Review: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation by Bogi Takács

The cover of The Trans Space Octopus Congregation, with an octopus on top of a space-y background and a glowing pastel blue font with a few stars as embellishment.

UPDATE as of 10/07/2019! You can purchase a copy here!

I got my first advanced reader copy, and it’s by one of my favorite people: Bogi Takács! If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you can probably tell I’m a big fan of Takács, so there was no way I wasn’t signing up to read The Trans Space Octopus Congregation early. I’m not going to talk about all the stories in this collection (then you wouldn’t get a chance to discover it for yourself), but I will say that I could envision almost every one of them continuing on as a full-length novel–that’s how good the world-building and writing is in each of them. My personal favorite was “The Oracle of DARPA,” but I have something different that I want to talk about for The Trans Space Octopus Congregation. Namely, that the hostility of rigid geometry in Takács’ short stories makes for a great contrast to the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

The most direct use of hostile geometry is in “A Subordinate Set of Principles,” wherein a handful of space-farers investigate a world that summons a series of indescribably geometric tech-entities. On the very first page, we’re introduced to Istirh-Dunan, who is improving the bio-mimetic outer shell of their ship. Takács describes the task, writing, “Ever smaller tentacles curl upon themselves between the layers, the flowering fractal pattern straining against interior and exterior surfaces.” (39) The protagonist’s role is to work with the very antithesis of limited geometric structures–fluid, winding patterns reaching into the infinite. When the investigation team–Istirh-Dunan included–goes to the planet, the humans there summon a “bright yellow ▲” and a “turquoise ■”. The story actually uses those symbols as their names, which is a kind of flair that I am absolutely in love with. Istirh-Dunan says of these entities’ influence, “I can feel an unfamiliar geometry reassert itself—a geometry not built on recursion and self-similarity or on curves and time-courses, but one built on straight lines.” (47) The analogy between this scifi element and gender/sexuality clarifies: strict systems are not compatible with–and can even forcefully assimilate–the true fluidity of gender and sexuality.

Takács also presents this in “All Talk of Common Sense” when Aniyé–former tool-like war mage–depicts what life was like being exploited and abused as a conscript. They say that “Aniyé was used to bare walls painted white, the cold geometry restricting without holding, enforcing without understanding.” (284) In this case, Aniyé was not physically attacked by geometry as Istirh-Dunan was, but she was instead constrained and held against her will with no desire to try to work with her. Binary systems of gender that enforce gender roles, likewise, constrain trans people. The theme continues, and geometry remains sinister.

Speaking more generally of The Trans Space Octopus Congregation, many of the characters (often painfully) lose or replace their physical form. In these cases–such as with “Changing Body Templates,” “Three Partitions,” and “Spirit Forms of the Sea”–the rigid structure being broken is that of the human body. This is a very relatable literary concept to me as a trans person because of the conflicts between my gender expression and gender roles, between my gender identity and the binary gender enforced by society, and between my perception of my body and my own physicality. Good transgender representation in fiction doesn’t have to be overtly focused on the transness of the characters; Takács shows how parallels can have just as much impact (if not more) as a direct approach.

Overall, I think Takács is doing some amazing things, specifically with gender, but also with empire, war, religion, technology, and much more. I heavily encourage my trans and cis followers to read this, because it’s a great way to ruminate over gender and the way it relates to the world. For trans readers, specifically (particularly nonbinary folks) The Trans Space Octopus Congregation has a whole slew of worlds and plots that make for great representation. For cis readers, the collection is a great exploration into worlds of gender that may be unfamiliar to you.

The Trans Space Octopus Congregation by Bogi Takács

Publisher: Lethe Press (2019)

Paperback: $17.50

Number of Pages: 323 pages

Coming out in Autumn of 2019!

Content Warnings: Violence, warfare, gore, body horror, pain, slavery, abuse, manipulation, experimentation on humans, drug usage, among many others. Takács does a good job of thoroughly listing content warnings for each story in the back of the book, so be sure to look at that before reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s