One of the frustrating things about reading books with queer characters is that, until fairly recently, the publications that seemed to get the most attention were realistic plots that often involved grim coming-out stories. If you wanted to read about lesbian or genderfluid characters who just happened to be wizards, adventuring space pirates or awkward AIs, you were mostly out of luck.
Fortunately, over the past few years there's been a small supernova's worth of novels and graphic novels where queer sexuality has become a matter of course, baked right in to an author's vision of the future. In this list of titles, you'll encounter alternate histories that took a turn for the matriarchy, alien races that refer to everyone as "she," and space operas driven by one woman's inability to break up with her ex.
The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
This book is, frankly, gooey. It takes the "living spaceship" concept to its most stomach-turning conclusion, where whole tribes of humans live out their lives in organic "planets," each one born from a human womb. Our heroine, Zan, awakes with no memory of the past and is just as disturbed as the reader will be when she realizes that the sewage systems in her planet run with the blood and the space-ready vehicles she rides into battle have near-identical analogs to the human digestive system. If you can take the body horror, however, the story evolves into the decades-long dance between her and her lover, Jayd, a princess deep in a political intrigue where leaders seal deals with same-sex marriages and womb-swapping is the norm.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Another living ship, Justice of Toren (this time run by an AI that doesn't understand or care about the human concept of gender) falls in love with its captain. Tragically, both ship and captain are in service to the Radch, an empire of colonizers that have taken over most of the galaxy. When her favorite captain is murdered and Justin of Toren’s ship body is destroyed, she takes refuge in a final “ancillary”—an enslaved human altered to carry her AI self—and vows revenge. But from being a straightforward revenge story, Justice of Toren finds herself adopting drug-addicted humans and uncovering uncomfortable truths about her own origin as she works to assassinate the leader of the Radch.
ODY-C by Matt Fraction
In this re-imagining of Homer's Odyssey, the lady Odyssia journeys across galaxies as she struggles to rejoin her child after a war. Sound familiar? Rather than a strict gender swap of an old story, however, Fraction puts a new spin on the tale by having Prometheus create a third gender: the Sebex, who have contradictory and sometimes godly fertility powers. This story is also notable for its wildly colored illustrations, which sometimes invoke Barbarella on acid.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Fans of Firefly (and perhaps Leverage) will enjoy this story of a ragtag group of humans and aliens creating their own family of weirdos as they do odd jobs throughout the galaxy. When the crew gets a lucrative job tunneling wormholes through space, its an excuse for a lighthearted romp across planets. Our happy crew has many strange and dangerous adventures... and many opportunities for binary-breaking romances with aliens and AIs alike.
Nebula Award Stories Eight edited by Issac Asimov
While this book contains many notable stories from the early days of the Nebula awards, it made this list for Joanna Russ’ short story “When It Changed.” On the planet of Whileaway, all the inhabitants are female, and have children through the process of cloning. When the story opens, Janet and her wife, Katy, are speeding through the night, rifles in hand, to investigate a spaceship that has unexpectedly dropped onto their planet… bringing men with it. Though borne of the second wave, this short story portrays Katy and Janet’s lives with tenderness and realism.