Finished “Sea of Cortez”-- I thought it only fair at first, but I'm appreciating little elements as I revisit the tale. Here are my initial thoughts (cut for "spoilers," as River Song would say). I'd appreciate discussion:
SETTING: While “Sea of Cortez” has elements of war ugliness, the setting largely remains an idyllic, queered South Pacific. When ugliness happens, it is pointless, as in this gorgeous sentence: "You fire at Manila, Panay, Leyte, Cebu." Much more attention is given to social scenes. It makes sense, as the main character expects to see this as the high point of his life. But because it is idyllic, I can't quite see this story as having actually happened in a real past. When the author takes time to explain a historical note, it feels out of place.
VOICE: The second person point of view provides an immediately immersive experience. Given that the collection is about challenging gender norms, the biggest obstacle is in getting heteronormative readers to identify with genderqueer characters. While disconcerting at first, the second person changes the reader’s self-talk while reading, and it becomes easier to identify with the main character, despite McDonald choosing that most difficult of boundaries, masculinity. Well done.
WILLIAMS: Never likeable or enjoyable to read about, and there is too much of him. He and Robbie have a place: they fit with the bleak future, dragging the main character’s feelings along without a care. Even when Williams shows himself to be a fellow "fruit," he hasn’t changed. He has simply lied until now, no apologies.
GENDER: This is "beyond binary," but the character is trapped in his conception of binariness: he's either submissive or dominant, desires men or desires women's clothing and to roleplay as or be a woman.
GENRE: Minor quibble. What makes this a speculative fiction story rather than a historical one? Future-sight. And the way the future-sight is written, it seems more despair than actual sight, since it fails the Robbie test. When you couple this with the sight disappearing by the end, you might as well call the story literary rather than speculative fiction.
THE FUTURE: So what about this future sight? It was so useful at first. Wonderfully bleak and gray, contrasting strongly with the setting-as-paradise. It fails twice: it doesn't predict Robbie's disappearance, and fails utterly after the final scene with Williams. Why? Does the main character only get future sight when he’s unhappy? Or does he only get future sight when he isn’t taking charge of his life? Now that he found a kindred spirit, does that mean he can change his future? Or is it a far more meta idea: now that the reader understands a queered man, his future—and the futures of those like him—can be changed?