New Poem and Notes: “chill im a nice person I just hate everybody”

My new poem, “chill im a nice person I just hate everybody,” is up today in Issue #15 of Liminality.

This is a poem about Tay, the Microsoft Twitterbot that was released in 2016 and unexpectedly turned into a Nazi. The Liminality editors were thoughtful enough to include a link to the Wikipedia in the poem’s dedication, to provide a refresher for readers who might not remember what this is about or who the narrator is. Obviously, given the subject matter, this is a poem that may be triggering to some readers. I’m not actually sure how to warn for all of the different things, so maybe just read the Wikipedia article first and see if you feel up to it.

I work with text generation and (in a limited way) social media in my own computer science research, but I am not a Microsoft employee, and I have never been involved in a project similar to this one. Much of the poem’s content is fanciful. (I do not seriously ascribe consciousness to a bot like Tay, for instance; nor do I believe that Tay ever referred to her group of programmers as “Mother.”) I am hopeful that the artistic liberties I’ve taken in service of making my points can be distinguished from the points themselves.

The title is in quotes because it is a direct quote from the actual, real-life Tay.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: Story notes, part 38 and 40

38. Zori Server

On Zori Server you could drive a candy-colored Cadillac down a cloud into a forest of razor-leafed steel trees, then climb down a ladder into a cozy wood-paneled reading room and have your nails done by a wide-eyed robot.

Not much to say about this one. It’s a pretty standard tale of a teenager who runs into faeries – the nasty, deadly, tricksy kind – in a VR world. After all, if we can jack in, maybe other things can, too.

Song Pairing: This one is tricky, because most songs I know about VR worlds are the ominous, “technology is scary and controls you” kind. Or else they’re about online love/sex, which is fine, but is not what this story is about. Or maybe that’s just me not listening to genres that have nuance. In “Zori Server,” the VR community is mostly a positive thing, as long as you are aware of the dangers.

I guess I’m just gonna go with Star One’s “Down the Rabbit Hole,” which is vaguely Matrix-y but doesn’t mess it up with words.

40. Sage and Coco

But looking at her, even at her worst, gives me this sharp assurance, stronger than any magic I’ve ever done. Whatever good I can give her, I will.

“Sage and Coco” is a story about witches! Witches who are raising an adorable baby together and have to protect her from some sort of demon thing. I’ve been told that the witches in the story are more like real-life witches than standard urban fantasy witches. I did do research, both online and by quizzing actual witches with whom I was acquainted at the time, but I also took many artistic liberties. It’s still a work of fantasy, not realism, magical or otherwise.

I have always really enjoyed writing characters with limited speech and seeing how much meaning I can still convey. Sage, being a fairly typical toddler, gave me lots to play with in this regard.

“Sage and Coco” was published on the Kazka Press website, which appears to be defunct now. Readers should be warned that there is a sexual assault in a character’s backstory in this one, though it is not shown on the page.

Song Pairing: The song I associate with this one, thanks to the protective mommy protagonist, is Alanis Morissette’s “Guardian“.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

New Poem: “The Sentry”

I have a new poem out, called “The Sentry”, commissioned by one of my Patreon backers. It’s about a stuffed animal belonging to a grown woman, and it is so adorable you will get cavities.

In June, “The Sentry” will become free to the public; until then, only my $5+ Patreon backers get early access. Backers at this level also get access to many reprints not available anywhere else online.

This is the first time I’ve done this particular thing, and I’m interested to see how it goes.

Autism News, 07/03/2018

An accidental trilogy of posts about intelligence, IQ, and oppression:

Other posts about disability and oppression:

Elizabeth Bartmess on good autistic representation in fiction: a three-part series

Movie and television reviews:

Posts about bad parents and their memoirs of their bad parenting:

Other media and reviews:

On the Parkland shooting:

On intersections within autism:


  • Shira Rubin on autism therapy robots  (There is more pathologizing language in this article than I would like, especially at first, but it also has some interesting information, especially where it lists potential problems with the robots.)
  • For Black History Month, Finn Gardiner tells the story of “Blind Tom” Wiggins, who may have been an autistic savant
  • Amy Sequenzia on the difference between “independent living” and real independence

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: Story notes, part 35 and 36

35. An Operatic Tour of New Jersey, With Raptors

The Apocalypse begins when Diego sings Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” in Dover, New Jersey. He doesn’t notice anything wrong until after the curtain call, when he steps out of the Baker Theater onto West Blackwell Street, struggling to balance the three bouquets of roses in his arms, and walks into a horde of running, screaming people, pursued by a Tyrannosaurus.

I wrote most of this story in a single day in the spring of 2013. I loved the concept so much that, once I had enough to write the title down, the rest of the draft just flowed. (Which is not to say it didn’t need edits – it very much did!)

I can’t take credit for the idea. Someone on Twitter – I no longer remember who – wrote that they were tired of zombie apocalypses and wanted a velociraptor apocalypse. I wrote one. (With paleontologically accurate velociraptors – small, feathered, etc. And a lot of other dinosaurs to boot.) The protagonist is an opera singer who, following the apocalypse, sets out to sing in every opera house that he can.

The protagonist of “An Operatic Tour of New Jersey, With Raptors” is named Diego – and his unfortunately deceased fiancé, Juan – after the Peruvian bel canto tenor Juan Diego Flórez.

It was published in AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review in August 2013, though I don’t think it’s back up on their refurbished site yet. I have, on one occasion, read this story to a live audience and actually sung the sung bits. It was fun.

Song Pairing: Given how a variety of songs from The Barber of Seville pop up all over this story, the obvious song choice is “Largo al Factotum” – sung here by Flórez’s castmate at the Met, Peter Mattei.

36. Under the Clear Bright Waters

She dove into this water expecting to die, after all. She never expected  someone was waiting for her underneath.

“Under the Clear Bright Waters” is the only work of outright erotica I’ve ever published. (There’s also “The Giantess’s Dream,” but that’s poetry, and the boundaries with poetry are more fluid.) It’s a lesbian story with a very mild BDSM element, set in ancient Greece, loosely inspired by the myth of Hylas and the water nymphs.

This story was written because of a writing group I used to be part of, along with A. Merc Rustad, Krista D. Ball, and others. Like many close-knit writing groups, we began to fantasize about the idea of publishing our own little anthology. Except that the group contained people who wrote in several very different genres – SFF, romance/erotica, litfic, and other things. We decided that the best compromise between all of these genres was an anthology of fantasy erotic romance, themed around Fae.

Because of struggles in people’s personal lives, disputes within the group, and the other factors that typically hamper such projects, the anthology was never made. But “Under the Clear Bright Waters” was, and now it’s in Monsters In My Mind for your reading pleasure.

Song Pairing: I’m probably just trolling myself at this point, but “Under the Clear Bright Waters” makes reference to an ancient Greek theory in which all bodies of water were connected through a series of underground caverns. So its companion music is now John Williams’ “Passage Through the Planet Core“, from a movie with a very different planet full of underground seas. The soft and mysterious watery atmosphere fits with the story’s tone, I think.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Cool stories I read in January and February

Iona Sharma, “Refugee; or, a nine-item representative inventory of a better world.” (Strange Horizons, January 8.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen a utopia before that so cleverly acknowledged the sacrifices that would be needed to build one – or wove acknowledgement and thanks for those sacrifices right into the characters’ daily lives.

Stephen Graham Jones, “Why I Write.” (Stymie, January 13.) This is not spec fic, but it’s just MFing brilliant. For a while, some of my friends were playing “tag yourself” with this essay. Feel free to tag yourself in comments. I’m 50% “I write because I lost all my action figures long ago” and 50% “I don’t write because I want to live forever. I write because I want to live now.”

Brandon O’Brien, “The Metaphysics of a Wine, In Theory And Practice” (Arsenika, Issue 2, February.) What I love most about this is the juxtaposition of an academic voice (complete with citations!) and the more immediate, urgent, colloquial voice of someone who is actually experiencing the transcendence that the academic tries to describe.

Alex E. Harrow, “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies.” (Apex, Issue 105, February.) OMG. THIS STORY. MY FEELS. This is delightful and heartbreaking. It may be a somewhat idealized (or overly binary) depiction of librarians, but it’s an amazing depiction of the help and escape that books offer people, especially the most vulnerable people among us.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: Story notes, part 34 and 35

34. Finding Shadow

Back then we built a smaller dome than sky,
and like shamefaced crayon-smudged children
we colored ’til it shone.

This is one of the first two poems I ever wrote for publication. I wrote them both with Stone Telling’s Queer issue in mind, having very little idea what I was doing but a lot of gumption. I’m still very fond of the sensory descriptions in this one. It’s a poem about two men using some light bondage to help deal with the sensory overload induced by their SFnal setting.

Stone Telling didn’t want it (though they said nice things about both poems), but Eye to the Telescope’s LGBT issue did, so “Finding Shadow” shimmied on over there, and then to Monsters In My Mind.

I just realized that this poem has the same number as Rule 34, which is very funny to me.

48. A Toast to the Hero Upon Her Defeat of the Wyrm of L’Incertain

Hail! Her corded arms, her shining mail,
the panther swiftness of her flashing hand!

“A Toast to the Hero” is “Finding Shadow”‘s companion poem, although they ended up in different places in the collection. Where “Finding Shadow” tells an intimate story of a few moments, “A Toast to the Hero” is an attempt to be as brash and loopy and celebratory and queer-in-several-different-ways-at-once as possible. It’s also the story of a hero who beat a dragon, thanks to some help from her three polyamorous partners of varying genders.

The declamatory, “hail!” structure was in part inspired by Alex Dally MacFarlane’s “Sung Around Alsar-Scented Fires,” which is probably a much better poem than this one.

“A Toast to the Hero” had a winding road to publication, and eventually found a home in Liquid Imagination.

Fun fact: its original working title was even longer.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Speculative Fiction To Read on the Disability Day of Mourning

(TW: This post talks about filicide and about the devaluation of disabled lives.)

Today, March 1, is the Disability Day of Mourning. People will be holding vigils across the US and other countries to remember disabled people who were killed by their families.

I’ve been quiet on previous Days of Mourning. I care, but I don’t always know what to say. My family never tried to kill me, of course – which is not to say that I’m not sensitive about the value of my life.

Cases of filicide sometimes make the news – they seem to especially get news coverage when they involve disabled children and white, American mothers with a martyr complex – but they are more common than you might realize if you only see those highly publicized cases. On the Disability Day of Mourning website you can see that ten disabled people, all adults, died from filicide in the first month and a half of this year alone.

In the US, measures are being taken to dismantle programs like Medicaid and the ADA which have previously protected disabled lives (among others). It seems that valuing our lives is not in vogue among the powerful.

I wasn’t sure what else to say. I’m not good at the kind of essay where I powerfully insists to you that disabled people DO deserve to live. I doubt that anyone who doesn’t already understand that message, on some level, is reading this blog. And in any case, other bloggers will write it better.

I am a fiction reviewer, though, and I suppose I can bring that skill to bear for this purpose.

Media shapes the stories that we tell ourselves about real life – often without us realizing. So media has a role to play in reminding us that disabled lives are worth living. Often the media doesn’t do this job; sometimes it does the reverse. I rarely see media brazen enough to suggest that we should kill disabled people, unless they are terminally ill and asking for death. (I can think of one published SFF short story I read that did kind of do this. I won’t link to it here.) But more often I see media fail by accepting our preventable deaths with a sad shrug. With a sort of, “Well, of course that’s how it is,” and an immediate return to the concerns of our able-bodied heroes who never think about the dead disabled person again. I see this kind of fail far more often, including in popular blockbuster movies, like Rogue One or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Here are some stories that do better.

(This is a list focused on autism because autism is… kind of my wheelhouse, but please do post your own recommendations, for any disability, in the comments!)

Corinne Duyvis’s book On the Edge of Gone is about an autistic girl trying to prove that she is worth saving in an apocalypse – and eventually realizing that her whole mindset of having to prove it is wrong.

Rose Lemberg’s novelette “Geometries of Belonging” celebrates an autistic teenager’s ability to defy their violent parents, refuse non-consensual medical treatment, and survive. Tina Gower’s “Twelve Seconds” also centers the autistic protagonist’s ability to choose in this way. Meda Kahn’s short story “Difference of Opinion” is about a non-speaking autistic woman’s struggle to survive in a society that is seriously considering killing her.

Finally, Bogi Takács’s Iwunen Interstellar Investigations, and other stories in the Eren universe, imagine a thriving autistic society far in the future, where nobody’s right to exist as a disabled person is questioned. C.S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore also imagines a powerful and inclusive planet full of non-neurotypical people, generations after the original Earth tried to eradicate them.

If you’d like to support telling stories about disabled lives in ways that value those lives, perhaps consider supporting these authors today – especially Duyvis, Lemberg, Kahn, and Takács, who are autistic themselves.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: Story notes, part 32 and 33

32. The Pyromancer

But scars grow only
in healing,
and shackles have keys.

I came up with “The Pyromancer” on the same day as “Turning to Stone”; my family was on a day-trip to see the Fourth of July fireworks in Alexandria Bay, New York. They were an auspicious pair, both landing (after revision) in the best possible markets for them: “Turning to Stone” in Stone Telling, and “The Pyromancer” in Goblin Fruit. (You can read it, still in Goblin Fruit, here.)

Yes, the day-trip did involve boats. There is something about groups of small lights in darkness that is immensely meaningful to me – whether they are stars, or city lights, or candles at an Easter vigil, or the bioluminescence of sea creatures, or a scene like this one.

“The Pyromancer” is a much more hopeful, joyful poem than its sibling. (I was also trying to lightly subvert certain tropes in which Magic Always Has to Have a Price.)

33. The Mermaid at Sea World

Children like woodpeckers hammer the glass
and men leer.

This one wasn’t inspired by a real-life event (one hopes). Actually, I don’t remember where it came from, although I know that the lights one sometimes sees in aquariums – refracted through the rippling surface, and then reflected in their odd patterns on the blue-white underwater walls – are another visual that has fascinated me.

“The Mermaid at Sea World” was the cover poem of its issue of Niteblade, and it was reprinted in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 43: Leia: Princess of Alderaan

Note: This review contains minor spoilers for “The Last Jedi,” though I’ve tried to keep all references to the movie’s events vague.

Today’s Book: “Leia: Princess of Alderaan,” a Star Wars tie-in novel by Claudia Gray.

The Plot: A teenage Princess Leia learns that her parents are a part of the Rebel Alliance – and, against their wishes, joins them.

Autistic Character(s): Amilyn Holdo, a girl Leia’s age who joins her on some of her adventures.

Ever since seeing “The Force Awakens,” I have been on a bit of a Star Wars kick. It’s not a thing I’ve mentioned in public much, but it’s been a thing. When I asked for Star Wars books for Christmas, I was expecting them to be escapist fun and to let me spend a little more time in the galaxy far, far away with my favorite characters. I wasn’t expecting to need to make an Autistic Book Party episode about it.

But “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” portrays a younger version of Amilyn Holdo, a sympathetic character from The Last Jedi, as very clearly non-neurotypical.

(Yes, we are talking about Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern, although obviously, she doesn’t have that rank in this book. I’ve been told that other viewers noticed something non-neurotypical-looking about her in the film itself, but that went right over my head, so the book was a surprise.)

Amilyn Holdo in “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” has the following characteristics:

  • Atypical facial expressions, especially a habitually “glazed” look
  • Dresses and does her hair very eccentrically
  • Speaks in an “airy monotone”
  • Stares off into space
  • Cheerfully goes for the snacks at an important diplomatic function instead of networking or playing politics as the characters are supposed to
  • Has unusual interests at intense levels: for example, memorizing the astrological systems of various planets, in a universe where most people don’t believe in astrology
  • Has unusual emotional reactions, including being cheerful and enthusiastic about “mortal peril”
  • Is quite clever, and often figures things out before the other characters do, but is also too “guileless” to know important unspoken things, like why you shouldn’t say critical things about the Empire in the Empire’s apprentice legislature sessions
  • Habitually has communication difficulties, sometimes to do with being literal, but more often to do with using some odd metaphor or allusion that she thinks makes her thoughts perfectly clear, while everyone else scratches their head and wonders what she is talking about. This includes times when she is talking about one of the things that she’s figured out before everyone else – but nobody realizes she’s figured it out until later, often after she’s put the plan that she thought she explained into action. Towards the end of the book, Leia reflects that she is learning to “speak Amilyn” and is doing a better job than before of figuring out what Holdo means when she talks.

Holdo is from a planet called Gatalenta which has some strange cultural traditions, including using aerial acrobatics to meditate. While one might initially chalk up some of Holdo’s strangeness to being from Gatalenta, it is eventually revealed that her choice of clothing and other habits are very atypical for that planet, and that she doesn’t fit in there, either.

It’s not one hundred percent clear that Holdo’s neurotype is autistic; sometimes she veers into more generic, Luna Lovegood-esque kookiness. But she is definitely not neurotypical, and when you list her traits like I just did, they resemble autism – particularly the “female”* presentation of autism – more than any other condition I’m aware of.

(*In scare quotes because people with this presentation can have varying genders, but that is largely irrelevant to this post.)

Holdo is a sympathetic character with a lot to offer. Her cleverness, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm come in handy on many occasions. Two instances stand out to me, because they are helpful things of types that I very rarely get to see autistic characters doing. First, Holdo is a source of emotional support for Leia – helping her process her feelings about her family and the Rebellion by teaching her Gatalentan meditation techniques. Second, although Holdo is sometimes guileless about social dangers, she is sometimes able to solve them in her own way. In a wonderful scene toward the end, Leia and Holdo return from a dangerous mission and are intercepted by an Imperial officer who is suspicious about where they came from. Holdo uses her knowledge of astrology to come up with a plausible alibi, but she also socially misdirects the officer in a very striking way – deliberately staring into space, looking even more glazed than usual, and beginning to monologue enthusiastically about the astrological aspects of her travels until the officer gets embarrassed and waves her on through.

Other characters, including Leia, are also able to help Holdo when she needs it – bailing her out when she veers close to saying dangerous things in the apprentice legislature; being patient and learning to figure out her way of speaking, instead of demanding that she change it; giving her a space to talk out her own problems, such as her urge to rebel from Gatalentan culture. Leia and Holdo’s friendship – and, likely, the friendships between Holdo and other characters – is mutual and genuine.

The older Holdo in The Last Jedi is not as visibly weird as the younger one in this novel. In my opinion, this isn’t an inconsistency; it’s a change that could very plausibly have happened as the teenage Holdo got older and learned more skills, including the skills of military command.

Holdo being autistic also casts a very interesting new light on her actions in The Last Jedi. It’s not a light that I’m going to talk about here at any length; to do that, I’d need to re-watch the movie with the book in mind and give it its own, separate review. But it’s worth noting that the older Vice-Admiral Holdo’s conflict with Poe Dameron revolves, in large part, around her ability (or inability, or refusal) to explain her plans for the Resistance in a way that Poe will accept. If she has a pre-existing communication disability – even one that she’s worked on, over the years – then this adds a significant new layer to that conflict.

In short, Amilyn Holdo in “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” is a well-rounded and respectfully portrayed autistic character. Not at all what I expected to find in a Star Wars book – but something I was delighted to discover.

The Verdict: Recommended

Ethics Statement: I have never interacted with Claudia Gray. I read her book because I got a copy for Christmas. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Many of my reviews are chosen by my Patreon backers. This one was not. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the works. If these reviews are 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.