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 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