The best novels exploring polyamory and non-traditional love

Redfern Jon Barrett Author Of The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights
By Redfern Jon Barrett

The Books I Picked & Why

Woman on the Edge of Time

By Marge Piercy

Book cover of Woman on the Edge of Time

Why this book?

Though I’m a huge fan of Marge Piercy’s works in general, I have a low-key obsession with this book in particular — and I never fail to recommend it to absolutely anyone who’s ever expressed an interest in reading. Being polyamorous myself, I’ve even given a conference paper on the novel’s portrayals of future polyamory; with three-way parenthood, genderqueer living, and sexual tolerance all part of Piercy’s extremely well-constructed sci-fi utopia. Published in 1976, Woman on the Edge of Time was light years ahead of its own time, and for those of us rocking both beards and lipstick, it still presents an inspiring vision to this day. Its single dystopian chapter even inspired William Gibson’s Neuromancer, thereby kick-starting the entire cyberpunk genre.

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An Excess Male

By Maggie Shen King

Book cover of An Excess Male

Why this book?

An exploration into the future consequences of China’s one-child policy, I discovered An Excess Male by accident, finding a battered second-hand copy in a local Berlin bookstore. And what a find! Maggie Shen King’s novel skillfully weaves together the narratives of its four protagonists, all of whom are part of — or about to join — a single group marriage. With this future China housing far more men than women, such marriages are increasingly common, yet the novel doesn’t limit itself, as it also explores the status of closeted gay men and people with autism. It’s a horrifyingly real and addictive story.

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Twinkle Twinkle

By Kaori Ekuni, Emi Shimokawa

Book cover of Twinkle Twinkle

Why this book?

An immensely sweet novel with a focus on Japanese homophobia, Twinkle Twinkle follows the gay male Mutsuki and straight woman Shoko as they enter into a sham marriage. Though it shares some themes with An Excess Male, the novel isn’t speculative, instead providing insights into contemporary Japanese society and social customs — particularly the stifling sense of conformity. Yet despite cultural pressures, the fascinating three-way dynamic between Mutsuki, Shoko, and Mutsuki’s boyfriend carries the tale and will leave a lasting impression.

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Tales of Nevèrӱon

By Samuel R. Delany

Book cover of Tales of Nevèrӱon

Why this book?

I might be obsessed with science and speculative fiction, but I rarely venture over to the fantasy section of the bookstore. I don’t know, maybe there’s just too much gender-stereotyping and absolute monarchy for my taste — so I’ll be ever-grateful for being gifted a copy of Tales of Nevèrӱon. Exploring polyamory without resorting to vampires, Samuel R. Delany’s novel looks at queer relationships in a manner much like Woman on the Edge of Time and was published later that same decade. It’s fantasy unlike anything else I’ve read.

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Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes

By Gerd Brantenberg

Book cover of Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes

Why this book?

There is never enough alternate history. Particularly alternate history that doesn’t focus either on the Nazis winning World War II or the South winning the American Civil War. Thankfully we have Egalia’s Daughters, yet another forward-thinking novel from the seventies. Set in a world where gender norms are swapped around entirely, its male characters wear special testicle bras and adorn their beards with flowers (I do like that last part). Of course, this woman-dominated world is no less homophobic than our own, and as part of their gender rebellion, the men form relationships with one another, in various configurations. It’s a delightful read, with its gender reversals a mirror reflection of our own society.

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