Review of Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time by Hope Nicholson
Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time
by Hope Nicholson
First, huge shout-out to the Oxford comma lurking in this title. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time is an anthology of queer Indigenous science fiction and fantasy by Indigenous authors. That’s it, and yet it is so much more. I really liked Hope Nicholson’s comment in her foreword about how some stories aren’t meant to be told, or at least, do not need to be shared with just anyone. This is something I've become more aware of as I learn more about the traditions of the Anishnaabeg on whose traditional territory I reside. As a teacher, there is the well-meaning temptation to just grab any old story from another culture and use it in the classroom because diversity! Yet as Nicholson reminds us, there’s more to it. In many Indigenous traditions, stories are associated with particular times and places for the telling, or they are passed on from elders and other knowledge-keepers—you earn the privilege of getting to tell certain stories. So now I’m trying to be more mindful of how I bring stories from various cultures into my classroom.
It’s tempting as a reviewer to remark first on the Indigeneity of these stories and then on the queerness, as if these dimensions can be teased apart and separated. That’s not possible. These are not queer stories that are also Indigenous, or vice versa; they are queer Indigenous (or Indigenous queer, whatever order you choose) stories. As Niigaan Sinclair points out in his piece, two-spirit concepts of gender identity and expression are distinct constructs of various Indigenous cultures and don’t easily fit within any Eurocentric models of gender, even ones that recognize queerness. As far as I can tell, from my perspective as an outsider, to be Indigenous and queer is a journey to decolonize oneself, and it’s really something. I can’t say what this book would mean to someone who fits those labels.
What I can say is that this book represents so much creativity. It’s science fiction, but many of the stories are subtle in their speculation. I quite liked Richard Van Camp’s “Aliens,” in which the aliens are present but don’t actually figure much in the story (and indeed, if you read the story, you might reach the conclusion that the title doesn’t refer to those extraterrestrials at all). Or “Transitions,” which could probably exist in our present day universe. And then you have more explicitly science-fictional tales, like “Imposter Syndrome,” which I could so see being a very moving short film.
It positions Indigenous people in the here and now, or in the future even, which is a very bold thing to do in a present that still very much likes genocide and white supremacy. I love finding stories about Indigenous people that don’t locate them in the past. Moreover, so many of these stories lack intense central conflicts. I’m pretty sure it was Le Guin who turned me on to the idea that conflict is not necessary for a story to work. It’s easy, but it isn’t necessary. These are stories about loving or being loved, either loving others or loving oneself, about acceptance and discovery and healing. There are moments of sadness and joy, downs and ups. But they are universally euphoric in the assertion that they are about people who live and breathe and eat and sleep and shit and love. And it’s this no-nonsense approach to the storytelling, this refusal to capitulate to the settler gaze’s voracious hunger for trauma porn and wise old Indigenous people, that is so exceptional.
I’ll conclude with a shout-out to my library, which shelved this book as YA. I don’t know if I agree that it’s young adult. Most of the stories are about adults. Nevertheless, I really do think the YA section is where this book belongs. I hope teens who are trying to find themselves stumble across this slim, approachable volume—or are directed there by a well-meaning, supportive librarian or other trusted voice—and have their minds open to the possibilities that they can be who they are, or who they want to be, on terms of their own making.