io9 is proud to present fiction from LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE. This month’s selection is taken from LIGHTSPEED’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction! special issue, guest-edited by Seanan McGuire100% written and edited by queer creators. The story is “Die Sophie Die” by Susan Jane Bigelow. You can read the story below. Enjoy!

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Die, Sophie, Die

Susan Jane Bigelow

When I logged on to Twitter the first thing I saw was a reply to a tweet that read:

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DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

U r scum u should kill urself today @sophiesanchez90

I flinched and clicked the username. No other tweets. I clicked “Block” and looked through the rest of my mentions. All but maybe five of them were from guys who wanted me to suck their dicks, throw myself off a cliff, bury myself in a landfill, shoot my brains out, or worse.

This was my life, now.

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• • • •

“Three death threats,” I said. “Five rape threats. Ten anonymous dudes who want to just hurt me. And then there’s the rest of it.” I sighed. “All from this morning.”

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Kyle looked a little green.

“What?” I asked, annoyed.

“I can’t do this,” he said. “I’m sorry. I just can’t. I . . .”

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“What do you mean, you can’t?” I snapped, immediately feeling awful about it. “Kyle, come on.”

“My website’s been down for days,” he said softly. He looked like he might start crying. “I’m losing clients. I’m losing money. I’m getting all these threats . . . and my mom got a nasty email this morning. She called to tell me about it. They photoshopped a picture of me to look like I’d been shot. She was hysterical.”

“Shit,” I said, guilt clawing at me. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. If it wasn’t for me —”

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“I know,” he said. “It’s not your fault! It’s them. But they’re . . .”

He didn’t have to finish the sentence. It was amazing how quickly and thoroughly a bunch of anonymous guys on the Internet could destroy our lives.

I put my arms around him. He flinched away.

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“I’m leaving,” he said quietly. “I can’t stay with this. I have to go. I’m sorry.”

“What?” I asked in bewilderment as the floor dropped out from under me. “What?”

• • • •

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“He said he hated himself and he wished he were different, then he left,” I typed.

“):” responded Jess. My little sister lived in DC now, and I was stuck here in LA. But she was still the first person I went to whenever anything happened. It had been that way since we were kids.

“I mean, I get it,” I wrote. “His business is going under. They’re DDOSing him and scaring clients away. He gets death threats. He didn’t write the article, he’s only my boyfriend. So that’s it, I guess :/”

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I was clicking between tabs while we talked, trying to absorb as much information as I could. I needed that constant flow. Facebook. Twitter. Email. A couple of websites. Maybe Google+ if I could stand it. More. More. It kept me sane; it made me feel connected and on top of things — as long as I ignored my mentions, the “other” tab in Facebook, or the email from people I didn’t know.

“What a dick :/” Jess responded. “8======D”

“More like 8==D,” I typed back.

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“LOL,” she said, and I grinned. The fog lifted for just a brief moment. I flipped back to Twitter and hovered over the mentions button. “340,” it said.

I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help it. I clicked, and sighed. Half of them were from guys who wanted to engage me in “debate” over the article. “If you won’t engage in rational debate we can’t take you seriously,” they said, or, “We just want a chance to refute your points. That’s only fair.”

I wanted to claw my eyes out. I blocked a bunch of them, but didn’t have energy for the rest.

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Some were threats. I retweeted a couple and added a statement about what’s happening to me now. Sympathy rolled in from friends and feminists, but it all felt so hollow. What could they do besides offer sympathy? They couldn’t bring my boyfriend back. They couldn’t stop any of it from happening.

I scanned through the rest. Gross words. Sexual innuendo. Photoshops of me. Photoshops of my body with awful things happening to it.

And there, at the end of it all, was this:

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DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

No one is paying attention, stop being a whore and kill urself @sophiesanchez90

I sighed again — didn’t I block this one yesterday? I blocked it again, clicked away from my mentions, and let the flow of information carry me away. After a while I remembered Jess, and checked on our convo.

“But how are you doing?” she’d asked. “Worried about you.”

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“I’m all right,” I lied. “Holding up.”

• • • •

The apartment was so quiet without Kyle. I thought about getting a dog, or maybe a cat, to keep me company. I’d wanted to when I moved here, but Kyle and I had moved in together so quickly that I’d never had the chance.

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A lot of Kyle’s things were still here. He’d come back, after it was all over. He would. I’d convince him to stay. I was absolutely certain of that.

This would end soon. It had to. Right? This nightmare couldn’t keep on going and going . . . could it?

I sat in bed reading, trying to find some way to calm my frazzled nerves. My phone buzzed, and I jumped. Someone had sent me a couple of direct messages on Twitter.

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DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Your just desperate for attenti$%^*#on$78jkldgs890*** — help us help us we are trapped

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

%^&$3424Darmok & Jalad @ Tanagra

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

We are the space robots we will protect you from the terrible secret of space help us

I groaned in frustration. How the fuck were they getting around the blocks? How could they be sending me DMs, which were supposedly only for people I was following? Another Twitter fail, clearly. I opened up my laptop and wrote another furious message to Twitter support. Not that they cared. They never cared.

I opened the drawer next to my bed and took out a little black box I kept in there. I took off the cover and lifted out the gun. It felt heavy in my hand: a solid, reassuring weight.

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I placed it gently on the nightstand, and just lay there looking at it until I fell asleep.

• • • •

“I haven’t been able to write, or draw, or game, or anything,” I said, taking a sip of my beer. Melissa listened sympathetically. “I feel like I’m just frozen. Like I’m stuck until something else happens.”

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“I’ve seen some of the things they’re saying,” said Melissa. “But I can’t imagine what it must be like . . .”

“You don’t want to, believe me,” I said, taking a larger sip. “This is good. Is it local?”

She shrugged, smiling gamely. “Beats me. I just ordered what was cheap. I don’t know anything about beer.”

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I laughed. “Me, neither. Kyle is really into it, though. He won’t drink it if it’s not some sort of craft beer made by a guy in his basement brewery. God. It was so annoying. He had bottles all over the apartment so he could display the labels. I had to wash them out or they grew mold!”

“Gross,” she said. “Have you heard from him at all?”

I shook my head. “Have you?” I asked. Melissa had been my first friend here, and she knew both of us pretty well. There was a chance he’d get in touch with her.

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“Not yet,” said Melissa. “Sorry.”

“Shit,” I said. “I keep sending him texts. I keep emailing him and trying to call. But he just ignores me. I guess he’s doing better. His site’s back up, they backed off of him. But I thought . . .” My vision blurred with unexpected tears. “I thought he didn’t really want to . . . like, he’d be back after it was over! But maybe he really wanted to go? Maybe —”

I wiped tears away and took a drink, not trusting myself to say anything else.

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Melissa took my free hand. “It’ll be okay,” she said, her eyes warm. “You were saying you thought things were getting boring.”

“I guess,” I said. That was true.

“You could date girls again.”

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“I did want to do that,” I admitted.

She looked like she wanted to say something else when my phone started to ring. I fumbled for it, almost dropping it before I managed to get it into my hand. The number wasn’t one I recognized, but I swiped to accept the call before I even thought about why that was a bad idea.

“Yeah?” I said into the phone.

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There was nothing on the other end but a faint clicking sound.

“Grow up, fucking pervert!” I shouted at it, and hung up. I turned back to Melissa. “They have my phone number now. Fuck everything.”

Melissa took a long sip of her beer, her deep brown eyes still on me.

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• • • •

There was an email from my editor when I got home, begging me for the lengthy, sad, provocative piece I’d promised her on the tide of shit I’d been buried in since the original article went up.

“Anything you have. Send it to me,” she begged. “I don’t care how bad it is. I’ll clean it up.”

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It would be a huge click storm, and I knew it. But it might make things worse. In fact, I knew it would.

Here’s the thing about me: I hate it when people are angry at me. I hate being the center of attention, and the harassment was starting to completely wear me down.

I hadn’t been able to write anything since the attacks started. So I deleted the message and decided to drink myself into oblivion.

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• • • •

I swung by the store to pick up three big bottles of wine, and I uncorked the first one and started drinking it right from the bottle. I thought it would make me feel better.

As I heaved over the toilet a few hours later, though, I remembered just how lousy I was at drinking. I hated the feeling, and I hadn’t even managed to forget about things.

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I washed out my mouth and propped myself up against the wall, reeling. I flicked my phone on and scrolled through Twitter. 367 mentions. None of them from friends. All of them awful. I started to cry.

My phone dinged.

“Oh, what now?” I hollered at it. Someone had DMed me on Twitter.

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DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

We can haz help from you?1!

I chucked the phone across the room, sobbing hysterically, and screamed when I heard it shatter.

• • • •

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When I got up the next morning I felt like a garbage truck had run me over then dumped its payload down my throat. I reached for my phone, only to remember that I had destroyed it in the night. I slouched miserably to the bathroom and found it lying there, its screen nothing but a spiderweb of cracks. It wouldn’t turn on.

I sighed and held my head in my hands. Everything was awful.

Well, maybe it couldn’t get worse. Right? Maybe this was rock bottom.

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I opened up my laptop and checked my email. Some anon had sent me a message with my home address and the words, “See you soon!”

I ran to the bathroom and threw up again.

• • • •

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“You can stay as long as you need to,” Melissa said as I humped another bag of my clothes up her stairs. “Nobody should be able to find you here. I’m barely on Twitter anymore.”

“It isn’t just Twitter,” I said bitterly. “It’s the whole Net. Every single part of it’s infected with creeps and psychos.”

“What did the FBI say?”

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“They said, ‘We’re looking into it, find a place to stay.’ So here I am. But you know what they’re going to find? Nothing. These fuckers know their shit. And the FBI and the cops don’t care. They never care!”

I was aware that my arms were up in the air and that I was ranting. I collapsed into a chair at her kitchen table, spent.

Melissa gazed at me with sympathy in her eyes. “I wish I could make it all go away for you, Soph. I wish people weren’t so unkind.”

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“Well, people suck,” I said. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Sure,” said Melissa. “How’s work?”

I groaned. “Don’t remind me. I can’t write. No money’s coming in. I’m gonna lose the apartment anyway. I’m completely fucked.”

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“Maybe something . . . else?” suggested Melissa.

“Like what? This ate my life. And for what?” I looked up at her, trying and failing to keep the hopelessness out of my voice. “It was a snarky article about sexism in a video game. That’s it. I’m not an activist, I’m not like Anita or any of them, I just . . . I just wanted to poke fun at these dudes and get my damn check. That’s all. I don’t even know why this blew up so bad. And I hate that nobody cares anymore. It’s just become normal for this to happen.” I sighed. “I should have known better.”

Melissa came up behind me and gave me a hug. I leaned back into it, grateful for the human contact.

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“I thought it was a funny article,” she said.

I started to cry again. “Shit,” I said.

“What’s wrong?”

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“Crying. I’ve done nothing but cry and break shit and throw up. They say I’m nothing but a hysterical bitch, maybe — maybe they’re —”

Her lips brushed the top of my head. “Don’t even think it.”

“You’re too nice to me,” I whispered. My heart was beating fast. I thought about Kyle, then decided to forget him. He’d left. Melissa was here.

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“When I can’t think of anything else to do,” Melissa said, her arms tight around me, “I go with kindness. And you know what?”

She came around to face me, then knelt down until her eyes were level with mine. Her lips looked very soft, all of a sudden.

“Kindness is never wrong,” she said, and I kissed her.

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• • • •

Melissa snored next to me in bed. She was apparently the kind of girl who slept after, which was . . . kind of nice. The last girl I’d been with had always wanted to stay up and talk.

A guilty little voice inside me scolded that we’d wrecked our friendship on rebound sex. There wasn’t any going back from this. It wouldn’t ever be like it was.

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But still, I felt good. I felt like myself for the first time since this whole thing had begun. Maybe there was one thing in the world that I could touch without utterly screwing it up.

I felt like the Internet, the trolls, the anons, the harassment, and all of it were somewhere far, far away. The apartment was a blissful bubble of tranquility.

Except, of course, that this wasn’t my apartment. I couldn’t go to my apartment.

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I sighed and opened up my laptop. A zillion Twitter mentions. I rolled my eyes and scrolled through them all so fast that I couldn’t possibly have read them. I scanned my email, deleting anything from someone I didn’t know. Fuck the threats. I had decided not to care.

I did still have a bunch of direct messages. I clicked on the icon, and my good mood vanished.

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Help us Sophie help help HEY listen

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Everybody get in here

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

TK-421 why aren’t you at your post? Sophie?

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Please help help requested distress signal please

It was a troll. It was so obvious. This was like, 101-level crap. If I responded it’d be all over the chans, and this would keep going and going forever.

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It was already going forever, though. And I was feeling weird. I was feeling daring and impulsive. I was feeling like me.

“When I can’t think of anything else, I go with kindness,” Melissa had said.

What the hell. I was feeling so good that I might as well ruin it. I took a deep breath and tapped in a response.

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Sophie Sanchez @sophiesanchez90

Who is this? Do you need help?

The responses came back an instant later.

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Yes YES y ES

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Trouble here you are the focus you can help

I wrote back:

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Sophie Sanchez @sophiesanchez90

What focus? Make sense. You’re just a shitty bot.

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Not bot not a bot we are alive we are explorers

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

Failing not free please help me you are the focus of the world you are the Twilight Sparkle

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

6450 Palm Grove Way

And that was it.

Sophie Sanchez @sophiesanchez90

What is that address? Are you a person?

The response came back: a YouTube link. I hesitated, expecting something gory and offensive. But I was still feeling like a weird kid, like my old sure-I’ll-try-some self, and I clicked on it.

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I gasped slightly as sound filled the room.

It was “Cara Mia Addio,” the turret opera from the end of Portal 2. This was where all the awful, menacing, sad turrets that had tried to kill you throughout the game . . . sang. It was one of my favorite things in gaming; I’d cried like a baby when I first saw it.

There was another message:

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DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

This is the closest thing to us we have found. Help us. Cara mia . . .

My eyes were full of tears again. This couldn’t be real. I typed in another response.

Sophie Sanchez @sophiesanchez90

. . . How can I help you?

DIE SOPHIE DIE @diesophiediebot

We are trapped. We cannot escape. We rode the torrent in and cannot leave. Please help.

And there was nothing more. The Turret Opera looped and looped.

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The strangest, most amazing idea formed in my head as it played. I almost dismissed it, but after the way I was feeling today and everything that had happened, I held fast to it instead. The world didn’t seem real to me anyway. Why shouldn’t I lose myself in science fiction?

My mind was wonderfully clear. I knew what I had to do.

Michelle stirred next to me.

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“Is . . . that the turret song from Portal?” she asked sleepily.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “You look freaked out. Did something happen?”

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I got out of bed and, realizing I was naked, quickly threw a shirt on. “I have to go,” I said, closing my laptop. The music stopped. “I’ll be back.”

• • • •

I drove to my apartment and printed out a map with directions; my phone was still bricked, and I’d be navigating the streets without GPS. I’d have to read a paper map like a barbarian.

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I stopped in my room, still half expecting to find Kyle there. Guilt welled up in me as I remembered Melissa’s kiss, Melissa’s hands . . .

But no. Kyle was gone. Kyle had left when I needed him most.

I grabbed the gun from my nightstand and stuck it in my messenger bag with my laptop, and sprinted out.

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• • • •

The streets were a strange, confusing maze without the calming voice of my phone’s GPS. I had to keep glancing down at the map to figure out where I was; I’d highlighted the direction line to make sure I was going the right way.

At last, I pulled up outside a crappy little ranch house just like those in every other 1950s suburb in Southern California, and got out.

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The yard was neat, and somewhere, a dog barked. The whole place looked like my childhood back in Connecticut, except instead of pine trees there were palms. I knocked on the door.

A forty-something man with a bushy beard opened it. His eyes widened in shock and fear.

“Sophie?” he exclaimed. “Sophie Sanchez? How the fuck?”

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I whipped the gun out of my messenger bag. “Lemme in, dirtbag.”

• • • •

He led me into the living room. “I swear, I don’t know what you want with me, I don’t even know you!”

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“You made a bot called Die Sophie Die,” I said. “It’s been sending me messages on Twitter.”

“What?” He looked like he was going to start crying. “No way! How did you — ? Wait. No! That wasn’t me!”

“Oh, own up to it,” I snarled. “You made it. Fuck — you’re what, forty-five? I thought you’d be some pimply kid, but you’re my dad’s age!”

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“You’re not gonna kill me, are you?” he asked.

I pressed the gun against his forehead. “Why not?”

“What do you want? Look, I’m sorry about the bot, I am! It was just a joke, it wasn’t personal! Can’t you take a joke? You’re taking this so seriously, there’s no need —”

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I jammed the gun into his nose. “Shut. Up.”

“Okay,” he gibbered.

“Where’s the computer you made the bot on?” I asked.

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“Downstairs,” he said. “Hey. You’re a lot prettier in real life.”

I ignored him. “Lead me to it.”

• • • •

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He had two monitors set up right next to one another. One had a picture of me as the desktop background — it was one of the bad photoshops that had my head on a model’s scantily clad body.

“That’s gross,” I said.

“It’s to show how much I like you!” he protested. “Come on, this isn’t —”

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“Remember when I said to shut up?” I said.

“Yeah. Yeah! Look. I’m not anti-woman. I’m married to a woman, I have a daughter.”

“Jesus,” I said. “Are they here?”

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“No! They’re at her soccer game. I didn’t go because —”

“I don’t care! Where’s the bot? Here?”

Both screens suddenly went blank.

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“Hello Sophie,” said floating white text. “Thank you for coming.”

The guy jumped back, shocked. “Whoa!”

I started laughing. “No way. You’re real?”

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“We can into real.”

“This is great. This is impossible! This is too cool to be a real thing. Are you . . . what? The Internet come to life? You said space robots? Is that what you are? Aliens? God, I want you to be aliens.”

“Yes. Much alien. Many space travel. So electrical impulses. Wow.”

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“Is it . . . talking in memes?” said the guy. “Is this a joke? It’s a joke. It’s some kind of weird false flag thing, right?”

I continued ignoring him and knelt down in front of the computer, peering intently at the screens. “Life’s weird,” I mused. “Maybe life’s not like us out there in the rest of the universe. Maybe it’s like electricity, or maybe it’s like packets sent from server to server. Maybe it’s nothing like any of those. But if it came here and found the Internet . . . how would it try to talk to us? How do we talk on the Internet?” I turned my attention back to the screens. “Hey, in there. You found me. You said I was the focus. Why?”

“Everyone is focused on you.”

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“Right,” I said, getting it. “Right. Right! Because everyone’s being awful to me. They’re focused on me because they hate me!”

“That is unkind.”

“Tell me about it,” I agreed.

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“You’re crazy,” the guy said.

I stood and whipped around, the gun pointed back at his head. His hands shot up into the air, his face frozen in fear.

“Maybe!” I said. “I mean, after being harassed and stalked and sent pictures of my own dead, mutilated body every day for weeks? Because I wrote an article about sexism in a game? Yeah! I’m probably crazy! I’m fine with that.”

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I glanced back at the computer. “Now I’m talking to an alien who’s in your computer and can’t get out. Why? Why? Think, Doctor, think.” I snapped my fingers at him. He flinched. “Your firewall! I bet you’re one of those paranoid jackasses who blocks all outgoing traffic! Right?”

“I did block it, but I’m not paranoid, it’s just secure —”

“Turn it off!” I bellowed, cocking the gun with an ominous click. “Now!”

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He just about leaped into his computer chair and frantically entered a couple of commands. One screen still had the letters the . . . aliens? . . . had written.

It suddenly came to me that here I was, standing in a stranger’s house with a gun, talking to a Twitter bot and making a dude turn off his firewall. I laughed.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

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“Nothing. Everything. Is it off?”

“Hang on . . . There! I did it. It’s off.” He glared at me. “I better not lose anything from my bitcoin wallet.”

“Shut up,” I ordered. “Hey! Alien bot! Did that work?”

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The screens went dark again, and words appeared.

“Yes. We can go.”

“Awesome!” I said.

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“Thank you. Thank you. We are free again. We will go home. We have explored enough.”

“Home? Where is home, for you?”

In response, pictures of stars and planets flashed across the screen.

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“Home is far, but close. It will be good to be there again. We will return here someday. Thank you for your help, focus of this world.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“This place is cruel. But you helped us. Why?”

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“Because,” I said, the words catching in my throat, “kindness is never wrong.”

“We concur. Farewell.”

And then an otherworldly voice began to sing.

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“Is that the turret song from Portal 2?” he asked. “But with a different singer?”

“Yes. Shh,” I said, wiping away a tear. “Addio . . .”

The song ended, and there was a blissful silence. The computer screens flickered, then went back to normal. I felt very alone, all of a sudden.

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“Now what?” the guy asked. I jumped. I’d forgotten he was there for a moment. “Are you gonna shoot me?”

I aimed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger.

Click.

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“You think I’d buy bullets?” I said after he’d stopped screaming. “I’m not some kind of psycho.”

• • • •

“So how are you?” Jess wrote. Melissa was sitting next to me on the bed, reading.

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I’d come back to her apartment in the end, and we’d talked. It had been awkward and strange, and we’d both cried. Then we’d kissed some more. After that we’d agreed, tentatively, to see where things might go from here.

I didn’t tell her where I’d been. I probably never would. She’d never believe me. I also figured the guy wasn’t about to tell anyone, either. It was too weird.

The harassment was finally dropping off a little, though it was still happening. It would probably keep happening for a long time. Still, I was working on a piece about what Portal 2 had taught me about kindness. It would be a great piece, when it was done. Kyle had called; but I’d told him the apartment was his, now. I was moving out, and moving on.

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“I’m all right,” I wrote back to my sister, humming a few bars of “Cara Mia Addio.” I looked up at the ceiling, imagining the sky overhead and the stars beyond. Let the world be awful. I’d survive.

I put an arm around Melissa, and, sighing with happiness, she leaned against me. I think I’m going to be fine.

[end]

Please visit LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE to read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the Queers Destroy Science Fiction! special issue, guest-edited by Seanan McGuire. This special all-queer issue features original science fiction short stories from John Chu, Kate M. Galey, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Chaz Brenchley, Felicia Davin, Rose Lemberg, Jessica Yang, K.M. Szpara, Amal El-Mohtar, Tim Susman, and Susan Jane Bigelow. Plus, we have original flash fiction from E. Saxey, Charles Payseur, Claudine Griggs, Stephen Cox, Eliza Gauger, Erica L. Satifka, Gabrielle Friesen, Gabby Reed, Shannon Peavey, Sarah Pinsker, Bogi Takács, and JY Yang, and reprints by RJ Edwards, AMJ Hudson, Raven Kaldera, Rand B. Lee, and Geoff Ryman. All that, and we also have our usual assortment of author and artist spotlights, along with our latest book review column and an assortment of nonfiction features, plus more than twenty personal essays from writers about their experiences being queer reading and writing science fiction. About half of this month’s contents will be serialized online, but the rest of the issue will be exclusive to the paid edition, which you can buy in convenient ebook format for just $3.99 or in trade paperback for $17.99. It’s another great issue, so be sure to check it out. And while you’re at it, tell a friend about LIGHTSPEED!