Catherine Lundoff’s latest collection is indeed Out of This World: containing eleven stories of the queer fantastic, it includes several previously uncollected tales of fantasy, horror, and science fiction, with healthy dollops of romance and humor thrown in. Just as these stories span the entire speculative fiction spectrum, with nerdy bookstore clerks, Norns, steampunk technology, ghosts, and the Queen of Faerie, they likewise feature characters that span the LGBTQ spectrum, from Kit Marlowe to lesbian witches and gay vampires.
Now I realize as I type that last sentence, just how trite these type of characters have become; but I assure you that in Lundoff’s capable hands, these characters are anything but stereotypical tropes. The all-too-human protagonist of “Candle, Spell and Book” has to deal with a dead (but still restless) ancestor when a love spell meant to ensnare her ex-lover goes awry. (Does she learn her lesson afterward? Only time will tell.) In “Beauty” the protagonist gradually falls in love with a vampire, but rather than being a vampire-who-turns-his-mortal-lover-into-one-of-the-undead story, it becomes instead a romance entwined with the narrative of an unloved and unwanted prince leaving an unlivable domestic situation and challenging an oppressive regime and claiming a kingdom. This story is one of the longest in the collection, and will resonate with queer readers on a number of levels.
Lundoff subverts genre expectations throughout, as in “A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace” where she depicts typical fantasy mercenaries who come into town, go to the local tavern, spend the night drinking and whoring, but then one of them wakes up the next morning in a new gender, as the result of some magical body switching. Or in “A Scent of Roses” where she explores the realm of “happily ever after” when the wife of Tam Lin falls out of love with the husband she rescued from the Queen of Faerie, and then falls for the Queen instead.
Among my favorites in this collection are the Gaylactic Spectrum Award finalist “At the Roots of the World Tree,” about an inept, socially awkward clerk of a living bookstore who is forced to forestall Ragnorök, and the collection opener, “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms.” Riffing on Virginia Woolf’s famous quote about “Shakespeare’s sister” Judith, this story reads like one of Shakespeare’s own plays with intrigue, crossdressing “identical” fraternal twins, and swordplay; best of all, it finally answers the question as to who actually wrote Shakespeare’s works. (Ha! Take that, adherents of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford!) Another strong piece, “Vadija,” closes the collection: beautifully written, it is a story about the power of stories, both to their tellers and their listeners.
While some of these stories venture into the genre of romance, none of them veer into full-blown erotica (“Beauty” comes closest); however, a little investigating around the Queen of Swords Press Facebook page indicates that future volumes will boldly go into the realm of lesbian erotica, featuring pirates, aliens, and really hot meter maids. So, if after reading this eclectic mix of stories you think that you might enjoy further “swashbuckling tales of derring-do and bold new adventures in time and space”—especially with a kinky twist or two—keep an eye peeled for upcoming volumes from Queen of Swords Press.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske