Hugo reading 2018: Small Changes Over Long Periods Of Time, by K.M. Szpara

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szpara is, at first glance, a sexy vampire story, and not really my thing. What makes it interesting is that the protagonist is a gay trans man who is on hormones and has had at least some surgery (top surgery, definitely – I’m not entirely sure what bottom surgery entails, but I think the implication is that he hasn’t got that far), and when he gets bitten, the restorative / regenerative effects of becoming a vampire start restoring him to the female body he was born with. Szpara is, I understand, a trans man himself, and he does a good job of writing this as the horror it is.

He also has to contend with the laws around vampire recruitment and vampirism. He is bitten by a vampire acting outside the law, but the penalties for becoming a vampire without filling out the proper applications (and the protagonist would never have been able to apply even if he wanted to, because trans people are one of several classes of people banned from becoming vampires) seem to fall upon both the person who turned the new vampire, and the new vampire him or herself. Szpara does some interesting things here; although the protagonist was turned mostly involuntarily (he would have died otherwise), the changes and effects are viewed as something he has chosen, and thus his problem to deal with, in a similar way to the way being gay or trans is often seen as being a choice.

I honestly find it hard to judge this story. The trans bits (is body horror the word I’m looking for?) were interesting and well-written, but I really have a strong dislike of the sexy vampire trope – it’s very, very rare for a book to manage to use this trope in a way that I don’t find thoroughly off-putting. I think, too, this story troubled me because it was using some romance tropes without being a romance – and from a romance reader’s perspective, I felt that the allegedly sexy older vampire was a bit alpha-hole-ish and not great on the whole consent thing, which is never comfortable to read (to be clear, with the exception of the initial biting attack, the later sex scenes were… not overtly, exactly, but I kind of felt like he was taking advantage of someone who was under the influence on several occasions.)

To make matters worse, the sexy older vampire shares a name with someone I work with and while I can usually ignore characters sharing names with people I know, for some reason I couldn’t this time and that added a whole extra level of squick to the situation.

This goes above The Secret Life of Bots for me, but not above anything else at this stage.