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Passing Strange
By Ellen Klages

Discussed October 2017

Buy Passing Strange from Amazon.com

The Circle:

  • Franny - a Wiccan, with some genuine and surprising magical abilities.
  • Babs (aka Barbara, Franny’s partner) - PhD in theoretical mathematics, although she’s only been able to get a job as a “mathematics lecturer” at an (unnamed) university.
  • Haskell (aka Loretta Haskell) - a painter and cover illustrator for F&SF pulp magazines such as Weird Menace; her work is well-known and respected, but her fans don’t know she’s female.
  • Helen - straight-but-friendly Japanese-American budding attorney; Franny’s lawyer; supports herself by “dancing twelve shows a week at Forbidden City” (a popular club in Chinatown).
  • Emily/Spike - expelled from Wellesley when she and a roommate were caught in flagrante delecto – more widely known as “Spike”, the sexy “drag king” crooner at Mona’s Club 440.

Questions:

  1. What’s your opinion of the novella’s title? How does it relate to the story? What’s your opinion of the cover illustration?
  2. Passing Strange has been called “a love letter to queer San Francisco”. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  3. Most of the novella takes place in 1939/1940, when the Golden Gate International Exposition was in full swing. Did it seem “authentic” to you? Do you think it has relevance to the world of today?
  4. How well does Passing Strange depict its key interpersonal relationships? Did they seem realistic to you? As you read about them, did you “care”?
  5. What’s your opinion of the depiction of Haskell’s marriage and of her husband?
  6. Klages says that Passing Strange was “inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedies.” Could you see any of these influences?
  7. In her Afterword to Portable Childhoods, Klages says: “Science fiction is, I’ve read, a literature of setting.” Is San Francisco a “setting” or a “character” in Passing Strange?
  8. Neil Gaiman describes the stories in Portable Childhoods as “stories of families, the ones we are born into and the ones that we create”. Does this description also apply to Passing Strange?
  9. What’s your opinion of the Fantasy elements in Passing Strange? Do you think the “SF-adjacent” elements add to the story?
  10. Have you read any other works by Klages? If so, how does Passing Strange compare? If not, do you think you’re more or less likely to read other works by Klages?

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Wakulla Springs (2013), with Andy Duncan – World Fantasy Award 2014.

Wicked Wonders (2017) – anthology, includes:

  • “Hey, Presto!” (2014) – Polly (who later appears in Passing Strange) as a young girl in England.
  • “Caligo Lane” (2014) – Franny and her origami-magic during WW2 (she also appears in Passing Strange).

Portable Childhoods (2007) – anthology, includes:

  • “The Green Glass Sea” (2004) – short story from which the novel developed.
  • Time Gypsy (1998) – novelette, first appeared in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction.

YA historical fiction:

  • The Green Glass Sea (2006)
  • White Sands, Red Menace (2008)
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