It’s not every day you get a post-reality generation device delivered to your home. It’s even rarer to find a list of product features included with the device (everyone knows that most post-reality generation devices come without any owner’s manual other than a sheet of paper that reads “Use At Your Own Risk”). Product features, according to Topside Press, vendors of this device, include “Twenty-Five (25) Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Stories,” and “430+ Pages of Fresh Work from Trans Writers.”
That’s right, these are the features of Meanwhile, Elsewhere, a wonderfully marketed anthology of sci-fi/fantasy fiction from trans writers, edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett. But there’s more to it than a quirky premise for how to get people excited about the book (if they weren’t already). The stories in this anthology are all worth reading, though somewhat uneven in quality. Some of the writers were clearly having a lot of fun and/or feelings with the realities they were putting together, putting the writing itself second, which is a shame.
Yet the ideas communicated and the realities described all work on two levels: There is the level of the text itself, the stories as sci-fi and fantasy shorts; and the level of the subtext, the stories as resistance, as proof of the current reality, a reality in which trans people exist and refuse to be invisiblized. Whether this subtext is intentional or not surely depends on each particular writer and each particular story, but regardless, it is always there, simply by virtue of this book’s existence in our current political climate.
For example, the first story in the anthology, “No Comment” by Ayse Devrim, features Maryam, a trans woman receiving the very first womb transplant. When she finds out that the womb she received was somehow pregnant when she received it (or was it immaculate conception?), the media become obsessed with her when she decides she wants to terminate the pregnancy. The sticky political and ethical questions become clear quickly: Is it Maryam’s baby to terminate or does it belong to the family of the dead woman whose womb was transplanted to Maryam? Is Maryam’s womb even her own or is she carrying around proprietary intellectual technology? If a woman has a right to choose, how come Maryam doesn’t? The questions go on, and Maryam is a fierce protagonist wielding her own answers and decisions.
Another story, “Rent, Don’t Sell” by Calvin Glimplevich, involves dysphoria of a whole different kind: at SciFit, a new gym, Nok’s consciousness is transferred into the bodies of rich clients who don’t want to work out, and so she, in their bodies, works out for them. A veteran with one arm, Nok’s time in other people’s bodies is her only way to get out of her own. Natasha, another woman who works at the gym, managed to get a new body, a cis body, and is now suing to get her old body back — “I feel like myself, but when I look in the mirror it’s someone else’s reflection,” she tells Nok. “I want to start over, do it old fashioned: estrogen pills twice a day.” (86) This is one of the themes that tends to jump between stories: a rejection of cissexist notions of what gendered bodies are “supposed” to look like.
Other stories are less overtly political, like “Satan, Are You There? It’s Me, Laura” by Aisling Fae, which features a surprising trans figure, or “Delicate Bodies” by Bridget Liang, a zombie outbreak romp. It’s fantastic that they sit among other, more complex stories, because they allow both for a breath of fresh air for the emotionally impacted reader, as well as proof that this isn’t, at its core, a political project. It is, rather, a necessary one, one that has a right to exist, and one whose politics shouldn’t need to in the spotlight.
In other words, Meanwhile, Elsewhere is a worthy investment, though Topside Press does remind you that side effects may include “Headaches, inability to get out of bed, writing, hope, alcoholism, horror, romance, wearing plaid and/or breast growth, removal, et cetra” and that “The post-realities portrayed in this book may or may not exist, ever. Manufacturer is not responsible for any personal catharsis.” Read at your own risk (but take the risk).
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Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic with work in The New Yorker, McSweeney's, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Joyland Fiction, the LA Times, StoryQuarterly, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories podcast. Visit her website ilanamasad.com, subscribe to her tinyletter.com/ilanaslightly, and follow her on Twitter @ilanaslightly.