moon, and Full Moon wo Sagashite taking up 90% of my brain space on any given day. In recent years I’ve diversified a lot, so I can’t really pinpoint any major sources. I try to draw inspiration from everything I can, whether that’s abstract work, film, photography, or even just places and objects I see in my day-to-day life. Like, I’ve found inspiration for more than one illustration in a grocery store. Inspiration is everywhere if you’re looking for it.

Ben: The lazy-but-true answer to this is that everything is an influence — all the books and movies and comics and music I’ve taken in, all the conversations I’ve had with friends, all the experiences I’ve weathered, and the places I’ve lived or visited. It all stews in the crockpot of my brain, it’s all part of the inspiration soup I’m drawing from when I sit down to write. 

For Grace Needs Space! specifically, one of my most important inspirations was my own younger self. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I cared about when I was Grace’s age — what it was like to have divorced parents where one of them lived far away, what my struggles and my fears were, the ways in which the adults in my life both supported and failed me, what tiny me felt was most important. It was easy for present-day me to sympathize with Mom and Ba, who are close to my own age and deal with the stuff my parent friends deal with. But it was so so important that I also re-ground myself in what it’s like to be twelve and to desperately care about things that are largely out of your control.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/ illustrating? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?

Rii: I love that illustration is a little like a puzzle. You only have so much room to convey what you need to convey, so you have to figure out the easiest way to do that. This is especially true in comics since most people are usually zipping past each panel – you want it to be clear enough that it can be understood at a glance. That element is both the most difficult and the most fun.

Ben: Funny enough, I love that writing is a little like a puzzle! There’s this fantastic satisfaction to figuring out how to solve a plot problem or tidy up a character arc — when  you feel those pieces click into place, it’s glorious.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

Rii: I spend a lot of time outdoors learning about the local environment and ecosystem, and I encourage everyone to do the same. The more you learn about the world around you, the more textured the it becomes. You start noticing the details more. Communicating the magic in the everyday is a huge part of my artistic goal, and I hope it can inspire someone to get out there and experience it for themselves.

Also, I’ve gotten kind of interested in dolls recently. Maybe that’s weird.

Ben: So despite spending most of my career in publishing, I actually went to film school. And I was pretty hardcore about it, too — one time I watched the 1989 Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with the saturation turned all the way down so that I could pretend it was a black and white film, and then spent an hour talking to my film student friends about its gorgeous use of light and contrast.

But despite that, there are SO many iconic films that I’ve simply never seen. Not that I fuss over it much — in my experience, the movies that I need to watch find me in their own time. Which is all to say, a few weeks ago at a movie night with friends, I saw Victor Victoria for the first time, and it made me so damn happy. Every second of it, sheer delight. I’ve had a deeply Gender crush on Julie Andrews ever since watching her play Peter Pan as a small child, so this really was my queer journey coming full circle in a way. So yes,  I was thunderstruck by Victor Victoria in 2023, and that’s the important fact I want people to know about me at the moment. 

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creators, especially those looking to draw and/or write graphic novels themselves?

Rii: Have interests outside of comics! My favorite comics are the ones where you can really see the creator’s passion for a niche topic or hobby shining through. If people can feel your love for whatever you’re writing about, they’ll be drawn to it.

Ben: Seconding that — Rii’s is absolutely right!

I’d also add that the best way to break into comics is to make them. Learn by doing, find your voice, play with the medium. Even if you only want to be a writer, drawing comics will make you so much better at your job — it doesn’t matter if they’re all stick figures, you’ll still build fluency in paneling and pacing and flow, you’ll get a sense of how much text feels comfortable on a page, you’ll learn where to put your page turns for maximal effect. It’s invaluable!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Ben: So, as I mentioned above, I edit comics as well as writing them. And one of those books — The Bawk-ness Monster, by Natalie Riess and Sara Goetter — comes out in June! It’s an extremely fun and deeply queer book about a group of cryptid-hunting kids, written and drawn by two of the best cartoonists in the business, and I’m so so so so excited for everyone to read it. 

If you’re looking for queer comics for adult readers, some of my personal favorite authors are EK Weaver, Otava Heikkilä, Sarah Winifred Searle, Fumi Yoshinaga, Ngozi Ukazu, Carey Pietsch, Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh. Solid gold, every one of them!

Star Trek (But Make it Gay): TNG

Busy Geek Breakdown:

Lifelong Trekkie or never seen a single episode? Check out the following:

Season 3; Episode 16.  Season 4; Episodes 4, 23. Season 5, Episodes 6, 14, 17.

Also, if you just want to see the Riker Maneuver click here.

If you’re a seasoned Trekkie, or don’t want context, skip ahead — here.

For the Total Star Trek Red Shirts Provisional Ensigns (Red Shirts are important now!!!):

Star Trek: The Next Generation (often abbreviated as TNG) is an American science fiction television series that aired from 1987 to 1994. It is the second Star Trek television series and a sequel to the original Star Trek series TOS that aired from 1966 to 1969.

The show is set in the 24th century, about 100 years after the original series, and follows the crew of the USS Enterprise-D, led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, (aka Gunshow circa 1994)  

The above image is published under Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines. Owner/Creator: TV Guide Publishing Group, Inc.

… as they explore the galaxy and encounter new civilizations and technologies. The Enterprise-D is a massive starship that is capable of traveling faster than the speed of light and is equipped with a variety of advanced technologies, including a holodeck, which can create realistic virtual environments.

The show has a large ensemble cast, with notable characters including Commander William Riker (galactic thirst trap) . . .

Courtesy of gifer.com

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (Take a look, It’s in a book!) , Lieutenant Commander Data (an android), Counselor Deanna Troi (a betazoid empath counselor), and Lieutenant Worf (a Klingon).

Lt. Worf” by Tram Painter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The show also features several recurring characters, such as Q, a powerful and mischievous being who challenges the crew with his god-like abilities.

TNG is known for its thought-provoking stories and themes, such as exploring the nature of humanity, the ethics of scientific experimentation, and the consequences of interfering with other cultures. It was also notable for its impressive special effects, which were state-of-the-art for its time.

Overall, TNG is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential science fiction television shows of all time and has spawned numerous spin-off series and feature films.

Before we get into individual episodes, let’s talk about Q . . . . 

The character Q in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is often portrayed as being fascinated and intrigued by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Q, played by actor John de Lancie, is an omnipotent being who serves as a recurring character throughout the series. He often tests the crew of the USS Enterprise-D and challenges their beliefs and values. Q has a playful and mischievous personality, and he enjoys manipulating the crew and testing their limits.

Some would argue that while Q is often seen interacting with Picard and the two characters have a somewhat adversarial relationship, there is no indication in the show that Q has romantic feelings for Picard. That Q’s interest in Picard seems to stem more from his fascination with humanity and his desire to explore and understand human behavior.

It’s worth noting that the relationship between Q and Picard is deliberately ambiguous, and the show’s writers have left their interactions open to interpretation. While some fans may see hints of romantic interest in Q’s behavior towards Picard, the show itself does not provide any explicit confirmation of this.

Courtesy of gifer.com

If you’re not convinced though and believe I’m just shipping Q-Card out of wishful thinking, wait until I post my blog about a later series. Anyway, Nerdist agrees with me (some spoilers).

Tasha Yar while not Canonically gay, has often been embraced as a gay icon and even made #1 on the AutoStraddle Star Trek lesbian character list. 

Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, was the chief of security aboard the USS Enterprise-D and appeared in the first season of the show.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

One reason for Tasha Yar’s appeal to the LGBTQ+ community may be her status as a strong, independent woman. In the world of “Star Trek,” women are often shown in positions of power and authority, and Tasha Yar is no exception. She is a skilled fighter and a competent leader, and she is not afraid to stand up for herself and her beliefs. Unfortunately, due to the actors desire to go elsewhere in her career, she ends up perpetuating the “Bury your gays” stereotype by getting killed off at the end of Season 1.

Ch . Ch. Ch. Changes … in uniforms over 100 years. It’s easiest to explain using the infographic from Costumesupercenter.com below. (get the full infographic here)

The most important costume revelation for TNG is the Skant! The Star Trek skant is a type of uniform worn by some characters in the Star Trek franchise. It is a unisex garment that resembles a dress or tunic and was first introduced in the original Star Trek series in the late 1960s.

The skant was intended to be a futuristic, gender-neutral uniform that would reflect the show’s optimistic vision of a society without gender-based distinctions. The skant was worn by both male and female crew members and was meant to signify that everyone in the Star Trek universe was equal and could perform any job regardless of gender.

The skant was worn by several characters, although most of the men sporting it in TNG were in the background.

The skant reappeared in later Star Trek series, including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where it was worn by both male and female crew members. However, the skant was eventually phased out in favor of more traditional uniforms.

In recent years, the skant has become a popular item among Star Trek fans and cosplayers, who often create their own versions of the garment. The skant is seen as a unique and iconic part of the Star Trek universe and a symbol of the franchise’s progressive values.

IMG_3050” by marakma is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Alright. Now on to my favorite part … the numbered list!

6. “The Offspring” (Season 3, Episode 16):

*CW: Mental Health, Death*

In this episode, the character of Data creates an android “daughter” named Lal. While the episode does not explicitly address LGBTQ issues, the themes of identity and acceptance resonate with many LGBTQ individuals.

Honey, let me tell you, as a fierce Star Trek fan and a proud member of the LGBTQ community, this episode that spoke to my heart on so many levels. In fact, after watching this episode I had to take a break and watch several episodes of RuPauls Drag Race, before I could resume my Trek re-watch.

Firstly, I was struck by Data. This android struggles with his identity as a non-human being and the prejudice and discrimination he faces from others because of it. Many of us in the Queer community can relate to feeling marginalized and ostracized for simply being who we are. Watching Data grapple with these issues was both emotional and empowering, as it reminded me of the importance of standing up for oneself in the face of discrimination.

But the real heart of The Offspring lies in the creation of Lal, a child-like android that Data creates as his own offspring. Many of us know all too well the balance required to prioritize found family and the importance of finding people who reflect our identities and experiences. Lal represents that desire for a family and the struggles that come with it as she navigates her identity as a non-human being and grapples with the discrimination she faces from others.

Data allow Lal to choose her own gender and appearance, and while this idea was executed in s somewhat binary way, still Star Trek saying Trans Rights in the early 1990’s was amazing! There are several remarks about how your gender is how other’s perceive you and impact how folks interact with you.

And there are absolutely some wonderful, memorable moments in this episode, like when Lal first learns from her job in Ten Forward as a cocktail waitress for Guinan (working at 3 weeks old – wow, nobody want to work these days!!!) and she first learns that people touch hands and then touch lips when they like each other. And of course Riker’s very first time meeting her, she picks him up by the collar to kiss him – right as Data walks in and says “Commander, what are your intentions with my daughter?” It’s just *chef’s kiss* one of those moments where my spouse had to ask why I was cackling so loud.

Courtesy of makeagif.com

Watching Data’s relationship with Lal develop throughout the episode is beautiful as he learns how to care for and love his new creation. The performances by the cast, particularly Brent Spiner as Data and Hallie Todd as Lal, were simply outstanding, capturing the complex emotions and struggles of their characters with real depth and sensitivity.

But what impressed me about The Offspring was its relevance to LGBTQ issues today. The episode tackles themes of prejudice, discrimination, and the importance of individual rights and freedoms, which are still relevant to our community. It’s a reminder that the fight for acceptance and equality is ongoing and that it’s essential to stand up for ourselves and our loved ones in the face of discrimination.

Overall, The Offspring was a profoundly moving and empowering episode that speaks to the struggles and joys of the LGBTQ community in a significant way. I highly recommend it to any queer person or ally who wants to see themselves reflected in a powerful and poignant story. Live long and prosper, honey.

But what caught my eye were the costumes worn by the android characters. Data, in particular, wore his normal sleek and form-fitting uniform that accentuated his non-human features, with metallic accents and a bold black and gold color scheme. On the other hand, Lal wore a simple dress with a flowing skirt, contrasting beautifully with her pale (and much more human like) skin, and conveying a sense of innocence of youth. Of course, she did have to wear this giant bob type wig, to allow for a scene later in the episode where they opened up her positronic brain on camera.

Of course the villain of the story, the Admiral who initially wanted to separate Lal from Data (and there were owe so many brilliant points in this episode about why Data was being questioned and second guessed on creating a life, when other’s weren’t questioned about procreating). Ultimately, Lal begins to feel actual emotions, beginning when she realizes some strange man who doesn’t care for her wants to take her away from her family and ensure she grows up ‘the right way’. She effectively has a breakdown and dies as a result of the intense feelings, which is of course heartbreaking, and the Admiral finally feels for Data as a father.

The crew is generally very compassionate, and Data mentions a heartwarming note about all of Lal’s memories will live inside him. But then Captain ‘Prick-ard’ basically says, “Oh, you’re not crying? Get back on watch!’ and Data does. Come on Jean Luc – you couldn’t give him a day off to contemplate existence? Or at least ask if he would prefer to mourn or get back to work? Well, we all know that for all his wisdom, Picard never did well with feelings. Or children. On that note, on to the next episode!!!!

5. “Suddenly Human” (Season 4, Episode 4):

*CW: Mental Health, Death

In this episode the crew encounters a human boy who was raised by an alien race after his parents died. As they attempt to reunite him with his biological family, they must navigate the complex issues of identity, belonging, and cultural differences.

These poor abandoned kids add to the confusion and chaos with the Mourning, a sound they make when separated from their Captain, until Picard charges in and orders them to be quiet.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Now, this is a powerful message for our community, my loves. It reminds us of the importance of family and belonging, and how our sense of identity can be shaped by the culture and community we grow up in. It’s a message that resonates deeply with the LGBT community, as we too have often struggled to find acceptance and belonging in a world that can be hostile to our identities.

And speaking of cultural differences, my darlings, let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The crew’s attempts to reunite the boy with his biological family echo the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in reconciling their identities with their cultural and familial backgrounds.

Now we have to talk about Captain Picard’s attempts to connect with the boy. Bless his heart, he’s not exactly the most skilled at dealing with children, is he? But it’s also a reminder that we all have our awkward moments, and that even the most stoic and composed among us can struggle to connect with others at times.

But let’s talk about Captain Picard’s attempts to connect with the boy, my darlings. Bless his heart, he tells Counselor Troi that he’s not great with kids – a fact that is abundantly clear throughout the episode. But we can’t fault him for trying, can we? It’s a reminder that even the most seasoned leaders among us can struggle when it comes to parenting and connecting with younger generations.

And speaking of Picard, my loves, let’s not forget about Picard Day – an annual celebration of the captain that was established by the children on the Enterprise. It’s a playful moment in the series, but also a reminder of the importance of honoring those who inspire us and bring us together.

But beyond the jokes and playful moments, my darlings, this episode is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding. As the crew attempts to navigate the complex dynamics between the boy and his biological family, they must confront their own biases and assumptions about what it means to be human.

And speaking of connections, my darlings, let’s not forget the playful reference to daddy issues in this episode. As the crew attempts to navigate the complex dynamics between the boy and his biological father, it’s hard not to laugh at the irony of Picard – a man with his own complicated relationship with his father – trying to play the role of mentor and father figure.

Ah, my darlings, wouldn’t it be lovely if every lost child in the galaxy could be a Mandalorian foundling, with the handsome Pedro Pascal as their daddy? Alas, in this episode, we are dealing with a Talarian foundling instead, and the crew of the Enterprise must navigate the complex issues of identity and belonging that arise when a human boy is raised by an alien race.

Now, we’ve all been there. Who hasn’t had a rebellious phase as a teenager, blasting rock music and acting out against authority? Maybe not as far as stabbing someone in their sleep, but otherwise it’s a universal experience, and a reminder that even in the future, some things never change. “Stop that noise!”

Courtesy of boldlygiffing.com

But the real message here is about empathy and understanding. As the crew comes to understand the boy’s experience and perspective, they are able to bridge the gap between their two cultures and find a way to reunite him with his family while still honoring his identity and experiences.

Now, my loves, can we talk about those Talarian uniforms? They would be so fashionable if they weren’t wearing those turtlenecks underneath! It’s a good thing we have our very own fashion icons on the crew to provide some much-needed style inspiration. Data – does he have ANY pores? His skin is flawless! And Troi, are we sure that low cut v-neck jumpsuit is regulation Star Fleet?

But the journey to reunite Jono with his Talarian family is not without its challenges, my loves. Jono’s experience as a hostage has left him with deep-seated trauma and a desire for revenge, leading him to effectively try to commit suicide by cop in a dramatic confrontation with his Talarian captors. It’s a poignant reminder of the ongoing impact of trauma on our loved ones and the need for compassion and support in their healing journeys.

Despite the serious nature of this episode, my loves, we can always rely on the charming Captain Picard and his aversion to young people to bring some levity to the Enterprise. Don’t miss it!

Courtesy of Gifer.com

So let’s raise a glass of (vegan) Blood Wine to the crew of the Enterprise, my darlings, and to the power of empathy, understanding, and acceptance. We must never forget that we are all connected by our humanity, and that our differences should be celebrated, not feared. Remember, love knows no boundaries – even if we have a few heart wrenching and even awkward moments along the way!”

4. “The Host” (Season 4, Episode 23):

In this episode, Dr. Crusher falls in love with a Trill ambassador named Odan. Now, the Trill are a fascinating species, honey. They can transfer their consciousness between hosts, and Odan’s current host is a fine-looking man. But when that man is injured, Odan is transferred into a new host, temporarily Commander Will Riker – and that’s where the drama begins.

Let me take a moment to say – How in the hell did I not know there was a nail salon on the Enterprise? Is Picard secretly rocking hot pink toenail polish under that very regulation exterior? In the 24th century, along with the skant, are hair and nail uniform regulations finally equal?

Anyway, back to the drama. Now, the symbolism here is strong, my loves. The Trill’s gender-neutral culture challenges our preconceived notions of gender and identity. It reminds us that gender is not binary and that love can transcend labels. But Dr. Crusher struggles with this concept, as many in our community still do today.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Also, I would like to take a moment to appreciate Deanna Troi. Although the onscreen romance between her and Riker doesn’t happen until later, and they don’t marry until the film Insurrection, they are friends and former lovers while serving together during the events of TNG. If not exactly kitchen table poly, it’s at least super enlightened of Troi when comforting ‘Dr. Beverly’ to tell her that if she can find love and comfort in Odan in the form of Riker, then she should.

Anyway, Riker realizes it’s beyond physical, and that she is attracted to the person she knew as a man – at the end, after averting a war (because of global warming caused by overdependency on an energy source – interesting) but she finds it difficult to accept that Odan is now in new woman host, but admits that she still loves Odan, and understands that it is her own failing to accept the new form.

Another great line from this episode, which I definitely did not catch when I was younger. When Crusher confronts Odan about not telling her he was a symbiote, he say’s “Did you ever have to tell someone you were only a single being? Of course not!” Wonderful echos of the double standard of being expected to come out as Queer, but not as cis-het. Ok, I see you Starfleet. All this in 1990! Boom!

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Is there a deeper metaphor with Dr. Crusher being the one to transplant her lover into Riker? Who knows, but it’s a great chance for some Special Effect!!!

Anyway, as usual the real kicker is the costumes. The Trill’s signature spots are a bold fashion statement, representing their connection to their hosts. However, when Odan is transferred to the new host, those spots disappear, leaving us with a blank slate. It’s a powerful visual representation of the struggle to maintain identity through change.

And let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The Trill’s fluidity challenges traditional gender roles, and their love can transcend bodies and lifetimes. It’s a beautiful message for our community, reminding us to celebrate our differences and embrace the complexity of our identities.

So there you have it, my darlings. Another powerful episode that challenges us to think beyond the binary and embrace the diversity of our world. Let’s all raise a glass of Saurian Brandy to love in all its forms! No Synthehol for us!

3. “The Game” (Season 5, Episode 6):

In this episode, the crew is faced with a new game that has taken over the minds of everyone on board, including Cadet Crusher’s new love interest, Ensign Robin Lefler. The game represents addiction and how easily we can be controlled by outside forces.

So the beginning of this episode as inspired me to amend what I said about Troi and Riker. By this time, she definitely knew how freaking thirsty he was and so also knew what she was getting herself into. The episode opens with Riker hooking up on Risa and then getting introduced to this super addictive, very easy to win, brainwashing game where you mentally push a disk into a cone, then get a euphoric/orgasmic rush.

Courtesy of Gifer.com

But the real message here, my loves, is about control. The game takes over the crew’s minds, leading them to act in ways they usually wouldn’t. It’s a reminder that we must always be vigilant against outside forces that seek to control us and our actions. That we can be ourselves and do what we know is right, despite what the rest of society tries to tell us.

But, ultimately, Wesley puts his faith in a trustworthy adult (in this case Data) to safe him from his own mother among everyone else on board. While Data formulates a plan, Cadet crusher runs around the Enterprise Home Alone style, distracting everyone to buy time.

So let’s raise a glass of Altair Water to Ensign Lefler and Cadet Crusher, my darlings, and to the power of individuality and self-determination. We must never let anyone or anything control our minds or our hearts. Remember, we are the captains of our own destiny, and as we all know geeks always save the day!

2. “Conundrum” (Season 5, Episode 14):

In this episode my fellow LGBT-rekkies, the crew wakes up without memory of their identities or mission. They must work together to uncover the truth and prevent a war between two alien races.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Who is this new guy? He’s now the Executive Officer? Why does Picard still call Riker ‘Numbah Won’ if he’s third in command now? Oh right, it’s a mind controlling alien. Why didn’t he just make himself the Captain? Or a Commodore? Ah well …

Now, this is a powerful message for our community. It reminds us of the importance of memory and identity and how easily they can be manipulated or erased. It’s a message that resonates deeply with the Queer community, as we have faced challenges in asserting our identity and having our history recognized and celebrated. Even if it turns out we’re a space faring Trombone Player.

Courtesy of Gifer.com

But let’s talk about the way everyone acts when they forget who they are. Worf believes he is in charge, apparently because of his confidence and fancy sash.

Courtesy of startrekgifs.tumblr.com

Data thinks he is a robot bar tender.

Courtesy of Dat4L0re

… and there is a very awkward love triangle between Ro Loren, Riker, and Troi but as their memories return and they discover their individual roles on the ship, they begin to adjust and change their behavior to reflect their unique identities and personalities, albeit with most of their inhibitions restored.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

And speaking of identity let’s not forget the LGBT issues at play here. The crew’s struggle to regain their memories and assert their individual identities echoes the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in maintaining their identities in a society that often seeks to erase or marginalize them.

But the real message here, my loves, is about unity and collaboration. The crew must work together and trust each other to uncover the truth and prevent a war. It’s a reminder that we must come together and support each other even in the face of adversity and uncertainty.

So let’s raise a glass of Romulan Ale to the crew of the Enterprise, my darlings, and to the power of memory, identity, and collaboration. We must always remember who we are and where we come from and work together to create a better future for ourselves and our community. Remember, together, we are unstoppable!

1. “The Outcast” (Season 5, Episode 17):

*CW: Conversion Therapy, anti-trans rhetoric

In this episode, the Enterprise crew encounters the J’naii, a society where gender neutrality is strictly enforced, and the character of Soren, a member of this society, begins questioning her gender identity. This episode is often considered the most prominent LGBTQ episode in the series.

The J’naii are gender-neutral and reject any concept of male or female, reminding us that gender is a construct and that we can be whoever we want, regardless of societal norms. Despite a clunky conversation about gender-neutral pronouns, which is somewhat unsatisfying (especially since the singular “they” has been used since the 1300s), this episode further explores gender and sexuality than any others in the series.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

But of course, the crew faces a challenge as Soren expresses romantic feelings for Commander Riker. There are some funny and awkward moments along the way. I did appreciate how we find a way to use words like ‘Micro-Cochrans’ to describe engine output to someone from a species which likely has never heard of Zephram Cochran (a lot like the U.S. still refusing to use metric)

Courtesy of Gifer.com

But this is where the drama begins. The J’naii don’t believe in gender or romantic love. Soren’s attraction to Riker is seen as a violation of their societal norms. She is forced to undergo a mind-altering procedure to conform to the J’naii way of life.

The symbolism here is deep, if a bit on the nose. Soren’s desire to love who she wants challenges the J’naii’s strict adherence to their cultural norms. It reminds us of the struggle we face in our community, where we are often told that our love is invalid. But Soren’s bravery in standing up for her true self inspires us all.

As a devoted fan and an advocate for LGBTQ rights, this was one of my favorite episodes to re-watch. I remembered it differently, as growing up in the Midwest USA, I had little exposure to anything outside CIS-Hetero-Normative ideas. And in the 1990s, on analog network television, seeing Queer representation felt a lot like Lily and Zefram seeing visitors from the future in the TNG Film, First Contact.

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Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

The costume choices in this episode were fascinating, as they played a role in highlighting the differences between Soren’s society and the Federation. Soren’s people wore gender-neutral clothing, which was a sharp contrast to the bold and colorful uniforms of the Enterprise crew. The neutral tones and simple dress designs in Soren’s society reflected their strict adherence to gender neutrality and conformity. At the same time, the bright and varied uniforms of the Enterprise crew conveyed a sense of individuality and diversity.

Another interesting costume choice was using makeup and hair styling to convey gender. Soren’s people had identical haircuts and minimal makeup, again highlighting their adherence to strict gender neutrality. In contrast, the crew of the Enterprise had varied hairstyles and makeup choices that reflected their individuality.

But what struck me about The Outcast was how it highlighted the struggles of LGBTQ people we still face today. Soren’s journey to embrace her gender identity, despite the disapproval of her society, was a powerful metaphor for the struggles of many LGBTQ people who face discrimination and persecution for simply being who they are. And, it gave us this fantastic monologue – there’s a cut down version with captions available here.

But in the end, it’s about love. Soren’s love for Riker transcends gender and societal norms, reminding us that love knows no bounds. It’s a message we need to hear today more than ever as we continue fighting for our rights and identities.

Despite Worf very excitedly accompanying Riker to the surface to mess some folks up, and Picard very specifically not giving Riker permission to act, but also staying in orbit just long enough. Sadly, the episode ends with Soren telling Riker it was a mistake- it appears the conversion therapy was a success.

Overall, The Outcast was a powerful and thought-provoking episode that used costume and makeup choices to explore issues of gender identity and LGBTQ rights in a truly impactful way. I highly recommend this episode to anyone who wants to see themselves reflected in a powerful and poignant story.

So let’s raise a cup of “Earl Gray, Hot” to the J’naii, my darling Queer Geeks, and as always, Live Long, and Prosper.

Earl grey, hot” by Fanfare & Foofaraw is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

These episodes, among others, are shining examples of good science fiction exploring issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in a nuanced and thought-provoking way. While the series may not have always been at the forefront of LGBTQ representation, these episodes show that it was willing to push boundaries and challenge societal norms.

Are there any other favorites I missed, or should I cover them in the next post? Let me know!

Interview with Author Jenna Voris

Jenna Voris writes books about ambitious girls and galaxy-traversing adventures. She was born and raised in Indiana—where she learned to love roundabouts and the art of college basketball—and now calls Washington D.C. home. When she’s not writing, she can be found perfecting her road trip playlists and desperately trying to keep her houseplants alive. Made of Stars is her debut. 

I had the opportunity to interview Jenna, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself? 

Hi, thanks so much for having me! I’m Jenna and my debut YA sci-fi, Made of Stars, came out in March. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, Made of Stars? What was the inspiration for this story?

Made of Stars is a Bonnie and Clyde-inspired sci-fi adventure story set in space. It follows two young criminals on the run from the law and the enemy pilot hunting them across the galaxy. I wrote this as a distraction project when I was querying another book and wanted to make it as enjoyable for myself as possible, so it really ended up as a combination of my favorite things—terrible, ambitious characters, heists, space politics, star-crossed romance, etc. The original spark of the idea came from listening to the Bonnie and Clyde Broadway musical (shout out Jeremy Jordan) and realizing all the songs were vastly underrated. That album helped form the initial skeleton of the story and it all spiraled from there. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer-centered website and Made of Stars is said to be a queer science fiction romance, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters that will be featured in your book?

I am a firm believer that no one in space is straight so, by default, not one single character in Made of Stars is straight either. However, there’s an on-page mlm romance between Cyrus, the pilot hunting Ava and Shane, and his annoyingly handsome partner Lark. The two of them are recent graduates of the same prestigious flight academy and had always battled for the top spot in class. Now, they’re in the real world and the missions are more dangerous, but their rivalry never truly faded. 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative fiction, and young adult fiction?

Honestly, I was never really good at anything else. I wasn’t a “good at school” type of kid, but I was “a pleasure to have in class” and “very creative” so obviously I chose a career where I’m constantly trying to chase the high of my third-grade report card. I always loved writing, but I didn’t realize it was an actual job people could have until later. Once I started pursuing publication, I knew that I wanted to write YA. I still remember the books I read in high school that made me feel seen and it’s such an honor and privilege to be able to write for teenagers in that way. 

How would you describe your writing process?

I used to just throw words on a page and see what happened, but I’ve learned to embrace an outline over the last few years. Made of Stars was the first book I tried to write with any sort of direction, and it made the process go much quicker. I’ll never be a huge, act/scene breakdown person, but I do need to know the ending and a few big plot beats before I start. Writing is usually more of a discovery process for me—most of the time I don’t feel like I truly know the characters until I finish the first draft. I also love to make long, chapter-by-chapter playlists for every project. I don’t listen to music while I write, but it’s helpful in building a mood. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I was a huge fan of Animorphs as a kid which, now that I’m thinking about it, honestly explains a lot. It was such an epic, sweeping story about teens fighting a corrupt alien empire while also managing to remain grounded and human. The last book I felt seen by was Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie. I can probably count on one hand the number of queer stories I had access to while growing up in central Indiana, so when I read all the incredible LGBTQ+ books coming out now, it makes me so hopeful for the future. Racquel’s book is so genuine and tender and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the story I would go back in time and give high school Jenna, if I could. 

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general? 

I read The Darkest Minds trilogy by Alex Bracken in college and it was the first series that made me sit back and go “Oh, I want to make people feel the way I feel right now while reading this book.” There are so many authors I admire whose books are a masterclass in craft—I would listen to Tracey Deon, Chloe Gong, and R.F. Kuang talk for hours about worldbuilding—and the stories I draw the most inspiration from are the ones that balance that with the character’s emotional arcs.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

I would give my kingdom to never have to write another first draft. Like I said earlier, drafting is usually a discovery process for me, so there are times where I get to the end of a book and then realize I’ve written an entire act incorrectly or need to go back and add a new POV. That being said, I love how satisfying a good revision is. There’s something so nice about seeing all the pieces come together and having that little epiphany when you finally connect the plotlines. Revisions are also the only time I feel like I’m not alone in my writing process—I’m either working with notes from my critique partners or agent or editor and that collaboration is really exciting. 

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I did color guard for eight years both in school and competitively and I actually have two world championships gold medals! If I had a nickel for every time I dedicated years of my life to an emotionally devastating hobby-turned-job, I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot but it’s weird that it happened twice, right?

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

People have yet to ask me what Taylor Swift song Made of Stars is, which is rude because I’ve spent way too long thinking about this to not share it with the world. She’s a Getaway Car sun with a Renegade moon and a Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince rising. 

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?

The most important thing I had to learn was how to finish a draft. I always struggle with comparing my first drafts to books that are already published or on shelves and that was such a hurdle for me to overcome when I was first starting out. Even now, every time I sit down to write something new, it feels like I have no idea how to write a book and that’s just how it goes. It’s so easy to let the spark of a new idea carry you from half-finished project to half-finished project, but nothing can actually happen unless you finish a draft. I have to remind myself of that all the time because it’s never gotten easier (at least not for me!) but I can’t fix a blank page. Allowing yourself to have a bad first draft is so freeing.  

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Yes! My second YA comes out next spring. It’s a sapphic, dual-timeline coming-of-age book about a teenage girl who goes on a quest to find her favorite singer’s missing time capsule. It’s about road trips and small towns and the cost of following your dreams and I’m very excited to share more about it soon!

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT? 

Recently, I’ve been loving Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni, Always the Almost by Edward Underhill, Out of Character by Jenna Miller, and She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. I’m also so excited for Night of the Living Queers, a YA BIPOC horror anthology edited by Alex Brown and Shelly Page. 

Header Photo Credit: Vania Stoyanova, 2022

Interview with Author Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. She is the author of Redwood and Wildfire, winner of the 2011 Otherwise Award and the Carl Brandon Kindred Award, and Mindscape, shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick and Otherwise Awards, and winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award. In her spare time, she is the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College. She has received the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts Distinguished Scholarship Award for outstanding contributions to the criticism of the fantastic. She bikes at night year-round, meeting bears and the occasional shooting star.

I had the opportunity to interview Andrea, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I love words! I love talking in tongues, dropping into another mindscape, and expressing myself in different modalities. I write poems, plays, essays, and novels. I’ve translated plays from German to English. Under duress, I have even written a few short stories! In my spare time, I’m the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Africana Studies at Smith College and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. I bike at night year round, meeting bears, multi-legged creatures of light and breath, and the occasional shooting star.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Will Do Magic for Small Change

Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire. But at 5’10’’ and 180 pounds, she’s theatrically challenged. Her family life is a tangle of mystery and deadly secrets, and nobody is telling Cinnamon the whole truth. Before her older brother died, he gave Cinnamon The Chronicles of the Great Wanderer, a tale of a Dahomean warrior woman and an alien from another dimension who perform in Paris and at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Chronicles may be magic or alien science, but the story is definitely connected to Cinnamon’s family secrets. When an act of homophobic violence wounds her family, Cinnamon and her theatre squad, Klaus and Marie, determine to solve the mysteries and bring her worlds together. The three of them also start falling in love.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Doing research for an earlier novel, Redwood and Wildfire, I came upon a photo of African women performing/being displayed at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. They were former warrior women from Dahomey, West Africa, or they were acting as the warrior women—so-called Black Amazons who’d fought French colonialists in fierce battles. After Dahomey’s defeat, this troupe of “exotic savages” was exhibited at the edge of the Fair. I gave the Dahomeyan women a moment in Redwood and Wildfire, but I wanted to do more. I wondered who were these women? What did they think, feel, or do?  What was their story? As I was thinking about writing a novel about Redwood and Wildfire’s granddaughter, I decided the Dahomeyan women would be a major part of the story. 

I researched Dahomey, West Africa, and their warrior-women, but the record was scant: descriptions of them, accounts of their deeds, and history in broad strokes. The warrior women were wives of the King of Dahomey—not his bedmates, but his assassins and bodyguards, his army, and political advisors. Women had considerable power in Dahomey’s fluid yet hierarchical society and could rise from slave to Kpojito—ruling consort of the King. By the mid- 19th century, Dahomey’s elite had grown rich selling slaves to the Europeans. The King bypassed the nobles and governed using a cadre of commoners, including the warrior women, whose status depended on his authority. Unfortunately, nobody really talked to the warrior women or to the performers who were at the Chicago Fair. European and American journalists, adventurers, and explorers talked about them. So, to create characters, I had to speculate on this scant historical record. Taiwo, the Great Wanderer, is a storyteller, an alien griot from another dimension who comes to know our world from the perspective of Kehinde, a warrior woman. Taiwo struggles to make sense of our world, to deal with love, betrayal, heartbreak, joy, and injustice. The Chronicles that Taiwo writes are a lifeline for Cinnamon and her crew.

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly speculative fiction? 

When I was six, I played a willow tree in a play and I got hooked on trees and theatre, on the journey from self to other. But growing up in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1950’s I had the wildly ambitious yet worthy and admirable goal of becoming a Theoretical Physicist or a Mathematician. Theatre Artist or Novelist were wildly ambitious goals for young Black girls too, but surely I was not going to waste my math/science talents, my brain capital, and creative spark on lesser pursuits!

Now, I come from a family of storytellers, of big talkers, and tall-tale-tellers. Nobody in my family ever knew when to shut up. This got me into hot water at school. My mother was desperate and said, “If you get bored, write stories for me. Don’t disturb the other kids. They’re trying to learn.” Keeping out of trouble, I wrote epic adventure sagas for her. I’ve been writing epic adventure sagas ever since. 

The second semester of my junior year in college, I ran away to the theatre! My plays have always been speculative, always on the fantastic side of realism. I ask myself: What’s the world, the universal feel like to an ant, a river, people from a hundred years ago, the lady next door, or the alien from another dimension? My first full-length production was an alternate reality play about Einstein in which Marie Curie was a Black woman revolutionary. There was singing and dancing, mystery and magic, science and comedy, and revolution of course. 

Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I was/am a voracious reader. I lived in the library as a child, reading everything. My older brother was a comic book collector and sf fan, so as little sister I read what he read: Orwell, Tolkien, Huxley, Lewis, Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Verne, Wells, Clark, Dick, and Bradbury. I watched Star Trek the original series. That was a family event.

In the 70’s I would read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and find Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Marge Piercy, and Margaret Atwood. In the 90’s several writers and directors gave me works by Octavia Butler. They insisted that given the plays I wrote and the theatre I did, I would love Butler. They were on the mark. And all along, the work of Black women playwrights sustained and inspired me: Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Kennedy, Pearl Cleage, Lynn Nottage, Aishah Rahman, and Anna Deavere Smith.

How would you describe your writing process? 

Writing is a rehearsal. I show up every day and try to find the joy, solve the problems, and rework what I have discovered and uncovered.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging?

Favorites: Getting lost in the characters, the setting, the poetry of action. Asking questions, solving problems, finding possibilities I can imagine only as I am in the process of writing.

Challenges: Making sure that I tell the story so that a reader can appreciate what I have uncovered and discovered.

As someone influenced by Afro-futurism, could you define what the concept means for those unfamiliar with it, and describe what it means to you personally?

I am one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism.

I have always been interested in stories that haven’t been told; in characters who have been left out of the official narratives of the “American nation” or who don’t play on the world stage; I am curious about the lives that don’t get written down. I want to explore voices that were/are barely heard and I insist on telling of the unknown people who made me and all of us possible. I have been researching West African cultures and Indigenous American cultures since I was fourteen. This is important to all my work.  

A mathematician at a conference in the early 1990s told me that we shouldn’t worry about losing Indigenous languages. While teaching Black women playwrights at the Universität Hamburg in Germany in 1995, I went to an international conference where many people were eulogizing Africa, proclaiming her demise, mourning the impossibility of any sort of African survival. Decolonizing the indigenous African spirit was seen as a hopeless futile fantasy—a negative word for these folks. Folks kept telling me, the savages have to become civilized westerners! People have been telling me some version of that all my life. I refused the demand that I check Africa at the door to modernity or the future.

I am an Afrofuturist keeping company with Indigenous Futurists. Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurism are aesthetic philosophies and cultural practices that center on Africa and the diaspora and other non-western cosmologies. Afrofuturists/Indigenous futurists use science fiction, fantasy, the magical realm, and historical fiction to critique the present, re-envision the past, and invent the future.

My first full-length play Einstein was written in 1973. Many other plays feature mystery and magic, science and comedy, and singing and dancing. I began calling these plays sci-fi carnival jams. The titles give you a taste of the plays: The Enemy’s Not On Safari Coming to Round Up in The Jungle No More (1979), Incantations (1986), Dancing With Chaos (1995), Strange Attractors (1996), Lonely Stardust (1998), Hummingbird Flying Backward (2000), Thunderbird at the Next World Theatre (2014), and Episodes from Continuing Drama of Cinnamon Jones—scientist, artiste, and hoodoo conjurer (2018)  

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Don’t Give Up. Give yourself the time to find your way to writing the stories you want to tell, the stories only you can tell.

Besides your work, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I love cooking and inventing recipes. 

I plan to hit the bike trails around the USA in 2023!

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

I have completed a draft of my next novel, Archangels Of Funk, which is part of my five-book deal with TorDotCom. Five Books! Hard to believe, sometimes. Each word I write makes it more real. Archangels is the story of Cinnamon Jones, that scientist, artiste, and hoodoo conjurer in my 2018 play. The novel takes place in the Massachusetts of my mind in an alternate present after Water Wars have scrambled the world. Disruptors and the Nostalgia Militia roam the roads wreaking havoc. Invisible Darknet lords troll the internet solidifying their power. Cinnamon and her Circus-Bots are part of a community of Motor Fairies, Wheel-Wizards, and Co-Ops trying to hold on to who they’ve been while coming up with the next world. Of course, not everybody has the same vision for the future—so who gets to tell the story of our lives?

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

C. L. Polk—The Kingston Cycle, starting with Witchmark

Sam J. Miller—Blackfish City and The Blade Between

Charlie Jane Anders—The City in the Middle of the Night, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, and Victories Greater Than Death

P. Djèlí Clark— A Master of Djinn 

Interview with Author Eliot Schrefer

Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times bestselling author, has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature, and has won the Green Earth Book Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature. His novels include the Lost Rainforest series, EndangeredThreatenedRescuedOrphaned, and two books in the Spirit Animals series. He lives in New York City, is on the faculty of the Hamline University and Fairleigh Dickinson University MFA in creative writing programs, and reviews books for USA Today. His latest novel, The Darkness Outside Us, is available now. I had the opportunity to interview Eliot, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your newest book, The Darkness Outside Us! Could you tell us in your own words what the book is about?

Hi, and thanks for having me! THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US is about two young astronauts who are sent on a perilous rescue mission to rescue the first settler of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. They soon find out that their mission is not at all what they were told, and that they will be on this ship for much longer than they expected. These two adversaries must come to rely on each other—and maybe (definitely) fall in love!

Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Were you influenced by any authors or media (i.e. film/shows/ music/etc) while writing it?

There’s this 90s movie with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, called What Lies Beneath. While I was watching it I hatched a gonzo theory about what was going on, which wound up not being true at all. THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US is my go at writing the plot twist my mind came up with, only with two boys in outer space.

How do you come to realize you wanted to be a writer? What drew you to the field, especially the Young Adult medium?

I was at dinner with friends in my early 20s, and I said “obviously if we all had lots of time and money, we’d be novelists. My friends all said “no way, ugh.” I’d actually just revealed myself, to myself. I had so many inner voices saying that you couldn’t possibly succeed at such a thing that I hadn’t let myself make a real go of it. 

As for YA, I actually wrote a piece for the New York Times about my transition to YA from adult writing, and how it made me a better writer! Short version: I learned to focus on telling a good story instead of trying to impress my peers. 

What books or voices do you think The Darkness Outside Us stands in conversation with, especially those regarding similar Gays in Space themes?

I really enjoyed Shaun David Hutchinson’s A COMPLICATED LOVE STORY SET IN SPACE. We start with very similar openings—two boys wake up on a spaceship, not sure why they’re there—and then go in totally opposite directions with it. It’s like a queer sci-fi YA experiment on the butterfly effect.

What advice would you give to other aspiring queer writers?

There is a bloom in publishing queer books, especially in the YA and middle-grade space. That’s absolutely wonderful. Along with it will come pressure to write books that focus on queerness, that take it as the theme and plot of your book. I love those books, but remember you are a writer who has permission to write widely, just like straight writers do.  

Are there any other projects you are incubating or working on and at liberty to discuss?

Yes! I’m in edits for a non-fiction YA book called QUEER DUCKS. It’s about the explosion of research over the last 20 years into same-sex sexual behavior in animals. I’m profiling 12 animal species, looking at how they embody queer identities and desires, and what that means for the eye-roll-y conservative arguments about the “unnaturalness” of queer behavior. 

What’s an interview question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked?

Why are you so dashingly handsome?

Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

There are so many. To name just one, I absolutely adored Malinda Lo’s LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB, which came out earlier this year. Lo can make an entire scene turn on a small gesture, a precise image… she’s such a major talent. 

Null Space: LGBT Representation in the Final Frontier

From the very beginning, Star Trek has garnered a reputation for being a trailblazer on minority representation. Each of its series has featured a diverse cast and strong female characters that stood out from it’s contemporaries. Whoopi Goldberg is perhaps one of the more prominent Star Trek fans to have been inspired by Nichelle Nichols role as Lieutenant Uhura in The Original Series. The same role has inspired a few actual astronauts as well. It is for this reason that the lack of LGBT representation across nearly two decades of Star Trek television (1987-2005) was such a disappointment.

The one honest attempt to take on LGBT issues came in the form of the 1992 Next Generation episode “The Outcast.” While it has some truly great moments that clearly depict the writer’s intentions, it ultimately falls short of having any true representation. I’m not the first person to do a present day analysis of this episode, and I doubt I will be the last. The fact that it is the one episode out of roughly 700 (and 12 movies) to honestly tackle LGBT issues head on, it stands out. With a new series set to launch in 2017, it’s worth taking a closer look at one of the franchise’s more unfortunate shortcomings.

“The Outcast” opens with the USS Enterprise assisting the J’naii (an androgynous race) with locating one of their missing shuttle craft. In their search they come across what appears to be a pocket of null space–a theoretical concept which had never been encountered before this discovery. Null space is described in Memory Alpha as “a pocket of space filled with the bright light of condensed turbulent magnetic and gravitational fields, absorbing all electromagnetic energy from anything that enters the phenomenon. The fields also bend all outside energy around the pocket, making it essentially invisible.”

After the crew is briefed on the abnormality they are dealing with, Commander Riker teams up with the J’naii pilot Soren in order to attempt a rescue mission. In doing so, the two begin to talk about their respective culture’s views on gender. Here we learn the J’naii once had two genders like humans, but they evolved to a higher form and now share a single gender. When Soren asks Riker about what attracts males to females, he gives a coy response filled with his winning Riker charm, but fails to mention the existence of homosexuality among humans. This is repeated later on when Soren questions Dr. Crusher about the female perspective. On both occasions the conversations lent themselves perfectly to both Riker and Crusher including the alternatives to heterosexual relationships in their answers to Soren. It is as though same sex attraction is something neither character has ever heard of.

I stress this point because I believe it is the most telling flaw in the entire episode. Even in a story that uses an allegory to represent modern day LGBT issues, there is no acknowledgement of queer humans ever existing. Even in our own episode we are invisible. Null space feels like an an unfortunate and unintentionally fitting metaphor.

All of this undercuts the episode’s stronger moments. When Soren “comes out” to Riker as being different and professes her attraction to him as a male, it is a powerful scene. She touches on the bullying she’s seen her peers go through and the constant fear of being discovered. She minces no words describing the evil and abusive practice of forced “curing” those who are outed are forced to go through. The scene can easily resonate with anyone who’s ever dealt with any of those things. In Soren’s particular case, she identifies as female (hence the use of the she/her pronouns). This is considered a perversion in J’naii society.

Soren’s character is nothing if not brave, and not just for “coming out” as female. “Commander, tell me about your sexual organs” might be the best pickup line ever used in the history of Star Trek. It certainly worked for Soren, as it wasn’t long before she and Riker were kissing. This too has been a point of criticism (the kiss, not the pickup line). Jonathan Frakes (the actor who plays Riker) said himself that he thought the scene (and episode) would have been more powerful if Soren were played by a man. If that had been the case, it could have born parallels to the Original Series episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which featured the first interracial kiss ever aired on television. Instead, like numerous other parts of the episode, it fell short.

The episode ends with Picard asking Riker if his business with the J’naii is done before moving on to their next mission. Riker confirms that it is, and Picard gives the command to go to warp speed. The one criticism I have here is not that it was an unhappy ending. It rightly portrayed the “curing” of Soren’s so-called perversions in a negative light. What is unfortunate is that the “cure” worked, and it set in quickly. It a difficult thing to stomach when science has shown us repeatedly that so-called conversion therapy does not work. I don’t know how sound or well-researched the science was on this in the early 90’s, so I would give them a pass here. They at least did the part of portraying it as abusive and unjust.

All in all, “The Outcast” is a mixed bag. There are reviews that have praised it, and others that have torn it apart. I don’t think it would be this heavily scrutinized if it weren’t the only real offering of queer issues in the franchise’s long history. The criticism on this front is valid because Star Trek had established itself as a progressive, forward thinking series right from the very beginning. We know it could have done better because it had done better. With a new series coming in 2017, fifty years after the first Star Trek episode aired, should we have hope that the show will once again embrace its progressive roots? Only time will tell.

Further Reading
Homosexuality in Star Trek – a really in depth look at homosexuality in the franchise on the Star Trek fan site Ex Astris Scientia.
Gay “Trek” – a nice detailed article written before the debut of Enterprise for Salon.
Scrapbook Enterprise – my own super geeky documentation on my journey through the Universe of Star Trek.

Follow me on twitter @danielstalter and check out my comic series on dreamcrashercomic.com.