Autism News, 2018/07/12

Posts about useful activities:

Posts about comorbid conditions:

Posts about people being treated badly:

Misc Updates

In between all of the bewildering short story and poem publications of the past month, a few other things happened:

  • I now have a monthly newsletter: just the important updates, all in one place and in a shiny package. You can sign up for it here.
  • I also have a Facebook fan page. If you want to follow me on Facebook, this is how!
  • My story “Minor Heresies,” which first appeared in Ride the Star Wind, will be reprinted in Transcendent 3: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, edited by the excellent Bogi Takács.
  • Finally, in goofier news, if you want to listen to all the Song Pairings from Monsters In My Mind all in one place, here’s a Spotify playlist. It is a TERRIBLE PLAYLIST WITH NO RESPECT FOR ANY GENRE, but I’m okay with that… 😀

More soon!

Brothers at the Water’s Edge

SOMEHOW I HAVE EVEN MORE STORIES COMING OUT?? I don’t even know what is happening anymore.

But anyway, apparently my new story “Brothers at the Water’s Edge” is up now in Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry.

This one involves MAGIC VS SCIENCE (one of my least favorite tropes ever), family difficulties, and a questionable geyser.

Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting

…And speaking of DELIGHTFUL FLUFFY CUTENESS, my contribution to ROBOT DINOSAURS! went up this weekend.

Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting” is a flash fic about a professor and her pair of hyperactive robot raptors. Enjoy!

BTW, “experimental robots that could learn from their embodied experience through means analogous to human child development” are an actual thing, and are quite trendy in some corners of AI. I’ve never worked on one, though. And, to my knowledge, none of them have ever jumped onto a professor’s desk and demanded cookies.

Cool Story, Bro: Short Works I Loved In May and June

These past two months I have been MIRED VERY DEEP in the last stages of my PhD thesis’ first draft. (Finished Friday morning! WHEEEEEEEE!) I kept up with my reading and read many good stories, but the ones that were really able to take root in my heart during this time were ones that appealed to my most basic drives. Either sex, or DELIGHTFUL FLUFFY CUTENESS. You’ve been warned.

*

Marissa Lingen, “My favourite sentience” (Nature Futures, April 25)

This is just so darned cute. Like, I find AI cute already, and NOW THIS?! It’s also a great example of worldbuilding by getting deeply into a viewpoint(s), rather than zooming out.

*

Toby MacNutt, “Batholith” (Twisted Moon, Issue 3, May)

This is the second time in a row I’ve had one of Toby MacNutt’s erotic poems in my bimonthly recommendations. Okay but they are just REALLY GOOD, though. The heat in this one is so physical and palpable. The intimacy that occurs feels elemental, more primal even than animalism, like a force of nature itself.

*

Melody Watson, “celestial objects” (Twisted Moon, Issue 3, May)

ASDFGHJKL; – and then there’s this one, which is not just elemental but cosmic, a dance of life and death and longing on the largest scale. Yes.

*

John Wiswell, “Buyers’ Remorse and Seven Slain Cause ‘Adorable’ Robot Dinosaur Stock to Plummet Tuesday” (ROBOT DINOSAURS!, May 25)

BAHAHAHA THIS IS SO ADORABLY HILARIOUS. I giggled the whole way through and so will you.

New Poem – Rabbit Pulls a Magician Out of Her Hat

My poem Rabbit Pulls a Magician Out of Her Hat is up now in Issue #16 of Liminality.

This is both a love poem and a major (for me) stylistic experiment. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the stylistic experiment was partly inspired by Leia Penina Wilson’s i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown).) It’s one that was partly written several years ago and lay on my hard drive unfinished for a long time, before I could muster both the emotional and the poetic werewithal to figure out where all the other parts went. But now it’s done and out there. Enjoy!

Autistic Book Party, Episode 46: Graveyard Sparrow

[TW: One of the book excerpts quoted in this review contains a graphic description of violence.]

Today’s Book: “Graveyard Sparrow” by Kayla Bashe

The Plot: In a Regency setting, a non-neurotypical lady detective stumbles onto a string of serial murders – and falls in love with the witch who is helping her manage the side effects of her abilities.

Autistic Character(s): Katriona Sparrow, the aforementioned lady detective.

So, the “brilliant non-neurotypical detective” trope is… like… a thing. And I might have gone in with the wrong expectations based on the cover blurb, because I was intrigued anticipating what a queer disability activist like Bashe would do with a female version of, like, Bones or Sherlock or something. Instead:

“This is how: in a rain- and blood-slicked alleyway, last breath a gasp. I was so scared. He begins to cut off my arms while I am still alive. It is my punishment for not fighting back. I was not good enough. At last he lets me die. He then finishes cutting off my arms and removes my head and legs, and he sings while he works. Now I am dead and fabric-wrapped. This is his art.”

The stark impression of that final word stabbed into Katriona like shards of glass. Her hand felt burnt—a pure horrible heat that traveled up her arm and into her head—and as she sprang to her feet she cried out like a wounded animal.  Her head had been bad before, but now it was worse. The entire thought-babble of the city flooded into her, and she was caught and pulled apart in the vortex of a thousand minds.

So, Katriona isn’t a Sherlock who deduces things with logic; she’s a Will Graham who solves crimes with magic hyperempathy. This is, like, fine – they are both non-neurotypical detective tropes that deserve an intersectional feminist exploration – it just startled me a bit.

In fact, Katriona is pretty much literally Will Graham. Despite the gender flip and the Regency setting, once this book gets going it’s very obviously a “Hannibal” fix-it fic – right down to details like the artful food arrangements and the dogs. (Bashe doesn’t even try to keep it a secret who the Hannibal Lecter-equivalent character, and therefore the killer, is. That’s clear from the end of the first chapter, and the suspense comes mainly from worrying about what will happen in the interactions between him and Katriona. Which, to be fair, is still a lot of suspense.)

Anyway, Katriona is a well-written autistic character with agency, feelings, and interests. She has a believable, and believably impairing, range of autistic traits:

“I was the oddest child ever born. Sometimes I would start crying for no reason at all. I’d have tantrums that lasted hours, or I’d ignore people entirely. Even then, I could feel everything. It’s easier for me when I’m with small groups of people, and it got easier after I met Doctor Fuellore. He told my parents that it was all right for me to play by myself in the corner at parties and work with a tutor instead of going to school, and he made sure there were things in the house I could touch to calm myself down, like flowers and soft fabric and strings of beads.”

But her autistic traits are also depicted with nuance:

As much as Katriona hated large crowds in social settings, she was very good at holding court when it came to her work. All she had to do was look at a space just past everyone and talk about what she knew best. She was especially interested in death, and could therefore discuss it with anyone at any time.

In particular, one of my favorite details is how “Graveyard Sparrow” shows Katriona making a stereotypical autistic mistake – blurting things out bluntly and insensitively, in a way that hurts people – while also clearly showing that this isn’t due to Katriona being internally insensitive, or failing to care.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but…” He was gazing at her with impatience, with impassive judgment, and everything she had intended to say slipped out of her head, as if her mind was a bucket that someone had kicked a hole through. “She’s dead,” she blurted out. Tears pushed at her voice, and she smoothed her sleeves compulsively. “In an alleyway dressed up like the Mona Lisa. With a wig on.”

His expression turned bitter. “I’ve heard about you; pampered little brat. And even in this moment, you couldn’t show an ounce of sensitivity, could you? You have no place here.”

He was right. She wasn’t good with people. The more nervous she got, the more awkward she became, and when she was awkward it seemed like rudeness.

Anthea, Katriona’s love interest, is a witch who figures out that Katriona is experiencing debilitating symptoms because of sensory overload resulting mainly from her hyperempathy, and who takes on the role of a healer to teach her magical techniques for managing and being selective about her sensory input. That makes this the third story I’ve reviewed in which a magical mind-healer interacts with an autistic person without trying to cure their autism. It seems that this is a trope that interests authors, and apparently it’s also a trope I enjoy. Compared to Geometries of Belonging or A Rational Arrangement, the idea of a cure is touched on relatively lightly – which is fine, because in this context, it doesn’t need more than that. But it is touched on:

Katriona tried to smile, but ended up just examining her slippers and rubbing her arms. “You’re not going to make me exactly the same as everyone else, are you? I would hate that.”

“No, of course not. Well be working on mitigating the agoraphobia and anxiety caused by your inability to set up a psychic shield, not on whatever it is that makes you you. I wouldn’t want anyone to erase parts of my personality either.”

The fact that this is a romance between a healer and their patient means there is a potentially unethical power imbalance that has to be dealt with, and “Graveyard Sparrow” does touch on that issue, although not particularly deeply; I would have liked to see it a bit more developed in places.

“Graveyard Sparrow” is marketed as fighting back against the “beautiful dead girl” trope, and it does do that. Of course, people have been objecting to that trope for a long time, but it’s still a trope that shows up uncritically all over our media, so stories that fight it are still worthwhile, even when they’re not saying anything especially new. And in places, Bashe’s implicit critique is delightfully pointed:

“They had names.” She leaned in toward him. He didn’t flinch. “Laura. Jenny. Helena.”

A thin-lipped smile. “You shouldn’t criticize my art, Katriona. If you criticize art, it means that you merely do not understand it. I wish to help you understand, Little Bird. We must break you of this inclination toward censorship.”

What I found more novel and more compelling, though, was the way that this book subverts tropes on a disability axis. Where “Graveyard Sparrow” really departs from its source material is in the amount of care that Katriona receives. Will Graham is often treated as a magic crime solving device, and struggles alone. So are many other usefully psychic characters in spec fic, for that matter. Katriona gets a friend who understands what she is going through and why, who knows what kind of accommodations will help her to manage her unusual senses without erasing them, and who helps because she values Katriona’s well-being, not because she wants Katriona to do something for her. Katriona gets an arc where she moves from being controlled and sheltered “for her own good” by people who want to use her, to being given useful accommodations so that she can explore life as she wishes. This is the part of the book that really felt huge, subversive, and refreshing to me.

If you like Regency romance and aren’t scared off by the grisly serial killing, and if you don’t mind the sometimes rather blatant parallels to its source material, then “Graveyard Sparrow” is a book that is very much for you.

The Verdict: Recommended

Ethics Statement: I run into Kay Bashe on Twitter every once in a while, but I don’t think we’ve significantly interacted. I read their book by buying an e-copy for my Kindle app. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If Autistic Book Party is valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

Autism News: 2018/06/09

Media and Reviews:

Research and Science:

Other stuff about autistic women!

Politics:

  • The White House joined the Light It Up Blue campaign this year, despite widespread criticism from self-advocates. Here is an ASAN statement about it.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are considering barring immigrants with disabilities:
  • ADAPT has been protesting to get other advocacy organizations to join with them in support of the Disability Integration Act, which prevents officials and insurance companies from denying community-based services to disabled people. The AARP called the police on them, but no arrests were made.
  • Doug Ford, the recently elected premier of Ontario, has a lot of problems. The insulting comments he made about a group home for autistic people, including saying that autistic children and teens in such a home should not be allowed outside and that their presence ruined the community, are just one.

Posts about social masking and its costs:

Posts about parenting and child care:

Misc:

Special Sad Things Section on the Judge Rotenberg Center and #StopTheShock:

Special Sad Things Section with a TW for Nazis:

Other Sad Things:

New Story: “I Sing Against the Silent Sun”

I am SO EXCITED to announce that my novelette-sized fiction/poetry collaboration with A. Merc Rustad, “I Sing Against the Silent Sun,” is out today in Lightspeed!

“I Sing Against the Silent Sun” takes place in Merc’s Principality Suns universe, and features the character Li Sin, who has appeared in previous Principality stories. It also was the inspiration for some WICKED AWESOME issue cover art by Reiko Murakami.

Like all the Principality Suns stories, “I Sing Against the Silent Sun” is a dystopia which contains some disturbing scenes / violence. Assuming you are okay with that, read away – I am really delighted to share this one with the world.

Turandot story notes, part 2: Recommended reading

In Part One of these story notes I mentioned that I did a lot of research when I was writing “Variations on a Theme from Turandot“. So here’s where I show my receipts.

I made extensive use of my university library account and the privileges attached to it. I will link to my sources where I can, but many of them will be behind paywalls. I can do nothing about this. Sorry. This post will also be shorter than what I originally intended, because although I still have several of the papers themselves, I appear to have lost my original notes on them.

One of the first things I read was a musicological biography of Puccini whose title has now been lost to the mists of 5 years ago. The specific details of Puccini’s life aren’t necessarily relevant, but I read enough to get an idea of what Puccini’s experiences with women had been and the kind of conflicts that typified them, as well as the role that Turandot had played in (the end of) his professional life.

J.M. Balkin’s 1990 paper, “Turandot’s Victory,” was particularly helpful to me. Balkin’s thesis is that Turandot is not an opera about women, but an opera about how men trying to figure out how to treat women. Calaf does all sorts of things to try to win Turandot’s affection, but none of them succeed until he chooses to tell her his name and surrender. “Turandot’s Victory” helped me to solidify an idea I already halfway had, which is that this moment, and this relinquishing of male power, is the key moment that solves the opera’s problems. Balkin points to several lines from the original libretto, never put to music in the opera’s final score, which underscore this moment’s importance both thematically and to Turandot as a character.

Alexandra Wilson’s “Modernism and the Machine Woman in Puccini’s ‘Turandot'” and “Torrefranca vs Puccini: embodying a decadent Italy” helped me to situate Puccini’s work, and particularly his treatment of women, within the artistic standards and movements that were relevant at the time Turandot was composed. It is an evasion to say that misogynist artists were “products of their time”, but it is useful to be aware of what the prevailing standards of their time actually were.

Speaking of which, Puccini was hardly the only late Romantic opera composer to have killed off his soprano characters left and right; he probably learned it from Verdi, his mentor. Freudian theorists contend that Puccini hated women and wrote tragedies about them because of an Oedipus complex, but this doesn’t quite square with my reading of Puccini’s biography or of his work. Apparently it doesn’t square with many other people either, as I found several writers attempting to rescue Puccini from Freud, and sometimes from accusations of misogyny altogether. The most comprehensive attempt at this task is Iris J. Arnesen’s The Romantic World of Puccini: A New Critical Appraisal of the Operas. I was never quite convinced by Arnesen’s central contention – that the women in Puccini’s operas are consistently strong and powerful, not weak – but I found the book useful reading anyway, if only to help stir me up about the questions that we often find lurking under feminist media today. What is a “strong” woman, anyway? What do we mean by strength?

(I hope that readers of “Variations” will see both Liù and the Princess as strong characters, but in two very different, individual ways.)

Many of the writers I encountered had their own ideas for how to fix the dramaturgical problems with Turandot. One idea I encountered more than once is the idea that Lo-u-Ling, the murdered ancestress Turandot admires, is an evil ghost who has somehow possessed her, and that the real Turandot is a nice person and compliant wife who would never kill anybody. I find this idea disrespectful both to Turandot’s strength and self-possession and to the trauma with which Lo-u-Ling is explicitly linked, though I was very attracted to the idea of making Lo-u-Ling, in some sense, a real entity. An essay I read years ago about the importance of respecting ghosts, in non-Western cultures, helped me avoid the worst temptations here. I am dismayed to discover I can no longer find the link. I think it was by Jaymee Goh. (It was definitely not Rebecca F. Kuang’s “How to Talk to Ghosts,” which is powerful and important, but which didn’t appear until “Variations on a Theme from Turandot” had already been accepted for publication. I might have written the story differently, in yet another way, if I had encountered Kuang’s essay earlier.)

Finally, “Variations on a Theme from Turandot” does not go deeply into the issue of race and Orientalism in Turandot. That issue is very important, but although I was careful to note that the stage China is unlike the real China and that the Asian-American Soprano is unimpressed with it, I did not feel it was my issue to try to dive into and play with as I did with the opera’s sexism. I would love one day to read a Chinese author’s take on it. In the meantime, if you are wondering about that aspect of Turandot, Jindong Cai’s “Turandot in China” might be a reasonable place to start.