Up next: Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
Spoilery thoughts on Ganymede:
Ganymede continued the run of entertaining Civil War steampunk with zombies stories by Cherie Priest, but I’ve got to take issue with her hamfisted handling of a trans woman. Ruthie Dorniker is a minor character in the Ganymede story, and though her part is not insignificant, the narrative is never about her. That’s why the dramatic (and anatomically based) reveal of her trans status is more than a little gross – it’s a moment for our two protagonists and POV characters to have the narrative say something about them, but not actually a moment that contributes anything to Ruthie’s characterization or story. It is, if anything, a moment of fear and embarrassment for Ruthie as she is outed very much against her will, and wherein she is mostly silent while one protagonist misgenders her and another corrects the misgendering.
I am 100% for the presence of trans characters in any and all narratives, in parts of any size. What I’m not a fan of is those trans characters functioning as tools for our cisgender characters to demonstrate their goodness, or badness, or learn a lesson. One argument, I’m sure, is that without Ruthie’s wardrobe malfunction, we the audience never would have learned she was trans, and therefore her inclusion would be erased because it was never made explicit (see: Dumbledore is gay). I’d suggest that in a third person limited POV where one of the two POVs knows Ruthie is trans, where Ruthie’s personality, wants, and desires have already been demonstrated to some degree, and where the two had at least one conversation that hinted at such, there are about a million** ways besides a ripped dress to clue the reader in.
By the afterword in which Cherie Priest mentions why she included Ruthie (short version: trans people exist, they have always existed, it is important to acknowledge their existence) I know she wanted to do something positive with that inclusion. She also set up an excellent subplot with Ruthie that, had it been combined with a reveal that Ruthie had some agency in and any step toward resolution, would have made her trans status part of her story rather than part of someone else’s. I hope if she writes trans characters again (and she may have already! there are lots more books of hers I need to read) she lets them have their stories.
*In brief, because this is a SFW blog, The Ex is really good. The whole series is fantastic. Buy it for any sad, sad fools in your life who read Fifty Shades of Grey. The Ex (and the other books before it) are actually sexy and actually not about an abusive relationship. Imagine that.
**Actual scientific calculation.