Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Queer Timelines: A Brief Overview of Homosexuality and Alternate History

With the recent United States Supreme Court case that recognized same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, I thought now would be a good time to talk about homosexuality and alternate history. Admittedly I am not that knowledgeable on this subject, so I did some research to learn more and I found some pretty surprising things. I think you will find that this brief overview will shine some light on obscure works we may have missed.

Perhaps one of the most famous works of alternate history to feature LGBT themes and characters is the Sidewise Award winning novel Making History by Stephen Fry. The story focuses on a plot to kill Hitler using time travel that goes seriously awry, but it also features a gay main character and romance. In fact you can find many gay characters in World War II alternate histories, especially featuring ones where Nazi Germany was victorious. Fatherland and The Children's War are great examples of novels with gay characters and Ian Watson's short story, "An Appeal to Adolf", came up in my research as well. Today it is common knowledge that the Nazis persecuted gays and lesbians, but those crimes went unacknowledged until the late 20th century and an official apology from the German government wasn't received until 2002. Even today the exact number of men and women who died because of their sexual orientation is unknown.

Moving away from World War II, SM Stirling is well-known for using gay, lesbian and bisexual characters in his works, especially as main characters. Examples include Marian Alston and Swindapa from the Nantucket Trilogy; Aaron Rothman, Tiphaine d'Ath, Deliah, Rigoberte and a host of other characters in the Emberverse series and pretty much everyone from the Domination of Draka is bisexual. Most female Drakans are bisexual (and Stirling does give pretty detailed descriptions of their sex life through the series), while it is implied most male Drakan experiment with other males and by Drakon they are also bisexual as well. Then again, looking at the Drakan culture, perhaps it is more appropriate to say they are pansexual or omnisexual.

Those works above, however, are one most of use recognize. So what about some lesser known stories? During my research for this article I came across several alternate history works featuring LGBT themes and characters that I have never even heard of. Did you know there is an entire anthology of queer alternate histories? Its called Time Well Bent and it was edited by Connie Wilkins. I am not sure if there have been any other LGBT themed alternate history anthologies (I have found primarily SF anthologies with alternate history stories of course), but maybe Lightspeed magazine will run a special issue called Queers Destroy Alternate History.

Some other short stories I found while combing through Uchronia include "The Godfather Paradox" by Stephen Dedman where J. Edgar Hoover comes out to FDR as a homosexual and Alan Turing migrates to the US instead of committing suicide. Not having read the story I can't comment on what happened, but just think of where computer technology would be today if Turing had a longer life! I also found a short story by Stephen Baxter (Sidewise judge and author of Voyage and Proxima) called "Sun-Drenched" where a doomed astronaut on an Apollo mission is homosexual.

Then you have "Thirteen Days of Glory" by Scott Cupp. Again, I haven't read this story (although this site may have the full text), but what really caught my attention was the description from Uchronia which said: "Drag-queens fight an outraged Mexican army." That is enough of an eye-opener right there, but there was a rare commentary from what I have to assume is from Robert B. Schmunk, the administer of Uchronia. Here is the exact quote: "Borderline secret history, but for reasons of personal safety, Cupp has stated it is alternate history."

Personal safety? Seriously I want to know more about the background of this story more than I actually want to read it. Who exactly was Cupp afraid of? Granted this story came out in 1989, where nation-wide "gay rights" was still unheard of in America (Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down anti-sodomy laws in United States, wouldn't be decided until 2003), but would people really get that angry about a short story? Perhaps I will read the story and do a little more digging before I finally answer those questions.

I was thinking of a way to end this article, but I believe Michael J Martinez (Daedalus series) said it best when responding to a reviewer who asked why he included a lesbian character in his book series. Mike had this too say: "she represents my belief that LGBTQ folks should be seen as equal in society, and my hope that the future will treat them as such. The fact that her sexual orientation is simply one facet of a complex character also speaks to my hope that, one day, this ain’t gonna be a big deal." Couldn't say it better myself, Mike.

If there are any other examples of homosexuality in alternate history, please let us know in the comments.

* * *

Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

10 comments:

  1. Jo Walton's series starting with "Farthing," I think, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jo_Walton

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That series is definitely on my "to read" list. It gets recommended to me all the time.

      Delete
  2. One that Immediately sticks out is Nor the Moonlight by Andrew Penn Romine, which I covered in my post on PodCastle.

    There's also Astrakhan, Homburg and the Red Red Coal by Chaz Brenchley. It was in Lightspeed's Queers Destroy Science Fiction special issue. I'll get to it when I cover stories I missed for various reasons

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For those who don't know, here is the article Sam is referencing: http://alternatehistoryweeklyupdate.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-audio-file-podcastle.html

      Delete
  3. As I mentioned elsewhere, Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "G-Men" (from the Sideways in Crime anthology) is worth checking out as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah its weird because I actually own that anthology and I believe I read the whole thing, but I don't remember that story at all. Not calling you a liar, I can confirm it is in the book, I just have no recollection. Weird.

      Delete
    2. An update, as regards this short story: Uchronia says that 'G-Men' has been expanded into a novel, titled The Enemy Within, and is also mentioned on Amazon. I'll definitely be checking it out.

      Delete
    3. Here is the link to the Uchronia entry: http://www.uchronia.net/bib.cgi/label.html?id=ruscgmenxx

      Its also a nominee for this year's Sidewise Award.

      Delete
  4. Good article, thanks for that - I did like the Michael J Martinez quote (a) because I've read it and it's excellent, and (b) because that's my thought exactly.

    At the risk of self-aggrandisement (sorry), my Maliha Anderson series has a wide range of LGBTQ characters (arguably Maliha herself is Bi) - and I'm writing "very close to reality but not quite" steampunk. I use the horrendous prejudice and hypocrisy of the Victorian/Edwardian periods to highlight the themes. (Although the stories themselves are murder-mystery-action-adventure-thriller.)

    The associated Frozen Beauty novellas (same setting, different characters) also have them.

    All my books except one are in the same alternate history setting. I'll be adding this blog to my RSS feed :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I will also check out your books when I get the chance.

      Delete