Gender-fluid Fiction: False Hearts Author Laura Lam on Breaking Stereotypes

Posted on 24th April 2017 by Laura Lam

'Dystopias are more interesting from a narrative point of view, though I’m not enjoying living on the verge of one.'

Author Laura Lam introduces her new fantasy thriller False Hearts and discusses dystopian fiction and how speculative worlds lend an ideal space to explore identity, sexuality and shatter gender stereotypes.

The beauty of writing in a speculative setting is that writers have the power to shift attitudes to current aspects of society. A lot of my work, for instance, looks at gender and sexuality through the lens of an alternate fantasy world or a near future setting. 

In Pantomime, the first of the Micah Grey series, my main character is intersex and genderfluid, and changes gender presentation when running away from home to join the circus. False Hearts and Shattered Minds are both set in Pacifica, a near future version of the West Coast of a fractured America roughly 100 years from now. Attitudes towards different genders and sexualities are open and accepting, much like the Bay Area where I grew up. There are still bigots, but fewer of them.

Taema and Tila, the protagonists of False Hearts, are bisexual, formerly conjoined twins who were raised in a cult outside of San Francisco. Carina, the hero of Shattered Minds, is straight and cisgender, but her love interest, Dax, is a Native American trans man, and hormones and surgery are free and accessible throughout Pacifica. Though the world I created seems like a shiny utopia and lots about it is a future I’d like to see, once the surface is scratched, the ugliness underneath is revealed. Beneath the veneer of a no-crime future are illegally trafficked dream drugs and a suffocating surveillance state. Murder is not something of the past, as Pacifica pretends. Dystopias are more interesting from a narrative point of view, though I’m not enjoying living on the verge of one. 

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Lots of other speculative work plays, pushes, or smashes barriers, and that’s why I grew up devouring largely science fiction and fantasy. Robin Hobb’s character of the Fool doesn’t conform to the gender binary. Iain M. BanksCulture novels also imagine a future where gender is fluid – most notably in The Player of Games, where both the main character and his lover have spent time as other genders, aided by high technology and lack of stigma. There are countless other examples, but I’d be here all day listing them, so a couple more authors to check out are: Ursula le Guin, of course, Octavia Butler, Corinne Duyvis, Ted Chiang, B.R. Sanders, Yoon Ha Lee, and Becky Chambers. 

Another recent change, both in speculative fiction and other genres, is women taking centre stage. In crime, for instance, it’s a well-worn cliché to see women as the corpse at the start of the book or the love interest that is killed or kidnapped. Recently, we’re seeing an increase in more complicated, flawed, nasty women being the stars of their own stories. I had a lot of fun playing with that in False Hearts and Shattered Minds. Tila, Taema’s twin who’s been accused of murder, can be manipulative and her motivations are deliberately opaque. Carina is a serial killer who uses dream drugs so she’s only killing people in her imagination, and when she has to re-join the real world, she’s afraid no one is safe around her.  

Writing books is all about joining a conversation, of echoing, challenging, or subverting what has come before. I enjoy adding my voice to the fray and listening to what others have to say. 

Laura Lam's Shattered Minds is published in the UK in HB on the 15th June 2017 and is available to pre-order now.


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