Image: The cover of the book is divided in half with the lower half being a mint green and the upper half composed of a yellow background with a dark brown/black triangle filling the entire space of its shape. On the right side of the triangle in black letters it states, "THIS BOOK CHANGED THE WAY I DREAM," and the person quoted is in small letters too difficult for me to read. Centered on the green section in black letters are- line one: "FITZPATRICK & PLETT'S original all-new," line two and three in larger letters "MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE," line four and five in smaller letters:"SCIENCE FICTION and FANTASY from TRANSGENDER WRITERS."
I have to admit that Meanwhile Elsewhere and I got off to a rough start. I was very excited about reading this book as it's been on my to-read list since it came out. Perhaps my expectations were a bit high. One of the stories really let me down, but I am glad I didn't give up on it, because some of the stories are excellent.
The first story is erotica, which is not my bag, but the second story- Delicate Bodies by Bridget Liang- made me put the book down and ask if I wanted to read a collection edited by people that would include a story like this. It is a zombie story and a rape fantasy in which the protagonist- a trans woman who is obviously the author's zombie self- rapes and tortures cis men who have said mean things about her or refused to have sex with her because she is trans. I am not sure how much worse the mens offenses were because I quit after the second rape. Not only is rape and torture the punishment, the men are portrayed as deserving it and eventually liking the rapes. It is the epitome of rape culture, which we as trans people are not immune from promoting. This story makes that very clear. Did we really need a story portraying a trans woman as a sexual predator? The story itself doesn't even fit with the theme the editors claim they chose for the book and it is a horror story, not SF/F. I then saw a review or two in which some people claimed this was one of their favorite stories. I was disgusted by this as well. The author obviously being the rapist in the story is extra worrisome and fucked up. So, here I am, devoting a large chunk of my review to this one disgusting story that almost made me put the book down and wonder if it was included solely because the author had some sort of connection.
I eventually gave myself some space, calmed down, and decided to continue this highly anticipated read. The book does get infinitely better as it goes on. There are definitely not anymore rape fantasy horror stories. It's a mixed bag like any anthology, but many are well written and entertaining. Some of the stories seem all about being trans which was a little disappointing to me. I was hoping that a book like this would showcase more that we have talents outside of talking about transition. That said, in the afterword, the editors claim this was a conscious decision- to not choose stories that just happen to have trans characters, but to choose ones that center being trans. In other ways, stories that centered this imagined futures where transition related issues are thought of and orchestrated in different ways. This was definitely interesting. There is some real variation in topics across the stories. Like any collection, it's hit or miss, but the stories that I did like, I really liked, hence the higher rating.
The best stories in the book, according to my personal tastes, are:
(In order of appearance in the text)
"What Cheer" by RJ Edwards
"Rent, Don't Sell" by Calvin Gimpelevich
"Control Shift Down" by Paige Bryony
"After the Big One" by Cooper Lee Bombardier
"Cybervania" by Cybil Lamb
"Imago" by Tristan Alice Nieto
This does not mean all other stories were bad. These ones in particular, though, were the ones that led me to seek out the authors online and find out if they have written any books I could add to my list.
Overall, this is an important collection in that it showcases many talented trans writers who may otherwise go unnoticed. It contains one highly objectionable rapey trash story that I believe folks would do well to skip or at least go in heeding my warning. It contains a whole lot of stories that not only have good consent politics woven in, but good style and plot. I grabbed a copy of "I've Got a Time Bomb" by Sybil Lamb right after reading her story, I adored it so much. So, this is definitely worth a read as far as SF/F collections go. It's one of the better ones, and not just because it has trans people in it.
This review was also posted to my goodreads.