Full disclosure! I was a hired sensitivity reader for this novella, so I acknowledge that there might be some bias. Also, a TW for misgendering and dysphoria within both the book and review.
It’s not particularly a secret how much I love the Shale Project – started by Avi Silver and Sienna Tristen in 2018, The Shale Project is a shared-world speculative fiction setting. However, I’m pleased to say that it’s not just the setting I’m in love with. The book Pluralities, Or is a non-Shale novella from Avi Silver, exploring non-binary identity alongside a science-fiction adventure about dependence and trust, and the writing is just. Absolutely top-notch amazing.
Pluralities, Or occupies that wonderful space in speculative fiction that’s alternately called ‘magical realism’, ‘fabulism’ or ‘slipstream’. In this case I think slipstream is the most accurate term – there are two distinct narratives at play, one set in our world, one set in a galaxy that might be very far away or very close, long ago or in the future – who knows? The connections between these two settings are vague but become clearer as the story goes on. The main thrust of the Pluralities, Or’s modern narrative is a narrator becoming less and less comfortable with their proscribed identity as a cis woman.
This narrative’s one touch of speculative fiction is around gender – in this, women wear ‘she’ stamps on their cheeks, advertising their gender identity. Men, by contrast, don’t need stamps at all – they’re the Default. This is a genius piece of worldbuilding on its own, especially as the narrator resists the urge to scrub off their own ‘she’ stamp – but it reaches a whole new level when the narrator befriends a trans man called Theseus. Outside of work, when he gets to be himself the most authentically, he wears a ‘he’ stamp – a concept unheard of among cis men. There is also a fabulous joke about how trans men tend to name themselves after Victorian kittens which is my favourite way of describing that Ever.
The science-fiction side of the story is harder to explain, and I won’t try. However, what I will say is that the relationship between Cornelius and his ship – Bo, or BODY – will hit home for anybody with a dissociative-spectrum disorder, dysphoria or both.
Pluralities, Or is a fantastic, complicated slipstream narrative – it’s a coming-out story completely and utterly devoid of the tropes that cis people use to understand trans identities, and without any of the voyeuristic pain that’s expected from trans coming out stories. There’s just as much gender euphoria here as dysphoria, and the narrator’s identities all play off of each other completely naturally. ALSO, it would be ABSOLUTELY REMISS of me if I did not mention that the narrator is aromantic! What! An aromantic character in slipstream/literary fiction??? Who isn’t miserable??? And enjoys sex/isn’t asexual??? This book comes HIGHLY recommended, especially since the custom covers from Penrose Press are gorgeous.