Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction, is the first of a three-part series of "original gay and lesbian writing" edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel (not very coincidentally, a participant in Outworlders, a local Atlanta GLBTQ sci fi / fantasy fan group and the parent group to a book group I belong to.) After choosing Storm Constantine's The Sign for the Sacred as our group's first fantasy selection, we turned to Bending as a book that would cover science fiction but also appeal to a variety of tastes. Also playing into the selection was the fact that the book had been awarded a number of extremely prestigious awards and Stephen Pagel would possibly come to our meeting to discuss it (which he did!)
When I started on Bending, I really didn't quite know what to expect; most of my affection for science fiction comes not from books but from movies and television, so I really didn't know how much of it I would enjoy. I soon discovered that my wariness was unfounded, for not only did I enjoy the science fiction, but the designation "science fiction" didn't really cover what I was reading -- I found a lot of what I considered "fantasy" as well. I also discovered that Griffith and Pagel made some truly excellent story selections.
Bending features stories which, so Pagel told us himself, cover the full spectrum of science fiction -- everything from futuristic private eye stories to time travel escapades to stories of alien worlds to explorations of cyber consciousness and gender identity. Clearly, this was not a book simply thrown together or with the lowest common denominator in mind. Instead, it's a book in which writers of all sexual orientations explore situations that explore one of science fiction's enduring themes, "the Alien, the Not-Self, the Other," with the "other" a lesbian or gay man (interpreted, so the book's introduction admits, "liberally.")
There were a lot of stories in Bending that I loved and several which actually reminded me strongly of Storm's stories. For example, "The City in Morning" by Carrie Richardson reads like a chapter from a lost Storm Constantine novel. "On Vacation" is a subtly hilarious tale of aliens living on earth a la Men In Black. Far and away my favorite story, which I must have reread a dozen time the day I first read it, was the beautiful, elegant and sweetly heart-rending "Silent Passion" by Kathleen O'Malley. Set in A.C. Crispin's StarBridge universe, to which O'Malley has contributed two books), the story is one I summed up to a friend as featuring "giant gay, signing, alien crane-creatures" and their interaction with gay human couple, whose relationship turns a new corner when the narrator is finally able to move beyond the pain of human intolerance. It's a beautiful, life - and love-affirming story which I doubt I will ever forget and which I plan to lead me on to O'Malley's two StarBridge novels, which, so Pagel tells me, feature these same amazing crane-aliens.
Knowing there are two more Bending anthologies (fantasy and horror), I am sure I have many more great tales ahead of me.