Autism News, 2017/07/16

Law enforcement news:

Media and reviews:

Australian politics:

Canadian politics:

Jobs:

  • M. Kelter interviews Art Shectman about Ultra Testing, a tech firm that hires autistic employees
  • Another company, EY, is also getting into the business of autistic hiring

On stereotypes and prejudice:

Misc:

Sad Things:

Cool stories from May and June

May and June, June especially, have been incredibly busy months for me, but I’ve still managed to read a few things that I really liked.

Vajra Chandrasekera, “Merrick” (Liminal Stories, Issue 3, spring/summer). An extended meditation on totalitarianism, grief, mental illness, and the anxieties that come with all three. It reads at the beginning like it might become an exploitative mental illness story, but instead it blossoms out into this strange, sad, sensitive thing in which the mental illness is only one of many problems and not nearly the worst, and vulnerable people just muddle along through all of it as best they can.

Gabriel Noel, “If I Told You” (Strange Horizons, March 20). A sharp, gorgeous poem about race and survival and fear. Also flowers.

Karolina Fedyk & Elzbieta Glowacka, “Of Iliaster” (Liminality, Issue #12, summer). A visual poem about queer love, knowledge, and wonder. I haven’t seen a poem in comic format before, but having seen this one, I’m sold. Absolutely gorgeous.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 36: So You Want to Be a Robot

Today’s Book: “So You Want to Be a Robot: 21 Stories”, a collection by A. Merc Rustad

Autistic Character(s): The author, among others!

“So You Want to Be a Robot” is a collection of speculative short stories – mostly fantasy (or sci-fi of the extremely fantastical variety), mostly dark, and mostly queer.

Rustad is the author of an essay called “I Don’t Want Your Queer Tragedy“, so it’s interesting to examine the collection in that light. Queer, trans, and nonbinary characters are thick on the ground in virtually every story, and are written with variety and respect. Most of them have strong, close, passionate relationships. Most of them, despite the darkness of many stories, get happy or hopeful endings.

It would be a mistake to view this as a light-hearted collection, though. Rustad is not an author who’s ever shied away from themes of monstrousness, abuse, or sacrifice. Several stories, particularly “Tomorrow When We See the Sun”, and “Winter Bride”, are not for the squeamish. Body horror and mutilation are common themes, as are protagonists living as the prisoners of seemingly omnipotent, sadistic beings. Some of these stories are so dark that it would be unrealistic for readers to ask for a happy ending; the glimmer of hope at the end is sometimes only a sense that the protagonist managed to accomplish something important before the night closed in.

But the collection isn’t all darkness either. Some stories, like the Nebula-nominated “This Is Not a Wardrobe Door”, are positively celebratory – often in explicit defiance of mainstream tropes, anti-queer or otherwise, that dictate what can and can’t be celebrated. Even in the darkest stories, love and community, including their queer varieties, aren’t devalued – they are vital to what the protagonists are doing.

Most of these stories are familiar to me as someone who follows Rustad’s work, but having them together in one book puts their shared traits into greater focus. Unapologetically being full of queer and trans characters is one of these traits, as is an intense sense of longing and loyalty, and the use of suns and other really bright lights to signify evil. So is a sheer density of invention that reminds me of Catherynne M. Valente or Yoon Ha Lee:

But let’s say you don’t get eaten by the roses. The circle you find yourself in next is a lightless tower that goes downward and never up. Chains spun from hanged men’s gurgles crisscross the stairs that don’t really exist. Beware of the ivy along the walls, for it grows on memory, until your mind is choked and full of leaves, and roots dig out through your skin and you forget why you came, and you sit there forever, and forever, and forever, and…

As for autism, Rustad’s writing isn’t as focused on this aspect of their identity as on their gender or sexuality. But a few stories do have autistic characters. I’ve previously reviewed “Iron Aria” and “Under Wine-Bright Seas” here, both of which are good stories with trans protagonists who read as autistic and have expressive speech difficulties.

A third story with an arguably autistic protagonist is the collection’s final entry, “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps”. The protagonist of this story, Tesla, both falls in love with a robot and longs to become one themself. They express their feelings through lists, some of which make it clear to me that Tesla isn’t neurotypical:

  1. 1. Pretend you are not a robot. This is hard, and you have been working at it for twenty-three years. You are like Data, except in reverse.
    2. (There are missing protocols in your head. You don’t know why you were born biologically or why there are pieces missing, and you do not really understand how human interaction functions. Sometimes you can fake it. Sometimes people even believe you when you do. You never believe yourself.)

I feel guilty claiming Tesla as an autistic character when “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” is so emphatically about other things. But it’s a deeply moving story about identity, dysphoria, depression, validation, and community, and it’s easily my favorite in the whole collection.

Overall, this is a very strong collection of stories that go well together. If you like what you’ve seen of A. Merc Rustad’s work online, you should definitely pick it up.

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics Statement: A. Merc Rustad is someone I consider a personal friend. I asked them for a review copy and received a physical copy of their book from the publisher for free. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This novella was not chosen by my Patreon backers; I read it because I was excited enough about it to read it on my own time. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the pipeline, and you can become a backer for as little as $1 if you’d like to help choose the next autistic book.

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

How to fix the disability representation in “Wonder Woman”

The buzz around “Wonder Woman” has been so exciting to me, but because I’ve been so busy this spring, I had to wait a month before I saw it in the theatre. For the most part, it lived up to the hype. Wonder Woman is an amazing character, the movie on a craft level is beautiful and compelling, and so much of what it’s doing is empowering and good.

The Wonder Woman movie falls down, though, when it comes to disability. Dr. Poison is a villain who could have been complex and intriguing, and a foil against Wonder Woman’s goodness. Elena Anaya’s acting is vulnerable and on-edge in a way that consistently suggests there is more to the character than we see. But instead of actually developing that character, the movie relies on her facial disfigurement as a shorthand for both her evil and her pitiability.

Better minds than me have already explained why this is a problem. If you want some explanation in that vein, I would recommend this Teen Vogue article (which also shouts out to several other movie villains).

But I decided that I wasn’t content just to call out the problem – I wanted to talk about how the problem could be fixed.

One option, of course, would be to make Dr. Poison non-disabled. (A quick check in the Wikipedia suggests that her comics incarnation is not disabled, and wears a mask for other reasons.) This is a totally valid option and would definitely make the movie less problematic. But it also feels to me like a lazy fix. Once a movie is out where the character is disabled, asking to make her non-disabled feels tantamount to saying that you can never have a disabled villain. (Or, worse, that you shouldn’t try to write disabled characters at all, lest something like this be read into them.) I don’t quite believe that; what I believe is more nuanced.

(Full disclosure: my novel draft contains a hero and a villain who are both #ownvoices disabled. I have some skin in this game.)

So, if someone gave me a magic pen that could magically make any edits to this movie that I wanted, here’s how I would fix the disability representation in Wonder Woman.

Needless to say, there are some MAJOR WONDER WOMAN SPOILERS below the cut.

Continue reading “How to fix the disability representation in “Wonder Woman””

Autistic Book Party, Episode 35: A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power

Today’s Book: “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power”, a novella by Rose Lemberg

The Plot: A stranger arrives in the court of the Old Royal of the Burri Desert.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

“Portrait” is  set in the intricate fantasy world of Birdverse, in the same series as many other stories and poems I’ve reviewed here, but it stands well on its own. Its plot is a romance, although a romance of a very atypical type.

The Old Royal, an ancient and powerful person who rules a desert city and teaches at a magical school, is our protagonist. The Old Royal is effectively immortal, thanks to their connection to a magical star which prolongs their life and reincarnates them, with most of their memories, when they die. A young person, the Raker, arrives in the Old Royal’s court – but the Raker is not like the other people who flock to the Old Royal’s school. Extremely powerful and with a force of personality that utterly dominates most people, the Raker leaves a wake that confuses and concerns the Old Royal’s court. Perhaps it’s only the Old Royal themselves who can tame him – if the assassins that are rumored to be in the area, or the mysterious ghost who appears when the Raker sleeps, don’t get to them first.

(Readers familiar with Birdverse may recognize the Raker as a younger version of Tajar Kekeri from “Geometries of Belonging.”)

The Old Royal and the Raker have a sizzling attraction to each other that I can only describe as sexual, and they act on that attraction. But there’s no sex in the story, in the sense of anything involving genitals. Instead, the scenes between the Old Royal and the Raker are properly described as BDSM – except that BDSM practitioners in real life don’t have the kind of magic that can pierce someone’s skin with magic deepnames or turn you into a giant bird that flies around. These scenes manage to be wildly imaginative while also conveying intense desire and intense pleasure.

There’s also surprising depth to the kink in this story. Many nuanced issues around consent and negotiation are portrayed, including the question of whether and how someone as powerful as the Raker can ethically pursue relationships. Both characters make mistakes with each other, and then are quick to talk out those mistakes and fix them, which is basically my favorite romance trope ever.

Two other aspects of the romance provide refreshing representation. The kink in the story isn’t held to a perscriptive idea of what dominant and submissive partners should do: the Old Royal and the Raker are both tops, who negotiate complex and fulfilling interactions without either one psychologically submitting to the other. I also liked the way the Old Royal’s gender is handled. They’re gender fluid and undergo a magical gender transition every few years. They also preside over a festival where they help other trans denizens of Birdverse to do the same. In a very nice touch, Lemberg manages to make this aspect of the Old Royal’s gender clear without ever having to specify the anatomy of their current body.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I should mention something about it. I described the story as a romance, but romance as a genre contains some pretty strict expectations about endings. “Portrait” doesn’t have a traditional romance ending, but it also is not a tragic ending – this is not at all a queer tragedy story.

There is no autism anywhere in this story, but it’s another solid Birdverse installment with its detailed mythic setting, nuanced characters, and lyrical prose. If you’re into what it’s offering, don’t miss it.

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics Statement: Rose Lemberg is someone I consider a personal friend. I volunteered when they asked who wanted an ARC, and received an ebook copy for free in advance of the novella’s publication date. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This novella was not chosen by my Patreon backers; I read it because I was excited enough about it to read it on my own time. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the pipeline, and you can become a backer for as little as $1 if you’d like to help choose the next autistic book.

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

Unicorns

I have a new poem up in Liminality, Issue #12, called “Unicorns”. Check it out here.

I wrote the first, short draft of “Unicorns” several years ago, in the middle of an attempt at National Poetry Writing Month, most of which was garbage. It felt like something that I wanted to expand, and I spent a long time bashing away at different parts and stanzas, trying to explain the thing I was trying to say, trying to give graphic examples of all its different facets.

In the end, I had to leave the whole mess for a while, and when I came back to it, I realized that the thing I had originally written was already a complete scene which perfectly encapsulated itself. The tiny published version you can see up now is extremely close to the tiny original version.

Just an example, I suppose, of how a shorter poem isn’t always easier to do. 😀

Autistic Book Party, Episode 34: Iwunen Interstellar Investigations (Prologue Season)

Today’s Book: “Iwunen Interstellar Investigations (Prologue Season)”, a web serial by Bogi Takács

The Plot: A magic teacher from a planet of autistic people is shocked out of their routine by the arrival of a mysterious, injured stranger – and of some interplanetary intrigue.

Autistic Character(s): Almost everyone, including the protagonist!

Iwunen Interstellar Investigations is set on Eren, the aforementioned planet of autistic people, and so the first thing I want to talk about here is PLANET OF AUTISTIC PEOPLE.

We’ve seen disability-centric societies in previous Book Party episodes. “Kea’s Flight” is set in a society of developmentally disabled teenagers on a spaceship, but the teenagers are supervised by NT caregivers and robots. “This Alien Shore” gives us Guera, a planet where everyone, including the leadership, is disabled or mentally ill. But while there is a major character who comes from Guera, and some interesting scenes of intrigue between Gueran leadership, we saw very little of what Gueran life was like on the ground.

Iwunen Interstellar Investigations starts us off right at the beginning with scenes of relatively normal life on Eren. So right away this is EXCELLENT. Ranai ta-n Iwunen, a magic teacher, is depressed, and is hoping that a new student, Wuda-reyun, will give them something to do – but Wuda-reyun, who is from another planet, is presumptuous and seems ill at ease with Ereni culture.

By the way, Eren is not just a planet of autistic people. It’s a MAGICAL planet of autistic people, in which magic (called “māwal”) is interconnected with high SFnal technology. This is exactly my jam. Unfortunately, once we have gotten to know Ranai and Wuda-reyun, the plot begins to move at such a fantastically fast clip that we only see Ereni society in glimpses. There are some really delightful details woven in – people are formal about power relations so that they are easier to remember! The word for “rules lawyering” is monomorphemic! – but in general, the story is not interested in explaining a lot about Eren. The story is interested in ADVENTURE! Pretty soon, Ranai et al are in a different part of the galaxy entirely, investigating something involving interplanetary politics and weapons deals.

The plot in general goes by quickly enough that readers not familiar with Bogi’s work might get confused at some points. The “Concepts” section on the website does a good job filling in basic background about the universe, and I would recommend it during the early stages of reading.

As to the characters themselves, they are just fine. Almost everyone on Eren shares the “Ereni cognotype” (their word for autism), but characters have their own diverse personalities, from the cautious and authoritative Ranai to the naive and principled Abinayun to Mirun, the stranger from another world, who literally crashlands in the story with great eagerness and little control. We also see glimpses of Ranai’s daughter, Birayu, a creative child with atypical language skills who adores food. Birayu’s presence is important from a representation perspective, as it shows that not everyone on Eren is “high-functioning”, and that a range of abilities are accepted. Ranai is a single parent who employs someone to assist in raising Birayu, which seems to be an arrangement that is working out, although I would have liked to see them and Birayu interact more in early chapters.

There is also a hint of a budding romantic attraction between Ranai and Mirun, both of whom are nonbinary. Since Ranai is demisexual, this part of the story occurs gently and gradually and is still far from being resolved at the end of the season. (Mirun’s origins, by the way, are among the things that aren’t explained in this story. But if you are up for some darker fare, you can find them in “Toward the Luminous Towers“.)

Bogi objected when I filed this story, on Patreon, under “cheerful books”: some bad things are certainly implied, both in Mirun’s vaguely-hinted-at backstory and in the political intrigue. It’s just that, as a dedicated reviewer of books about autistic people, a disproportionate amount of my reading deals with ableism, abuse, and other Bad Things. There are some really well-done, really important books that talk about Bad Things, and Bad Things are pervasive in real life. But I cannot describe how refreshing it is to read an adventure with a happy ending in which autistic people run around without being constantly oppressed for being autistic. That’s what I mean when I call this one “cheerful”. I don’t want there to be fewer books about Bad Things, but I do want there to be MORE books like this one!

This is overall a sprightly, enjoyable read with many twists, and with a gaggle of interesting autistic characters whose personhood is never in question. I’m looking forward to further installments in the series, and I’m hoping that they will take us in even greater depth into the world of Eren.

The Verdict: Recommended

Ethics Statement: Bogi Takács is someone I would consider a personal friend. I read eir web serial by waiting for the chapters to be posted for free on eir website. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was not chosen by my Patreon backers; I read it because I was excited enough about it to read it on my own time. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the pipeline, and you can become a backer for as little as $1 if you’d like to help choose the next autistic book.

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

Autistic Book Party, Episode 33 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord, Rhysling edition!

I’m at a conference this week, so I’m going to be scarce, but not too scarce to point you in the direction of some great poetry by autistic authors. Here’s what I found in my 2017 Rhysling anthology that wasn’t already freely available elsewhere.

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Sara Backer, “The Genius” (Mithila Review 3)

I have never interacted with this author, but I suspect that this poem is a case of accidental representation. I suspect she wasn’t thinking of autism when she wrote it, but just happened to write a fairly accurate description of some autistic people’s experience: seemingly unoccupied, while intensely engaged in sensory processing, pattern recognition, and reflection. The unintended irony with this one is how it describes the titular character interrupted by “people who want to pay her / to achieve something”. I only wish real autistic people, who face one of the highest unemployment rates of any disabled group, were deluged by such offers. [YMMV]

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Rose Lemberg, “The Journeymaker to Keddar (II)” (Marginalia to Stone Bird collection)

[Autistic author] This is a part of the Journeymaker Cycle which I previously reviewed, as a whole, in my review of Rose’s collection. In fact, it’s the concluding installment. So I was quite surprised to find that it also stands well on its own. It is an emotional mythic poem about separation and personal growth, on a very large scale. [Recommended-2]

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AJ Odasso, “Sargasso Sea” (Remixt magazine 1.1)

[Autistic author] An intensely personal poem about intersex experience. The narrator struggles with feelings of monstrousness as lovers, doctors, and others deal with their body very poorly. Like one of Merc Rustad’s protagonists, they ultimately find the idea of monstrousness freeing. Fans of poems about difficult sexual and bodily experiences will enjoy this one. [Recommended-2]

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AJ Odasso, “Widening Gyre” (Not A Drop anthology)

[Autistic author] A poignant poem about things lost at sea, which may be irrecoverable despite rituals intending otherwise. [Recommended-2]

Autism News, 2017/06/11

Because I have been remiss in making these news posts promptly, we’ll start off with some of the tail end of Autism Month:

Jobs:

Politics:

Science:

  • John Elder Robison explains why so much autism research studies things that seem obvious
  • Nicholette Zeliadt on the role of motor difficulties in autism
  • Shannon des Roches Rosa on the shift towards neurodiversity at the autism research conference IMFAR

Writing and media:

Misc:

Sad Things:

  • Clare Hughes on what happens to autistic people in prison
  • Lydia Z.X. Brown on a recent case of education discrimination, plus other ableist things
  • A new study in the UK says that people with autism or learning disabilities experience more hate crimes than any other disabled group
  • A group of care homes in the UK were shut down because of widespread abuse involving isolation rooms

 

 

Cool stories from March and April

I’m ridiculously late, but here are my favorite non-autism-related stories and poems from the early spring. (Stories I read in May and June are being collected separately.)

Elaine Atwell, “Finity” (GigaNotoSaurus, February). This story is frickin’ amazing. It’s like a tragic lesbian story in reverse – starting with grief, and moving from there to love and wellness and hope, showing how difficult and uncertain and delicate that movement is and how it happens anyway. (I think it’s also a deliberate homage to “Passengers”, but one that fixes all the things that made “Passengers” awful.) I need more stories that value human life the way this one does. I need more stories that value queer relationships the way this one does. Also: it has the cutest AI  since “Cat Pictures Please”.

Karen Bovenmyer, “Syncing Minefields” (Strange Horizons, February 20). A bleak, beautiful poem about love and mistakes and, well, minefields.

Amal El-Mohtar, “Anabasis” (Tor.com, March 8). The entire “Nevertheless, She Persisted” flash series on Tor.com is worth reading, but Amal’s story stands out from the pack. It’s the grittiest, the most immediate, the most heartrending.

S. Qiouyi Lu, “A Complex Filament of Light” (Anathema, Issue 1, April). A beautiful story about mental health, grief, culture, and connection (and also ANTARCTIC AURORAS).

Holly Lyn Walrath, “Pine Song, Robin Song, Star Song” (Liminality, Issue #11, March). A love poem between a tree and a bird. I like love poems, but few poems can have both love and death in them and yet still make me feel so light and contented.