Things I’ve Been Reading (short story edition)

(You can also read this post on Buttondown.)

Hi all,

Before we get into any story recs, I want to tell you I’ll be at the virtual Nebula conference this weekend! I’m moderating one panel: Writing and Navigating Publishing as Persons With Disabilities, at 1:30pm PST, with the excellent panelists Effie Seiberg, Sumiko Saulson, and Vickie Navarra. If you’re at the Nebulas, stop by – I think it’ll be a great discussion!

But now, I’ve promised you I’ll tell you about some stories I’ve loved or found thought-provoking since last October. (Though many of them were published earlier than that; I’m not a super timely reader.) Here goes!

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It rises upward with a snort of steam and sparks of flame, lifting its spiked reptilian head from the waves. It’s silhouetted in moonlight and bisected by the surface line. You know it’s too big to be there.

Nic Anstett, “Monsters of the Drunken Shore” (Lightspeed, July 2023)

This is really short and packs an emotional punch, without anything necessarily “happening,” per se. I love the juxtaposition of the big, unknowable sea creature with the big, confused feelings of the college-age protagonists who are still just trying to grow up.

*

“You’ve left the doors open?”

“All of them. The child just goes and hides even further in the dark.”

Cynthia Gómez, “The Ones Who Come Back to Heal” (Strange Horizons, July 17, 2023)

Omelas stories are a bit of a hard sell for me. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just that it’s getting to be a cliché. This one rang really true for me, though, with its focus on the slow, painful, uncertain reality of helping someone heal from heavy trauma, and on the consent and free will of the person being healed. [1]

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Cynthia Gómez, “Lips Like Sugar” (Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 55)

Looks like Luna Station Quarterly’s website is under reconstruction, so I can’t get a pull quote or a proper link right now. And I actually didn’t realize, until just now when I was putting this post together, that I was reccing two stories in a row by the same author. But! I love this queer, working-class take on the vampire story. Vivi is an immortal creature of the night, but that doesn’t save her from having to deal with rent, menial work, relationship troubles, or the supervisor who’s sexually harassing her. Still, she’s powerful in new ways – and it takes her time to decide what she wants to use that power for.

*

What is worse, I heard that all those rejected by your magazine also die. This is of course all just silly rumours. I notice that your magazine only has one story on it, despite its ridiculously high pay rate of a hundred thousand dollars per story. These are just the silly worries of a newbie writer, and your standards are probably just high.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, “The Magazine of Horror” (Apex Magazine, Issue 139, August 2023)

This is a fun little story that I read in two different ways. It works just fine as a bit of silly, fluffy horror about a magazine that’s more than it seems and a naive author who doesn’t believe the clear warnings. But I think there’s also a metaphor here for some things that really happen in publishing – in particular for the idea that there can only be one, best author from a particular group, especially a marginalized group; and that, once you’ve had your turn being the best, the only remaining path is a dramatic fall from grace.

*

“I like the little singing you do to yourself,” Ashley said nonchalantly, not even looking up from her console. “You have a really nice voice.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said quietly, “I put a lot of work into it.” I wanted to say so much, about the challenges and frustration it had caused me, the intense dysphoria I felt about it from an early age, the agony and joy of learning to sing again—but I knew if I opened up, it would only fan the fires of the feelings I had towards Ashley. For me, vulnerability was a dangerous substance, a doorway to desire.

Tessa Fisher, “Morning Star Blues” (Rosalind’s Siblings, September 2023)

Kelsey, a trans woman scientist, is on a long-haul flight to Venus with another trans woman to search for signs of life. After a sexual assault scare between a cis man and woman on a previous mission, Mission Control hopes that fielding all-trans-women teams, with their hormones purposely adjusted to keep their sex drives low, will prevent any repeats of that situation. Despite this, Kelsey is developing a crush on her crewmate. There’s a lot to unpack here about how trans people – especially trans women – are simultaneously desexualized and seen as sexual threats, and how delicate it can be to form intimate relationships in spite of all this; and Fisher does unpack the latter part of it gently and vulnerably.

*

“But she wasn’t you,” she goes on, when I don’t respond. “I looked into those big baby eyes and I saw absolutely nothing.”

Lindsay King-Miller, “Changeling” (Baffling, Issue Thirteen, October 2, 2023)

You know I’m a sucker for changeling stories. This one comes at it from a queer & eating disordered perspective, not an autistic one, but it makes the underlying toxicity of changeling folklore – the idea that a parent can and should hurt a child, if it’s not the child they wanted or believed they deserved – painfully and beautifully clear.

*

So the queen wavin’ and I only know that I have to throw flowers at she. The queen so close to me, I can almost go up to touch she. So everybody cheering and throwing flowers, and I go to throw my flowers, and I pelt it—stem, leaf, thorn and all, right up next to she face.

Sarah Ramdawar, “I Attack the Queen!” (Strange Horizons, October 30, 2023)

I love what this quick, punchy piece of flash fiction does with POV and with defamiliarization. How something that looks expected and mundane in one way, to the dominant culture, can be completely surreal in another. (I don’t know if it would be defamiliarizing in the same way to someone who is actually from Trinidad – probably not! – but all I can really report is my own response.)

*

I’m overriding the doors. You all know as well as I do that—can you hear me? I’m not getting anything on the speakers in here. You all know as well as I do that no one can come in until the shielding is back in place.

Premee Mohamed, “Imagine Yourself Happy” (Small Wonders, Issue 5, November 2023)

This is, again, very short – it’s literally just four minutes of a dying scientist’s last monologue. Given that premise, it’s surprisingly matter-of-fact and accepting; it ends up saying something that really resonates with me about the nature and purpose of a finite life.

*

“Did they catch you, Ol. Did anybody see you?”

“Oh. Oh, no.”

I let the silence stretch. They reached to turn on the road trip playlist, and I interrupted to ask: “Then why did I have to drive that fast?”

I let my eyes drift from the road for a split second to assess what was going on with my friend. Their eyes were huge in the lights of a passing semi. Their face was set, stoic. “You know how my parents are.”

Marissa Lingen, “A Piece of the Continent” (Uncanny, Issue Fifty-Five, November/December 2023)

I don’t know why this little trans ghost story hit me as hard as it did – but then, Marissa Lingen’s short stories always knock it out of the park.

*

i think I believe that. But the human mind can hold such contradictory thoughts. At the same time that I say the words “time in the sun,” I am thinking of Ann falling. As if spliced into a disorderly film, my many memories of Ann’s falls run together…

Beston Barnett, “Patsy Cline Sings Sweet Dreams to the Universe” (Strange Horizons, November 20, 2023)

METI is an artificial intelligence designed to greet extraterrestrials, in the depths of space, by showing them a single human memory. But memory is complicated – perhaps more complicated than METI’s designers anticipated – and to understand the meaning of even one memory requires an enormous depth of context and acceptance of contradiction. This one seems like it could be pretty abstract at first, but it gradually blossoms into something devastatingly human.

*

A tide of unrelenting change, of complete and perfect impossibility, washes over them in the tunnel. The walls taste metallic when she looks at them; her skin feels like the smell of rain on sun-warmed pavement. Her fingers are willow branches and her tongue is the colour of fear.

Richard Ford Burley, “After Angels” (Haven Speculative, Issue Twelve, December 2023)

I absolutely love the weird, surreal, numinous horror in this story. Like, yes!! This is how it’s done!!

*

The sketch showed a young woman, her face a perfect oval, holding our base in her cupped hands. Behind her head, Saturn hung golden within its halo of rings. That was the first sign that religion had come with us to Enceladus.

Zohar Jacobs, “The Enceladus South Pole Base Named After V.I. Lenin” (Clarkesworld, February 2024)

I’ve been experiencing an enthusiasm lately for realistic stories about space travel. I don’t necessarily mean stories that could 100% happen in real life – but I do mean stories in a future world where there hasn’t been any massive advance like FTL, cryosleep, or artificial gravity that would fundamentally change the experience of spaceflight compared to what it is now, and where there’s attention to the little details of what present-day spaceflight and the solar system are actually like. This story scratches that itch, but it also does much more – it’s an impressively nuanced story about politics, religion, and the messy inevitability of social change.

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[1] Before you ask, yes, I did also read Isabel J. Kim’s Omelas story that went viral a few months ago. Kim’s version is clever and hard-hitting – and I love everything Kim writes, generally – but I still like Gómez’s version best.

Things I’ve Been Reading (novel edition)

(You can also read this post on Buttondown.)

Hi all,

So I said I wanted to talk more casually, outside of a traditional book review format, about books that I liked or found thought-provoking. Now I’m putting my money where my mouth is!

It’s been an entire while since I posted any Things I’ve Been Reading, or any formal reviews either – like, checks notes since October, good Lord, and that was just a Short Story Smorgasbord. So rather than giving you a giant deluge of everything I found notable in every format in those last seven months, I’m going to break these next few posts down by genre/format until I’ve caught up again. This week’s newsletter is for novels and novellas. In upcoming weeks you can expect a couple of big dumps of short story links, poetry links, essay links and maybe (maybe!) a few other things.

Some of these are autistic books, and some of them are just books that I happened to like.

Malka Older, THE MIMICKING OF KNOWN SUCCESSES

I don’t know if Malka Older meant for Mossa – the lesbian Sherlock Holmes character in this cozy, queer, Holmesian mystery set on Jupiter – to be read as autistic, but I read her that way, especially given the autistic tendencies of Holmes himself, which are always being interpreted and reinterpreted in different retellings. Pleiti, Mossa’s Watson character and love interest, already tried having a relationship with her once and failed. Now the two of them are thrown back together by the apparent suicide of someone who works at Pleiti’s university, and Pleiti starts to wonder if it would be worthwhile to try again.

What I really like about this is the nuance with which it approaches the difficulties of a mixed-neurotype relationship. Mossa is brilliant and principled but it’s easy for her to get swept away in the intensity of a case, to neglect communicating with Pleiti or to forget to include her. Older doesn’t shy away from showing Pleiti’s anguish as she tries to interpret Mossa’s actions and wonders if there is really a place for her in Mossa’s life. But this isn’t the kind of romance where Mossa has to change herself to be worthy of love. Rather it’s a question of Pleiti deciding that she’s in a different place now, and that she has become capable of loving Mossa as she is.

Chuck Tingle, CAMP DAMASCUS

At this point, Chuck Tingle needs no introduction, but I feel like his status as an autistic author should be more widely known. People are like “How could this guy be so prolific? How could he write so quickly, so consistently, with such a particular schtick, all the time? Is he, maybe, three or six guys in a trenchcoat?” But no, literally this is just what it looks like when an autistic person gets really really dedicated to their special interest in writing a particular kind of thing, and decides to throw caution to the wind re: what other people are going to think of it.

CAMP DAMASCUS is an interesting departure from form, in that it’s a horror novel rather than a work of niche erotica. It’s super queer in ways that are obvious from the back cover blurb. It is also, low-key, stealthily, super autistic. Rose’s arc is so familiar to me, as someone who’s known so many autistic people who grew up in a high-control environment. She starts out a true believer, to the point of out-“good girl”-ing the other good girls, but then she finds one little inconsistency and can’t leave it alone, like tugging on a thread and unraveling a whole sweater. (It helps, of course, that this “little inconsistency” involves having creepy demonic visions and coughing up SO MANY FLIES, aaaaugh. 😀 ) Rose can’t help but be ruthlessly true to the facts that she knows, whether these facts support the faith she was raised in or start to go horrifically against it. The process hurts, but she can’t look away or deny what she sees. Her own wiring won’t let her.

Seth Dickinson, THE MONSTER BARU CORMORANT

So I finally read the first and better-known book in this series, THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT, which I honestly should have read years ago. TRAITOR is really smart and well-done and also devastatingly stressful to read, and I wasn’t sure if I was up for a second round. But I’m glad I stuck it out, because MONSTER is one of those rare second books that I love even more than the first one. The world of the story gets bigger in MONSTER – not just in the sense of Having More Things, but in the sense that it feels more expansive and has more room to breathe. Baru is still having a very bad time and the stakes are, if anything, higher; but the clock isn’t ticking quite as hard, and there’s more space for the book to play with different ideas and different perspectives. It’s hard to really describe without a lot of spoilers, but I feel like there is so much theory of mind in this book. Everybody has different backgrounds and different motives and opinions and interpretations of the mess that they’re all in, and nobody’s opinion is ever held up by the book as, like, The Correct One. Things are just allowed to be messy! I need to see that in books more. Anyway, some readers liked how tense TRAITOR was and were disappointed by MONSTER being slower, but to me it’s a perfect sequel and a masterclass in how to write a second book that doesn’t just repeat the first one with slightly higher scope and stakes, but expands on it intellectually and emotionally.

Tim Pratt, THE KNIFE AND THE SERPENT

Okay, so I made Travel Friends with Tim in Barcelona and then he asked me if I’d blurb his book, so I did. It’s super-fun! It’s a loopy, goofy, quick-moving, self-indulgent space adventure with everything thrown in including the kitchen sink. It’s also kinky as hell, but in a wholesome way. I forget what I said in my blurb, but I still have positive emotions about it.

Clara Ward, BE THE SEA

All right, hands up if you like slow-paced books? Hands up if you liked the pause-y, “too introspective” parts of THE OUTSIDE and wished the whole book was like that? I don’t know how many people’s hands are up, but have I got a book rec for you. Reading BE THE SEA felt like diving into the rhythm of a character’s actual life – not “skipping to the good parts,” but watching everything, a day at a time, an hour at a time. It’s an interesting life, which involves sea voyages as well as a gradually unfolding set of psychic experiences and intrigues, but you get to watch not just the intrigues but the way they fit into a larger pattern of routines, career struggles, relationship negotiations, eating, sleeping, and storytelling as our protagonist, Wend, struggles to articulate why they’re here on this voyage and what they feel. The result is a weird feeling of realism – or, at least, I don’t know a better word for it. Because the rest of a person’s life doesn’t actually stop to make room when a speculative element drops in. It’s a cozy book [1] with so many loving and vivid descriptions of marine wildlife, sensory-friendly objects, eco-friendly architecture and delicious food. (Seriously – I’m not even vegan, but this book made me really hungry for vegan food.) I had a few quibbles with aspects of the plot, but overall I’m just so here for the type of experience that this book offers.

This book is from a small Canadian press that does a lot of good work, and they’ve been holding a fundraiser lately, in case that interests you.

Andrew Joseph White, HELL FOLLOWED WITH US

Meanwhile, if you want your queer autistic rep to be edgier, how about this book. It’s YA but it’s visceral, violent, and bursting full of the (justified) anger of a trans teenager against a fascist cult that has infected him with a bioweapon they’d like to use for genocide. Obviously, he escapes the cult and fights back, along with a ragtag group of other queer teens. The autistic character here is the love interest, Nick – a sniper who, to his own occasional bafflement, has managed to leverage his own natural deadpan and reliance on scripts into a reputation as a calm, tough leader. I loved Nick ever since the first page of his first POV chapter, which discusses how he slowly learned to lie (and then became “disturbingly good at it.”) I love a lot of things here.

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[1] I actually have no idea if I’m using this word correctly. There’s a ton of discourse floating around about what’s actually cozy and what’s not and I feel woefully unqualified to comment. I don’t think that I read books, generally, in the same way as the kinds of people who have impassioned discourse about tone labels. I felt an emotion of coziness while reading large parts of the book, that’s all I mean here.

Announcement: Autistic Book Party is shutting down.

(You can also read this on Buttondown.)

Hi all,

It’s been a quiet few months! Actually, this year’s winter semester (Jan-April) was the busiest I’ve ever been at my dayjob. The newsletter fell by the wayside. Fiction writing didn’t – I’ve actually written a ton of words, these last few months – but so far it’s all been behind the scenes. There’s a few things I’d hoped I would have an announcement about by now, but publishing is slower than ever lately, so I don’t.

But I do have a couple pieces of public-facing news:

  1. Bogi Takács ran a very cool interview with me on eir Patreon about RESURRECTIONS. I love when the colleagues who “get” me ask the questions I can really sink my teeth into, and this interview is definitely that kind.
  2. My story “Music, Not Words” will appear in Neurodiversiverse: Alien Encounters – an anthology of stories about neurodivergent protagonists encountering aliens. I procrastinated so hard on posting this that their Kickstarter is over now, but it funded successfully and met several stretch goals, and it was also chosen as one of Kickstarter’s “Projects We Love”! Definitely look out for the book itself when it’s published; I have high hopes about this one.
  3. My story “The Silent Sea” will appear in the upcoming “quiet” issue of Baffling Magazine.
  4. I wasn’t actually involved with this in any way, but if you like my work enough to be on this mailing list, you should definitely check out the Strange Horizons neurodiversity special issue.

I also have one piece of news that will be sadder for some of you, which is that after about twelve years running, I’m shutting down Autistic Book Party. Existing reviews and the existing book list will remain as an archival resource, but they won’t continue to be updated.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but mainly it’s become apparent to me that I can’t keep up with it anymore. And the fact that I can’t is a good thing – in a way. Hold on; I’ll explain.

Autistic Authors Are Everywhere

When I started this project, back in 2011, it was genuinely hard to find openly autistic authors of speculative fiction for adults. I knew there was interest in that topic, as a part of the big, post-RaceFail wave of interest in representation; but my list was pretty tiny and janky. The only one I knew of who worked with traditional publishers was Caiseal Mór. In 2011, it seemed to me that, if I worked hard and focused, I could get through the entire list.

(In retrospect: LOL.)

This was not because there weren’t autistic people in speculative fiction. We’ve always been here. I remember back in 2009, when a then-partner took me to Montreal Worldcon, and someone on a panel referred to spec fic fandom as “the world’s largest Asperger Syndrome support group.” [1] The actual number of autistic authors wasn’t different in 2009, but back then, many didn’t know they were autistic, or secretly knew but weren’t ready to say so to the world.

In the baker’s dozen of years since 2011, I’ve watched as authors I already knew and admired obtained diagnoses, self-diagnosed, or came out publicly. I’ve watched #ownvoices autistic authors like Essa Hansen, Alex White, and Caitlin Starling burst into Big 5 debuts. I’ve watched an even bigger explosion of autistic and neurodivergent voices in self-publishing.

More recently I’ve watched some very big names quietly, casually come out as autistic. Seanan McGuire tweeted about being autistic in 2023. Neil Gaiman casually came out as autistic on Tumblr this spring. (Which, oh my God. He is one of my big, early influences. Whew.) These are mega-famous, massively-multi-award-winning authors. I’m sure more like them are coming, and I’m sure others have already said something that, for whatever reason, I just haven’t seen.

I love that Neil Gaiman is one of us, but in a weird way, Neil Gaiman was the last straw. What does it actually mean to boost autistic voices in a world where there are autistic authors who’ve won staggering numbers of Hugos already? I designed Autistic Book Party at a time when the known number of us was tiny, and when 99% of everything written about us was crap. We are no longer living in that world.

It feels weird to say, when there is so much else wrong in the world – and when injustices like electric shocks, sheltered workshops, and ABA therapy are still being done to us. I’m not saying we’ve won the war for disability justice. I’m just saying that, in this particular battle – the battle for autistic and other neurodivergent voices to be recognized in the field of science fiction – we kind of already won a while back. And I’m sitting on my little blog about it, beating a dead horse.

This Is No Longer A Job For One Person

The fact that there are lots of autistic authors doesn’t only mean Autistic Book Party’s mission has become less urgent; it also means the mission has become more difficult to do. Guys, I have a day job which is more or less full-time, I have a writing career of my own, I’m not the fastest reader in the world, and I have other mental health stuff going on. I don’t have the time or spoons to review every autistic author’s book, or even an appropriate, representative sample of these books. And with every book I don’t read, while ostensibly running a blog like this, I end up snubbing someone who deserves not to be snubbed. I end up blatantly playing favorites and reviewing my friends more often, not because I think playing favorites like that is okay, but because my faves and friends are the ones I have the motivation to keep reading when life is tough. I’ve been embarrassed for a long time at how inadequate my efforts are to the task of actually representing the full range of autistic writing in this genre, and I want to stop.

I’ve tried bringing more people in and making it a team effort. We’ve had some great guest posts by Richard Ford Burley, for instance. But in the end, all the other autistic writers I know and trust are as overloaded as I am – if not more. I don’t have the personnel or the project management expertise to successfully expand this way.

I’m also aware that, as my career advances – and I think it is advancing, very slowly – the power dynamics at play here start to look hinky. What does it mean to autistic authors who are just starting out if there’s one person sitting on a blog like this, declaring themselves the foremost expert on good autistic writing, and if that one person doesn’t like their book? [2] Or if that one person ignores them? What does it mean, in particular, to autistic authors who are marginalized in ways I’m not?

I also don’t like the dilemmas that a supposedly-comprehensive review series & book list draws me into with regards to categorizing people. What if someone publicly identifies as “neurodivergent” without specifying further – do I make my best guess based on whether they come off to me as autistic or not? Do I exclude everyone unless they specifically say “autism” in public? What if they kinda-sorta mentioned autism in public but in an ambiguous way, or a way that they deleted later, or that got buried and no longer comes up easily in search results? What if someone has a lot of different mental health diagnoses, and autism is just one of them, and not an important one to them? What if a third party tells me an author is autistic, and I note that down, and then I look it up later and can’t find a direct source? What is the impact of any of these choices on some of the most marginalized groups, like Black authors, who are more likely than white authors to identify as “neurodivergent” without further details, because accurate diagnosis is less accessible to them? What is the impact on other, less visible neurodivergent groups who routinely get drowned out in a sea of Autism Awareness?

I think it’s still valuable to talk about autism, the autistic experience, and the ways that this is or isn’t represented well in fiction. I hope that this conversation continues. But I think that it needs to become decentralized and diffused between many different sources, the same as most of our other discourse about identities and books.

I Still Want To Talk About Autistic Books

I want to read and talk about autistic books, but I want to do it on my terms, which are different from the terms I had in 2011. I want to do it more casually. I want to do it as part of a broader conversation about things I’ve enjoyed reading or found thought-provoking, whether they have to do with autism or not. And while autism will always be important to me, it’s becoming less so. I’ve been finding out in the past few years that I have other forms of neurodivergence besides “just autism,” most of which I’m not ready to talk about in public, and although you may not believe it, I also have other interests besides my own neurodivergence. [3]

When I read autistic books, I want to focus more on the autistic authors I would naturally enjoy reading, even if that’s just personal taste. I want to keep broadening my horizons and reading a diversity of different autistic authors, but in ways that work for me at the time, instead of trying to take on responsibility for having the correct opinions on everything in an entire field. I like doing “Things I’ve Been Reading” posts; I’m hoping I can do more of those in the coming months.

Since last fall when I was last able to post about it, there are several autistic books I’ve read and liked and just haven’t had the time to write up my thoughts on. [4] Some of these will go into “Things I’ve Been Reading” in a shorter, more casual form. With others, honestly, my main thought is “I liked it!” and maybe, instead of trying to spin up a long review that sounds erudite, I can just leave it at that.

You haven’t seen the last of me and my autistic thoughts, but it’s time for a change.

Thanks for understanding.

———-

[1] The term “Asperger syndrome” is no longer in common use, for good reasons that I’ve addressed elsewhere, but this was 2009 and that’s what they were calling it then.

[2] A multiply-marginalized neurodivergent person once told me that they’d stopped writing poetry because of how I criticized one of their poems. This still haunts me. Like, what the fuck. If that person is reading this, I’m really sorry.

[3] I know, I know. It gets navel-gazey in here sometimes.

[4] Such as: Chuck Tingle’s Camp Damascus; Essa Hansen’s Ethera Grave; Andrew Joseph White’s Hell Followed With Us; Malka Older’s The Mimicking of Known Successes; and Clara Ward’s Be the Sea. Also shout-out to Avi Silver’s Pluralities, which I initially read for Autistic Book Party with its old publisher years ago but then couldn’t review because it got pulled, and which is out in revised form from Atthis Arts now and finally getting the recognition it deserves, but which I literally can’t remember anymore why it was an Autistic Book Party book or whether Avi is autistic or not and I just get confused when I think about it. There’s good neurodivergent stuff in that book, but in a different way from what I usually write about and which I’m not sure how to approach in a review. Anyway, if you’re the author of one of these books and you’re reading this, then again, I’m sorry.

2023 was a good year, actually

(You can also view this post on Buttondown.)

Well, it’s 2024. And now that 2023 is over (I chafe at writing “year in review” posts while the year is still ongoing!) it’s time to look back on what happened in this trip around the sun.

I had two books out this year, which is amazing. THE INFINITE came out in January 2023, concluding the Outside trilogy; and RESURRECTIONS, which you are probably already tired of hearing about, released in December. Two big book-shaped bookends to the year. I’m proud of them.

I was focused on book-sized projects and didn’t put out many individual shorter works, but my poem The Fox’s Lover appeared in Orion’s Belt; there are also several new, not-published-before poems in RESURRECTIONS.

If you are nominating for awards, then all these things are eligible – including for Canadian awards like the Auroras, and LGBTQ+ awards like the Lambdas, as well as the usual sci-fi suspects. The Outside trilogy, which is now complete, is also eligible for Best Series.

Some exciting things happened at my day job: a raise, thanks to the efforts of the faculty union; a return to research; a trip to a conference for the first time since graduate school; a cool and very topical new course that I might-cross-my-fingers be designing! And I attended a number of wonderful writing events – the crown jewel, of course, being the trip to Barcelona.

I know 2023 was a hard year for many people and I don’t want to make light of that. But for me, after years of post-PhD burnout, it felt like the year I got my professional mojo back.

In light of all that, I’m not thinking of my goals for 2024 in terms of new resolutions; I’m thinking of following up on the seeds that are already planted. I have manuscripts to revise and submit; I have new book-sized ideas that I’m already starting to explore; I have work projects I’ve started and I intend to stay the course. I also have some personal goals. I’m still in therapy, which regularly kicks my ass with FEELINGS; I’m still renovating my house; I’m still trying to figure out how to make writing friends who are more local to me and not just disembodied voices on the intarwebs, and how to keep up with the online ones in a more engaged and involved way. A lot of what I’ve done this year, and the years previously, is very solitary and internal.

Paradoxically, looking back at my journals, I also learned a lot this year about the need to slow down. One thing I’ve learned is that I cannot get to this level of achievement by pushing for it, or by punishing myself. I might have been able to do that a decade ago; I can’t now. But the right writing on the right project at the right time is a comfort activity for me. It helps me to process my feelings and cheer myself up. Sometimes I need to do it, even if I’m tired. Sometimes it comes in big bursts, where I feel like I can’t not write the thing, or I’ll explode. Therapy has only increased this feeling. I have to laser focus on the projects that feel like this to me, not the ones I think somebody else will want from me, and keep ruthlessly pruning back the “should”s and feelings of obligation that grow up like weeds around them.

My day job and other duties follow similar principles. I can only perform well when I’m taking care of myself. I can only do the hard work when I’m also making time to breathe and sit compassionately with my own feelings. They call it “work-life balance” but it’s not simply about having a certain amount of time for work and a certain amount for other things. Not to sound twee, but it’s also about things like harmony and patience and alignment and love. I feel like I know a lot more about this than I did a year ago. I feel like I still have a lot to learn.

Whether you’ve had a wonderful, exciting year or whether all you could do was keep breathing, I hope you can carve out some space to look at yourself and your needs with compassion this year, too.

Meanwhile, I owe you the last bits from the 12 Days of Resurrections!

Buttondown is giving me weird errors when I try to attach a lot of images, but I think I’ve attached two of the Ten Cats A-Leapin’ from Day 10? If you want eight more, you can see them on Dreamwidth.

And one (1) last bit of microfiction, to the prompt “Don’t Blink” from Dominic Walsh:

Alvina eyed the six-foot-long mutant cat, its irises a radioactive green, its pupils wide and black in the dim light of the ship’s corridor. She could not look away. The moment she lost this little staring contest, she knew, was the moment it would pounce.

Everything Is True has moved to Buttondown!

I’ve successfully migrated my official author newsletter from Substack to Buttondown. Effective immediately, Everything Is True is no longer hosted on Substack and my Substack account has been deleted.

If you have paid any attention to the news of the last few days, then you already know why I did this. (I have also deleted my X account and my author page on Facebook, while I’m at it, not because they had anything to do with Substack’s mess, because life is too short to enter 2024 still desultorily engaging with moribund platforms that have been enshittified to the point of unusability.)

This is also no longer a paid newsletter. Everything in it is free. I have refunded everyone who was still in the middle of a paid subscription. More on that later.

You can subscribe to it here, if you feel so inclined.

How I feel about Substack right now

I first joined Substack right before the first big waves of authors who left the platform, on account of how it was platforming TERFs. And I was like, ugggh. And I didn’t leave.

Why didn’t I leave? Partly, I didn’t believe there was going to be any platform, ever, that didn’t have TERFs. Leaving every platform that had them felt like ceding too much ground. Partly, I liked Substack’s features; they’re still among the best in the business.

But also: I think I am a tiny bit more of a freeze peacher than most queer and trans people. It’s not that I don’t believe speech can be harmful – obviously it can, and if I didn’t think so, or if I thought all speech should be exempt from criticism, then I wouldn’t have started writing all these autistic book reviews! It’s just that I have been around here for a while, and I have watched an exhausting number of queer and trans authors get cancelled for the stupidest reasons. I have watched, sometimes, as right-wing bigots intentionally start campaigns to get them cancelled and the left-wing queer community eagerly picks up on it, because right-wing bigots are not stupid, and they know how to hold our favorite shibboleths and buzzwords against us. It is not lost on me that the current campaigns of hate against trans people revolve around framing our existence as harmful – as child grooming, for instance – and insisting that we shouldn’t be heard or seen for that reason. This aspect of things is only going to get worse.

So I dared to think that maybe, a platform that offers useful tools to any author, even if people are loudly insisting that author’s speech is harmful – even if it is harmful – might be a net good for trans authors.

Turns out I was hilariously wrong about that. And that’s on me. And even I am not enough of a freeze peacher to be okay with actual fucking Nazis.

So here we are. And I’m angry with myself for staying this long. I’ve been told that it’s too easy for me to direct anger like this at myself – as opposed to, like, at the actual Nazis. Nonetheless, “angry with myself” is where I’m at, and it’s not going away anytime soon, so I think I need to sit with it and figure out what to do with it constructively.

(“Why did I stay in this toxic situation?” is also a big theme in RESURRECTIONS, so…)

But what about the 12 Days of RESURRECTIONS?

The 12 Days of RESURRECTIONS event was always being held on multiple platforms at once. If you’re on Bluesky or Dreamwidth, you’ll be able to keep participating without an interruption.

For those of you who were depending on Substack, I think I’ve handled every interaction that I needed to handle, except for one (1) microfiction prompt that was being saved for tomorrow. There are some things, like cat pictures, that I was waiting to post on Substack until the end of the event (although Bluesky and Dreamwidth will get them faster); these will be posted on Buttondown instead, and the one (1) outstanding piece of microfiction will be posted along with them.

What’s next

I’m going to keep posting most of the regular features that I was putting on Everything Is True – book reviews (though I’m woefully behind on those after Barcelona and the book launch), Things I’ve Been Reading, general author updates and announcements. (I owe you a Year In Review very soon!) Some of these will be in the newsletter, and some – as Autistic Book Party already was – will be posted on my WordPress blog and linked in the newsletter.

What’s changing is my essays and other nonfiction. These are not going completely away, but they are going to come out less often, and when they do come out, they will be for everyone. They will not be behind a paywall.

For reasons that are more complicated and harder to articulate than “because there are Nazis,” I’ve been feeling disillusioned lately with the paid newsletter model. It hasn’t been sitting fully right with me. Look, I have an honest to God middle class dayjob that I mostly enjoy, okay? I don’t actually have a burning need for the modest amount of money that Substack was earning me. I have a very lovely, if small, group of fans; but most fans do not, in fact, have $5 a month to give separately and piecemeal to every single author they enjoy, nor should that be a fan’s responsibility when they’ve already done us the favor of buying our books. Even I with my middle class income don’t have that much to give to every author I like, and I’m tired of it, frankly. You haven’t seen the last of my essays, but I think I’m going to go back to writing them when I feel like it, and asking for nothing in return.

Thank you for bearing with me through this fairly sudden transition. We live in some interesting times.

Barcelona, part 3

Hi folks! A couple of quick news items:

  • If you missed the RESURRECTIONS virtual launch, you can watch it here.
  • RESURRECTIONS is also the Book of the Month on the Apex Book Company Patreon. I mean, of course it is, because it’s the book they’re releasing this month, but I whipped up a photo tour for them. It has a lot of the same photos as these posts here, but I organized it differently, focusing less on a blow-by-blow account of where I went when, and more on the lessons learned. (It’s also free to read, I think, unless I somehow got subscribed to their Patreon without realizing.)

And now, on to Barcelona!

(Read the full post on Substack)

Barcelona, part 1

Hello, readers – I had the most amazing experience in Barcelona; it was truly a once in a lifetime journey. It took a little while to recover from all the excitement and get my thoughts in order – a lot longer than I thought it would, actually; thanks for your patience! But I met an amount of fandom that I didn’t even think I had, and now I need to tell you all about it! In fact I have so much to say that this is going to get split into a few posts.

First, though, here’s a little bit of news:

  • I’m excited to announce the upcoming virtual launch of RESURRECTIONS, which will take place at 12pm EST, December 8, on YouTube. Check out this cool banner and feel free to share:
  • I didn’t have time to promote it properly before I left, but Dawn Vogel was kind enough to interview me about RESURRECTIONS at History That Never Was.
  • A little birdy tells me that the Playstation edition of TRINITY FUSION is now up for pre-order!
  • For folks hoping for an e-ARC of RESURRECTIONS, it’s available now on NetGalley – in fact, it looks like it was the #2 most requested book in that week’s SFWA NetGalley program!
  • Five e-copies of RESURRECTIONS are also being given away to subscribers of the SFWA New Releases Newsletter – you can sign up to the newsletter (anytime before Dec 25) for your chance to win, as well as the chance to hear about all sorts of other new speculative fiction coming out.
  • RESURRECTIONS now has a blurb from Nebula winner Kelly Robson: “A stellar collection. Ada Hoffmann’s stories are vivid and transporting.”
  • And from Juliet Kemp: “I loved this varied collection of thoughtful and often hopeful stories and poems, many of which challenge accustomed views of the world or twist tropes in satisfying ways. Hoffman writes vividly imagined worlds peopled with characters – frequently queer and/or neurodiverse – with fascinating experiences of the world. Well worth diving into.”

And now, Barcelona, here we go!

(Read the full post on Substack)

BARCELONAAA!

Hey folks! We’re going to deviate a little from the usual newsletter schedule for the next few weeks – because I have some AWESOME NEWS!

Because of the popularity of the Catalan translations of THE OUTSIDE and THE FALLEN (with a translation of THE INFINITE dropping into Catalan bookstores on November 6!) I’ve been invited to be a guest at the Festival 42 literary festival in Barcelona.

If you didn’t know about these translations, you should! Look how cool looking they are:

Covers of the books L'Extern, Els Caiguts, and L'Infinit, which are Catalan translations of Ada Hoffmann's Outside trilogy, translated by Anna Llisterri. Each cover shows a stylized human figure against a black background, surrounded by eerie lights.

I’ve been sitting on this news and quietly making arrangements for nearly a year now, but I didn’t want to announce it until the schedule was up. (If I’d known the schedule would not be up until less than two weeks before the festival, then I might have reconsidered this, but eh.) It’s up today! You can see the whole thing here, but here’s my list of author events both in and out of the festival:

Thursday November 9, 6:30pm: “The Universe of Ada Hoffmann: Diversity, Computation and Cosmic Horror.” Conversation hosted by Karen Madrid.

Friday November 10, 6:45pm: The Infinite Catalan launch event at the Gigamesh bookstore, hosted by Miquel Codony.

Saturday November 11, 12:00pm: A talk hosted by Marc Riera at La Carbonera bookstore.

Saturday November 11, 7:30pm: The 42’s Big Roundtable: What Future Should The Genre Recreate? A panel with all of the international guests – oh my God. Look at that lineup. You expect me to speak coherently about pressing issues in science fiction, in the presence of such luminaries? I guess I will try!!!!

Tuesday November 14: A gathering with the Editorial Chronos book club at La Font de Mimir bookstore.

(All times are in Barcelona time, of course.)

I have never been to this region of the world before. I am so thrilled and honored that Editorial Chronos decided to pay for me to fly out and see them, and so excited to see the Mediterranean sights as well as the fans there.

Seriously, ever since last December when the invitation first arrived, I’ve had this song stuck in my head:

An epic song for what, by all accounts, is an epic city.

I’m not actually sure where all the readers of this post are in the world, but if any of you are within shouting distance of Barcelona, I would love for you to come by one of these events and say hi!

And now I will go back to my frenzy of planning and packing! Cheers!

Autistic Book Party, Episode 80 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Mary E. Lowd, “The Most Complicated Avatar” (Daily Science Fiction, July 2012)

[Autistic author] When I said that Lowd was at her best writing about children and virtual reality, she directed me to this story, and I scratched my head because I could have sworn I’d reviewed it before. But back in 2012 I didn’t know Lowd was autistic, so the review went in one of my other posts – maybe on Livejournal? – which appears to be lost to the mists of time. Anyway, I re-read this one and it’s still good; it’s about a child living through a messy divorce who runs away; and whose mother finds her by connecting with her in the virtual world. I really appreciate what this story is doing, and especially the way that the daughter’s own technology-mediated way of looking at the world is taken seriously – the way it /must/ be taken seriously before anything can resolve. [Recommended-2]

*

Kiya Nicoll, “Of Winter and Other Seasons” (Climbing Lightly Through Forests, January 2021)

[Autistic author] Using the metaphor of treasures buried in ice, this poem describes parts of the narrator’s experience that they were able to recognize in Ursula K. LeGuin’s writing. It’s a nice meditation on how people find and understand themselves through stories. [Recommended-2]

*

Jennifer Lee Rossman, “If That Cowbird Don’t Sing” (Penumbric, December 2022)

[Autistic author] The narrator here is a non-speaking autistic child, who unconsciously remembers being a changeling, and who manifests psychic powers during a meltdown, with mixed results. It is not my favorite of Rossman’s stories – it feels rushed and unclear in places – but I like what it does with changeling myths and the cowbird metaphor, showing how deep the narrator’s feeling of being foreign and unwanted goes, and how seemingly small moments can result in unbearable frustration. Many of my readers will relate. [YMMV]

*

David Far, “New Friends” (Penumbric, June 2023)

This story revolves around a brilliant marine biologist named Iris; after the death of her brother, her friend comes to check on her. The two of them, in sorting out their grief, also discover a secret that could save the world. The narrator is not Iris but her childhood friend James, and at times his descriptions of Iris feel clumsy or othering. (“Iris must have been the only expert on communication that didn’t look people in the eye during a conversation,” goes one clunker of an early line. As if autistic people who study communication aren’t a real thing?) But in the end the day is only saved because people took Iris’s communication preferences – and her deep connection to her dolphin friends – seriously. I will forgive a lot in a story that goes like that. [YMMV]

*

Robin M. Eames, “Ghosts in the Smoking Area” (Sunder, Issue 1, July 2023)

[Autistic author] A vivid tribute to queer elders, their formative role in the community, and the ways so many of them have been lost too soon. [Recommended-2]

*

S.T. Eleu, “Paradox Lost” (Haven, Issue Ten, August 2023)

[Autistic author] After his grandfather homophobically murders his lover, the protagonist of this poem invents time travel for the express purpose of killing his grandfather before the hate crime occurs. This doesn’t end up where I thought it would. The ending might feel like a cop-out to some readers, but I appreciate its insistence that we don’t always have to pay the prices we tell ourselves we must pay in order to set things right. [Recommended-1]

*

Louise Hughes, “The Only Way Out” (Small Wonders, Issue 2, August 2023)

[Autistic author] I really appreciate this short, quietly angry story about a woman who helps abuse survivors disappear into a new life. When a mother and daughter come to her with an unusual request, she re-evaluates the assumptions behind what she’s doing – and take a risk to help them. It’s a gentle story despite the subject matter – no lurid details, only a sense of poignant desperation. [Recommended-2]

*

R.B. Lemberg, “Firebird, Stormbird” (Strange Horizons, September 25, 2023)

[Autistic author] Birds, and firebirds in particular, have been an important symbol in Lemberg’s work for a long time. Dousing a firebird with water might seem likely to put out the flame, but instead the bird in this poem only transforms, as powerful and uncontrollable as before. [Recommended-2]