REVIEW: TRANSCENDENT: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction — ed. by K.M. Szpara

All in all, I found the collection a superior mix of stories with no klunkers. A handful of stories were “merely” slightly more than average but most ranged from great to near perfect. As a whole, the anthology took on more than simple transgender changes and playing with male and female roles. There were totally elevated from the bulk of TG TF stories that I read a steady diet of at the end of the 20th century. There was no mind control, body horror, or rapist turn-abouts in these pages that I might see from Big Closet or the Transformation Story Archives.

THE SHAPE OF MY NAME
by Nino Ciperi

I am not sure why this reminded me of Truman Capote’s childhood stories with his grandmother, possibly just the tone and style, but I’d have to dig them up to be sure, and I already have so much more new stuff to read.

Anyhoo, I assure you that the comparison is meant to be positive.

What I especially like about this (other than imagining Truman Capote is somehow telling me a tale of transformation and identity) is a bit of a spoiler. This is a family of time travelers, doing time traveling things, and how much of this fore-ordained… yet, people are surprised in a way that I feel is honest and real. Logical.
Yet. Events still have so much emotional weight. And I like that; I felt this was a unique take on Mommy issues… the kind you could spend hours picking apart, if you wanted to.

INTO THE WATERS I RODE DOWN
by Jack Hollis Marr

This is an interesting TF story done is stream of consciousness, which is probably not an intentional water reference, but it does add a liquid element with it’s fluid identification… an important part of the story of two minds merging a bit. This is also, technically, a furry story, anthropomorphizing the alien cat-snake as their minds co-mingle. That makes me smile. The transgender bit is fleeting, engulfed by the transpecies moments, cat-snake is apparently both male and female. Or maybe gender is just beyond, too.

EVERYTHING BENEATH YOU
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

This was an epic myth of the joys and torments of ambiguity in wants and needs, gender and love. The cost of getting almost everything you wanted. I’m not sure if this is based on a particular culture, but it works and I liked it.

CONTENTS OF CARE PACKAGE TO ETSATH-TACHRI, FORMERLY RYAN ANDREW CURRAN (HUMAN ENGLISH TRANSLATED TO SEDRAYIN)
by Holly Heisey

This is a nice batch of of good bye letters to a TransPerson Ryan now Etsach-tachri and it’s a nice study of the combined acceptance, confusion, and anger that the loved ones of a transformed person go through. In this case, the alienation is quite literal as they all try to understand the aftermath of Ryan’s decision to become an alien and join their galactic community.

THE PETALS ABIDE
by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

I read this with a slightly surreal feeling, thinking that I understood what was going on, but I didn’t understand the bulk of it. Neither did Sujatha, one of the love interests, in the tale. So that’s fair, I suppose. 🙂 Its complicated and that’s fine. It all comes back around neatly with a happy/bittersweet feeling.

TREASURE ACRE
by Everett Maroon

You know that poser: If you could travel back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

When Derrick travels back to meet his past self; he doesn’t exactly have special words of advice for her. Danielle is him at 12 and she’s not stupid. I like how this is done and while I’m not a big fan of the reasoning, it makes sense in the story and the bigger picture.

SPLITSKIN
by E. Catherine Tobler

Dual spirited American Indians, the children of thunderbirds, set out on an iron horse to rescue their mothers from Raven. It’s an almost surreal fantasy set in the days of the Gold Rush/The Old West. Everything is not just one thing. Nothing is just what it seems, not even the train.

I enjoyed the tale, even though I suspect some of the finer points might have been lost on me.

THE NEED FOR OVERWHELMING SENSATION
by Bogi Takács

This was an excellent story and its take on BDSM as the power for a jumpdrive would certainly have earned a 10, if I was not already aware of Alexis A. Hunter’s story later of the book. That is the standard I’m using to measure all these stories against.

The use of the singular “They” gender is handled well and the when the “client of clients” misuses a gender, I suspect that it is a clue of some sort, if only that Miran Anyuwe is not all she should be. The magic is swell and nicely described and I grok the space politics without being spoonfed.

THE SCAPER’S MUSE
by B R Sanders

This is a very good TF story. The line, “I flicker for myself,” really struck a cord in slightly gender fluid me. And the transformation fan in me enjoyed the set-up, especially the role it played in pulling the lovers together into a most equal relationship.

THE LIBRARIAN’S DILEMMA
by E. Saxey

This was a wonderful tale of a radical librarian and a most unique book collection; more unique than he knows… and more dangerous. It plodded slowly at first, but the payoff in the end was wild and quite satisfying. Trans issues are a part of the stake here, but not largely. Still, it was an important part of the character’s identity and that felt natural.

CHOSEN
by Margarita Tenser

This was a cute little take on the standard fantasy starter roux, turning it on its ear with some very down-to-earth, pragmatic decisions in the face of destiny. It made me laugh and smile.

WHERE MONSTERS DANCE
by A. Merc Rustad

This is a romance and not a fairy tale and I loved everything about it. I wish I had written it; which is exactly the same reaction I had when I first read NOT EQUALLY YOKED, the next story in the collection. The style was perfect and the characters were what I needed to read to bring the universe to life. Dad’s Normal Voice was chilling.

BE NOT UNEQUALLY YOKED
by Alexis A. Hunter

This story is the reason I bought this anthology and it finds itself in pretty good company.

The story takes place in the Amish Community, which is passing exotic for me, although they are not a truly distant community from where I live. Their roles in live seem terribly preset and inflexible… yet, I kind of admire them and their hardwork ethics; even if it’s something I do not exactly share.

I’m a dreamer. And Joash is living my dream, even if it is a nightmare to him. His heartbreak was and is mine.

I wish I could follow Joash and Belle out into the bigger world, but revisiting them will have to do. Unless the author has something up her sleeve, of course. I would be so delighted if she did.

THE THING ON THE CHEERLEADING SQUAD
by Molly Tanzer

With this title, I half expected a comedic tale. There were certainly light-hearted moments that made me smile, but this was a legit horror story with a legit TG touch. The kind of horror tale only the Miskontonic High School Cheerleading Squad could bring you.

This could have been a perfect half hour horror episode of the Tales of the Crypt or Amazing Stories or Twilight Zone. It was a perfect American horror that might have manifested as a subplot of American Horror Story, except the author ended it at exactly the right moment.

KIN, PAINTED
by Penny Stirling

When your body is your canvas, your medium is part of how you express yourself and present yourself. This story moves way beyond cosmetics and takes place in a world of patronage and privilege, much of which may have escaped me. But this bigger world outside of the Dutchess’ home doesn’t quite matter; I think it’s just supposed to be this scary yet almost neutral unknown thing.

What matters here is the struggle of a young girl attempted to find her voice and medium within a family that is supportive of her exploration and yet so superlatively talented that she’s daunted by how easy they all make being living pieces of transforming art. The anxiety and angst translate very well into a realistic inner dialogue.

The story doesn’t have a full resolution; except that our narrator has accepted that her life and her self-expression is in flux. I think that speaks to a lot of us.

It’s a nice way to end the collection, especially as Transcendent 2 recently was released.


My least favorite stories were INTO THE WATERS I RODE DOWN, EVERYTHING BENEATH YOU, and CONTENTS OF CARE PACKAGE TO ETSATH-TACHRI, FORMERLY RYAN ANDREW CURRAN (HUMAN ENGLISH TRANSLATED TO SEDRAYIN). Each of these stories were better than average, which is what you want to see in a “best of” collection. There just seemed to be something that wasn’t clicking with me.

My favorite stories were, BE NOT UNEQUALLY YOKED, THE THING ON THE CHEERLEADING SQUAD, and WHERE MONSTERS DANCE. So generally, for me, the stories improved as I got deeper into the book. I tend to think anthology editors like to sort from Better to Best, but I need to talk to more editors to see if this is usually the case. I was really excited to have purchased this.

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