Behind the Sun, Above the Moon is a collection of short stories about non-binary characters in science fiction/fantasy settings and written by own-voices authors. There are nine stories in total, a couple are set in the approximate here and now, some take place in a far off future, and some seem substantially or entirely imagined in other worlds, times, or dimensions. Most main characters seemed to be at (or just entering) a crossroads in their lives. I enjoyed this eclectic collection heaps. The short story format scratched a particular itch of mine: walking into a new story completely blind and watching a whole world pop into being around cool, smart, sympathetic main characters.
A few thoughts and/or summaries for each title are noted below, but I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys all kinds of sci fi/fantasy, fans of short-form writing, and absolutely for NBs. Note, I’ve tried to follow the various pronoun conventions used by the author wherever possible, which is why singular “they” may be used in some places and “xir/xie” used in others and so on.
twice-spent comet by Ziggy Schutz
This is a story of found family that mixes all kinds of non-binary and queer characters on a futuristic penal colony. Fer is the main character and it was their past life and a budding relationship with a space entity they called a ‘mermaid’ that saves not only their sense of hope, but literally all their friends. I like how intertwined the off-page characters became and the final scene makes this a story worth rereading.
From Dusk to Dying Sun by Paige S. Allen
This was one of my favorites. The MC is a highway patrol officer named Morrison. I quickly got wrapped up in their backstory, which involves fuzzy recollection of their voodoo (?) roots, and they way it ties into the bizarre rash of road racers Morrison and their partner have been encountering. It turns out that Morrison may be able to harness some of their mother’s magic to save the world…if they are strong enough to cross through an enormous magic portal. The ending left me in that happy place of desperately wanting more, but being content with a final, hopeful scene.
I found the combination of characters, setting, and circumstance to be very compelling. Morrison and his partner represented a potential friends-to-lovers type connection, while the highway patrol officers they sometimes are forced to work with represent every narrow minded jerkwad you hope gets what’s coming to them. I found that the slow build up of action laced with foreshadowing of future drama (i.e. those car chases are actually pretty significant) kept me on the edge of my seat. I loved the ending and thought it suited the short form perfectly, even if I didn’t get a clear resolution on what happens in reality, at least I got to know Morrison seemed to finally feel a sense of belonging.
Lost/Found by Brooklyn Ray
This was a rare story set in present day where Hollis Griffin makes ends meet through sex work and slinging coffee. I liked how clearly I could see her struggle to feel like himself. Hollis is an onion with layer after layer being revealed. His boyfriend breaks up with her because the boyfriend can’t accept who Hollis is…but Hollis finds something better, something stronger with a celestial being and finally feels free to be who they truly are.
Lost/Found was very much character driven and I thought Hollis was a very compelling person to watch. I enjoyed the way Hollis’ complex relationship with gender is portrayed and this is most marked in the switch in pronouns that follows a discussion about how male-identifying Griffin didn’t seem to measure up to everyone else’s expectations, but female-identifying Hollis clearly seemed to suffer the social effects of living while female (in my own estimation).
Awry with Dandelions by J.S. Fields
Orin sells a patented breed of “lion fern” in a non-magical market, but it’s tough making ends meet. Also tough is sharing his unconscious hours with a mysterious woman named Mette, xie thinks thinks is a figment of xir imagination. When a familiar looking man buys out Orin’s whole stock for the impending royal coronation, Orin is stunned to learn his soon-to-be queen is one Lorimette. Good luck or bad omen, Orin realizes the woman from xir dream is flesh and blood and maybe the coronation will create a chance for Orin and her to sever their frustrating mental link.
The Far Touch by S.R. Jones
For all that Kah is a witch, he has also found himself drawn to the study of space. Now that he’s just returned planetside after a lengthy assignment in space, he is able to reconnect with his family: a mother figure named Kiyah and a close friend named Inatu. Together, the three of them ascend a mountain to participate in a ritual infused with magic from the Line. As Kah reconnects with the others, he contemplates the magic of the Line and his service to science. The two are at odds now more than ever as the government plans to destroy a major Line in order to make way for more domestic developments. Rather than dwell on what he cannot change, Kah participates in the ritual reconnection with the Line. And while Kah laments the dwindling number of his own coven, the Line leads him across the galaxy to others similarly magically linked—others like him who give and take hope that no matter what happens, they are not alone.
There was a lot to enjoy in this story. First, the setting was as complex and the characters. It didn’t feel like the world was built for the convenience of Kah, but rather Kah was simply trying to find his rightful place in a conflicted world. Next, there were the interpersonal relationships between Kah, Kiyah, and Inatu. During the ritual where the three of them connect to the Line, they use language that indicates certain ties, but I’m not sure if these are actual biological relations or just the names of the roles each occupies (or a mix of both). One other fantastic and puzzling thing was the corporal manifestation of the characters themselves. Jones manages to eschew the oh-so-common exposition on character appearance; instead, the author incorporates references to the characters’ physical selves in the prose and usually as reactions to the story. This is how I found out these characters are not human and I loved that it was just folded into the story. I also thought the metaphor for communicating that Kah is a trans male was pretty spectacular.
Ink and Stars by Alex Harrow
This was such a bittersweet story to me. It features a sort of poly romantic connection between Chaz, the MC, and their old flame Liam—who is in love with Vee. The caveat being that Chaz has magic and is trying to stay out if the clutches of the government because the government would abuse that magic. Meanwhile, Liam seems to need the regimented life the military provides and we later find out he received some major benefits because of being in the military at the right time in the right place. Their paths cross again years later and the passion is still there, which had me hoping for a Chaz/Liam pairing. But things were not that simple and I felt like Chaz wasn’t looking for an exclusive romantic partnership as much as getting back their former deep platonic (with benefits) relationship. As much as the reunion between Chaz and Liam gave me feels about physical intimacy, it was the mostly-absent Vee character that introduced an intricate element of balance between the three relationships.
Horologium by Emmett Nahil
Most of the stories in the anthology feature love stories or romantic or sexual themes. This one, however, focuses on Coeie as they work in solitude in space to mine for gold. I thought the focus on a single central character was meaningful and encouraged a little more self-reflection since I wasn’t distracted by any love interests. Overall, the story winds up mimicking A Christmas Carol in that Coeie gets three visits as they contemplate who they are. The open ending was enjoyable for me because it was, on balance, a positive way to tie up loose ends.
Death Marked by Sara Codair
Of all the stories, this one was the least compelling to me. The main conflict was a rift between two royal children, Enzi, who was forced to abdicate on account of committing a high crime (albeit in self defense), and Ulsa, who never wanted to become heir to the throne. The plot device was simply each sibling assuming they were suffering more than the other and resented/lamented the rift each believed was caused by the other’s lack of effort.
The visual description of the world was interesting—moving statues and lots of tech—and ultimately, the two siblings find a way to make amends. Personally, the narrow focus on Enzi and Ulsa and containing the majority of the action to a single party prevented me from developing a meaningful connection to the characters. As a result, I felt more annoyed by the characters’ protracted estrangement, rather than enjoying plot built around sacrificing yourself because of a misconception.
e Dark, Weave the Light by Anna Zabo
This was another story set in the present. Ari is a magic being struggling to find where they fit. They enjoy their friends and are not exactly alone, but don’t feel like they’re truly connected with anyone either. When they suddenly find themself in a starcrossed relationship with a dangerously powerful being named Jonathan, something in Ari just feels right. Jonathan may be more than Ari can handle, but Ari is determined to try to make it work. If you like dominant/submissive stories and one-true-love themes, there is a lot to enjoy. I thought it was interesting that Ari seemed to reject the idea that they were building a romance with Jonathan, yet the two are drawn ever closer to one another. I can’t say if this was an intentional comment on the nature of relationships, but I did like that two people can find a deep connection with each other without having to label it something specific.