The thing that got me interested in science fiction as a kid was giant robots. Robotech was my first foray into the magic of giant robots, but Gundam Wing left a bigger impression overall. Say what you will about the quality of these shows, but when you are barely nine years old and you see some effeminate male characters you identify with kick some ass in a big humanoid machine, that’s inspiring.
As an adult, it’s hard to find a good giant robot anything that both caters to my queer sensibilities and inspires me in the same way Gundam Wing did twenty years earlier. Part of this is because my tastes evolved as I got older. I majored in creative writing at college, which meant learning to break apart stories and admiring those that hold up to scrutiny. Another part is, upon learning of my queerness, I started flocking to stories of other queer individuals for the chance to see reflections of myself in the media I consume.
Unfortunately, this is a recipe for disappointment. Giant robots are typically marketed towards cisgendered, heterosexual men. And that makes everything. so. very. straight. (Trowa/Quatre was never explicitly canon but that’s what fanfiction is for.)
For a while I abandoned the idea that I could ever fully enjoy a giant robot story. Don’t get me wrong, it is still super fun to watch two robots duke it out in the middle of space with ridiculous weapons, unreasonable speed, and unreal mechanical efficiency. But wouldn’t it be nice if someone was explicitly queer too?
Which is why I bring you the two stories that made me ridiculously happy this year. These two stories feature giant robots alongside queer characters. If you follow along with this column, you already know one of them. These stories are my winter holiday gift to you. Please take them, read them, treasure them if you want. I hope you enjoy them regardless.
“Texts from the Ghost War” by Alex Yuschik I found via EscapePod. It is an epistolary story told through text messages, making the relationship between the characters intimate despite their physical and socioeconomic distance. The romance here is subtle. And I choose to see it as a romance because the things these characters do for each other show how much the other means to them. Also, that first interaction is prime shipping material. Fight me.
What makes this story queer? The gender of one of the characters is never confirmed. EscapePod hired a male actor to portray them in the audio. If you don’t listen to the audio, the gender of that character is whatever. They could be cisgendered male, but they could just as easily be transgender, nonbinary, cisgendered female, intersex, or anything else.
I stumbled upon “Texts from the Ghost War” randomly on Twitter. You can just click here.
I have written about “A Stick of Clay, In the Hands of God, Is Infinite Potential” by Neon Yang before, and I am not sorry to bring it up again. I first read this story on my porch mattress (I have a porch mattress) during the summer and a little part of me will always be lying there, staring at spiderwebs, thinking about this story. If you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for?
There is a gift two-point-zero here, and that’s the announcement last September of Yang’s debut novel called The Genesis of Misery. Tor Books bills it as a space opera re-telling of Joan of Arc with a giant robot twist.
Some Stocking Stuffers
A while ago, I found another book acquisition announcement featuring giant robots called Wind-Ups (I think) and a mechanic main character in a gaslamp fantasy setting. Unfortunately, I lost the link to this announcement and can’t remember much more. The author might be Korean or Korean-American? Please help me find this book because I want it. The announcement for it was made last September, so I’m guessing it has a 2021 or 2022 release.
In my search for the above announcement, I stumbled upon a light novel/video game called Heaven Will Be Mine. Gayming Magazine has a nice article about it. This I also want.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is another upcoming book featuring giant robots. No word on if it’s queer, but the author is in a cow onesie for her official photo, which means I trust her without question.