A review by coolcurrybooks
Transcendent: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction by K.M. Szpara


This inaugural anthology collects the best transgender science fiction and fantasy short stories of 2015. I’ve been wanting to pick it up ever since I saw the author line-up; there’s a ton of great trans authors working in science fiction and fantasy, and this collection has some authors whose work I adore.

My favorite story here is actually one I’ve read before. Multiple times actually. That’s how much I love “The Shape of My Name” by Nino Cipri, which fabulous, amazing, splendid, and a whole host of other positive adjectives. I actually featured it in a list post for Queership (a now-closed blog for queer SFF) on queer time-travel short stories. Anyway, this story follows Heron, whose family has a time-machine in their backyard. I don’t want to say too much more, but please read it!

I’ve read some other stories in this collection, which isn’t that surprising as I used to write Queership’s short fiction column. Another one here, “Treasure Acre” by Everett Maroon was actually also featured on the time-travel list. Daniel has traveled back in time to find a box buried by Danielle. I skipped over it this time around, as I did with all the other stories I’d already read. I was in the mood for new tales

“Everything Beneath You” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is another I’d read before, in which a woman of the fisher people falls in love with a goddess who says she can give her everything she’s ever wanted, but the goddess will not unbend from her own notions of propriety. I didn’t remember liking it enough the first time around to make a second read through worthwhile.

“Kin, Painted” by Penny Stirling is a story I featured on a Queership list for fantasy with aromantic protagonists. Everyone in this unnamed narrator’s family paints themselves, be it camouflage or chess boards or works of art. Their entire life, the question of what they want to paint has hung over them, even as they are unsure if they want to use paint at all. In the end, they will have to find their own way in life.

Aside from “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács, all the other stories were new to me. “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” is one I started a year or two ago, but it turned out to be way to sexual for me so I quit pretty quickly. I didn’t give it another attempt this time around.

Of the stories that were new to me, I think “Chosen” by Margarita Tenser was my favorite. It’s a short little story that flips fantasy’s conventions of “the chosen one” on their heads. I loved it, and I think it will appeal strongly to anyone who likes Terry Pratchett’s work.

My second favorite has to be “The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad” by Molly Tanzer, which is sort of like Lovecraftian mythos meets high school. You don’t need to be familiar with Lovecraft to enjoy it — I know next to nothing, and I still loved this story.

“The Librarian’s Dilemma” by E. Saxey was a very interesting story that’s sort of science fiction meets library science. What’s the purpose of libraries? What’s the right balance between preserving books and sharing them with the world? I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending, but I enjoyed how the story made me think.

“The Petals Abide” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew and “The Scaper’s Muse” by B.R. Sanders were both solid, professional quality science fiction stories, but ones I doubt I’ll remember. They just didn’t have enough of an impact.

I was looking forward to reading a new story by A. Merc Rustad, “Where Monsters Dance,” but in the end, I don’t think it was one of their best. That’s not a particular slight on “Where Monsters Dance” — Rustad has so many phenomenal stories that any story that’s just “good” doesn’t stand out much in comparison.

The only story I really had a problem with was “Contents of Care Package to Etsath-tachri, Formerly Ryan Andrew Curran (Human English Translated to Sedrayin) by Holly Heisey, which was about a human transitioning to alien. I don’t think the metaphorical concept worked for me. It made me think more of those racist creeps like Rachel Dolezal who claim to be “trans-racial.”

Other stories include “Into the Waters I rode Down” by Jack Hollis Marr, “Splitskin” by E. Catherine Tobler, and “Be Not Unequally Yolked” by Alexis A. Hunter.

Like all anthologies, Transcendent was mixed, but I’m glad I read it. I’ve also got the third volume on my Kindle, so you may be seeing a review of that at some point.

Review from The Illustrated Page.