There’s this thing that sometimes happens when you’re reading a collection of short fiction where you realize you’ve been cresting for multiple stories in a row. Sort of like the moment you’re on a roller coaster, and you’re doing that clack-clack-clack thing up to the top of a big drop and you know the drop is coming? But instead of a drop, while you read the next story and the story after that, the rise keeps happening, and you’d be jealous or something as petty but honestly? You’re just having too good a ride to go there. That’s how I felt when I got to “Red Scare” in Lundoff’s Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. It’s so damn good, and so was the last story, and the story before that and… Well.
I’m not sure I can do this justice beyond saying it’s a kind of science fiction but also private detective-noir; it’s set on a different colonized world, but full of femme fatales and mafia-like bosses and a contested a drug trade; it’s got the titular “red scare” right out of American history, except it’s in the future and it’s not the communists everyone is afraid of but a menacing alien race—one our detective isn’t even sure exists.
What follows is a PI noir story with a woman trying to wiggle out of a dangerous situation with her identity (she lives with a faux male persona, something that allows her to be a detective), her life, and maybe even her heart intact, but facing the very real possibility of ending up on the wrong end of a ray gun. And yes, I said ray gun, and that’s just one of the many, many flavours of this particular story that makes it feel like a retro futuristic take on genre mystery. It’s so damn clever, and more than that, the twists and revelations feed right into both the tone of the story and the world building that came before like the clue-crumbs they were.
I asked Catherine Lundoff about the tale, and she had this to say:
Combine a bit of the “Maltese Falcon” and some queer history and send it to outer space and you get one of my quirkier science fiction stories.