Autistic Book Party, Episode 28 And A Half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Pat Murphy, “Inappropriate Behavior” (scifi.com, 2004; reprinted in Escape Pod)

A young autistic girl named Annie remotely operates a mining robot on a deserted island. After a storm, a shipwrecked man washes up on the island needing assistance, but the adults working with Annie may be too preoccupied giving her therapy to listen to what she says about him.

I thought that this was a really clever story. Annie’s point of view is well written, distinctively autistic, and believable. The remote operation technology and its effects on her senses are very interesting, and the critique of NT therapists is so on point that it hurts. A few sections felt like they over-explained about what autism is, but this was probably necessary in order to make sure NT readers understood the story, especially in 2004, and most sections are not like this. I also wish that some attention had been paid to the potentially exploitative relationship between Annie and the mining company. Some of what she does in the mining robot is profitable for them, despite being classed as “therapy”, but the conflict of interest between their profit and Annie’s wellbeing is not addressed. Overall, though, the story is enjoyable and effectively accomplishes what it sets out to do. [Recommended]

*

George R. Galuschak, “Counting Cracks” (Strange Horizons, November 2011)

A strange alien noise invades Earth, killing or disabling most people, and a small band of mostly-autistic survivors sets out to deal with it at the source. I found this story difficult to follow, and some details were confusingly wrong. (For example, in the narrator’s backstory, his counting-related compulsions just… suddenly go away one day, and his sympathy for other people who think that way evaporates just as quickly.) However, I appreciated the story’s overall message, in which embracing autistic symptoms instead of suppressing them is the key to victory – and the characters continue to do so long after the victory is won. [YMMV]

*

Bogi Tak√°cs, “All Talk of Common Sense” (Polychrome Ink Volume III, May 2016)

[Autistic author] A flash story about an autistic court jester who discovers a deception from the court mage. The trope of disabled people becoming jesters, and using their disability to parody more powerful people, is well known. I like how the disability in this one – and the social prejudice it brings – is made plain without exoticizing. [Recommended]

*

Edward Willett, “I Count the Lights” (Strangers Among Us, August 2016)

A diplomat needs to solve a murder on an alien planet, but the only one who can help him is an intellectually disabled alien. The alien’s neurotype is considered holy on their planet, but the diplomat takes an immediate dislike to him.

I was on the fence about whether to include this story in Autistic Book Party. It features both the aforementioned alien and a human with a similar disability, which might be autism (rocking, repetitive behavior, and difficulty with complex language) or might be another developmental disability. I decided to err on the side of inclusion.

The story is well told, and the diplomat learns over the course of the story to value both of the disabled character’s contributions. Unfortunately, the main reason why he learns this is because both of the characters prove useful to him in solving the mystery, and his action in response to this is to… graciously allow them to continue being useful to him. Considering that, and the POV character’s initially very strong ableism, I wasn’t super thrilled with the contribution of the story overall. [YMMV, but I didn’t like it]

*

Helen Stubbs, “Uncontainable” (Apex Magazine, December 2016)

A barely-communicative little girl prone to violent meltdowns is the only one who understands a terrible secret. This story echoes some aspects of changeling folklore, but with a nice twist. Someone is stealing children’s souls, but the disabled child is not the victim of this stealing nor an inferior replacement for a stolen child. Instead she becomes the one who bravely saves the other children around her, even though the adults don’t understand. I liked that aspect of the story, but was less pleased with some other aspects, including the final scene, which seems to cement the girl’s role as an all-purpose knowing-terrible-things plot device rather than providing a logical reason why she would have known what was going on. [YMMV]

As Hollow as a Heart

My story, “As Hollow as a Heart”, is out now in Volume 5, Issue 2 of LampLight magazine.

This story has a curious history. It features Lady Blue, the same gender-flipped Bluebeard character from 2015’s “Lady Blue and the Lampreys”, but its tone, setting, and treatment of the character are very different. It might be a sequel, or a prequel, or an AU. My money is on “both AU and prequel”, but with a person whose life is as long and cyclical as Lady Blue’s, who knows?

You don’t have to have read “Lady Blue and the Lampreys” to understand this story, or vice versa.

Personally, the first draft of this story came to me about two years ago, when I was in the very late stages of a relationship that was going very bad. I had not yet discerned that the relationship was actually abusive, and that I needed to end it. I would, only a month or two after writing the story, but I had not yet then. And although there is no overt abuse in this story, looking back, that’s what the heart of the story is all about. That strange feeling of wanting something, of knowing it is rotten at the core, and of staying anyway.

Read safely, if you read.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 28: The Three-Body Problem

Today’s Book: “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu.

The Plot: A mysterious online game invites humans to explore the lives of aliens living in a trinary star system, and factions emerge on Earth with various attitudes towards the real aliens who might be behind the game.

Autistic Character(s): Wei Cheng, a member of one of the factions.

Wei Cheng occupies a brief but important role in Liu’s Hugo-winning novel. He shows up midway through and tells his life story to the viewpoint characters in order to explain a point. He’s the husband of another researcher in one of the factions. He’s reclusive, and is shown having difficulty with activities such as personal grooming, face recognition, creation of appropriate facial affect, knowing when to stop talking, and executive function. It’s the executive function, combined with flattened emotions, that cause him to identify, not as autistic, but as “lazy”:

I’ve been lackadaisical since I was a kid. When I lived at boarding school, I never washed the dishes or made the bed. I never got excited about anything. Too lazy to study, too lazy to even play, I dawdled my way through the days without any clear goals.

The way Wei Cheng describes himself is actually really interesting to me. Of course I am familiar with autistic people who are described as lazy, and who internalize that description. But the way Wei Cheng centers “laziness” throughout his narrative is something I had not encountered before. It strikes me, not just as internalized ableism on his part (although it is), but as a whole different way of looking at how his neurotype works and at what the central deficits are, compared to neurotypical people. I suspect that this is due to Wei Cheng being from a non-Western culture (the book is set in China) but I don’t really know enough to say that for sure.

Despite his “laziness”, Wei Cheng is gifted at mathematics. He struggles in math classes because he cannot explain his intuitive ways of solving problems, but even very advanced problems come easily to him. After earning a PhD, he has difficulty with the non-mathematical aspects of the jobs he is qualified for and drifts around until he meets his future wife, who welcomes him into her secret faction so that he can help solve the three-body problem.

Wei Cheng’s role in the plot confuses me a little. On my first read, he struck me as an autistic person who had been inserted as a plot device. He shows up, tells his life story, suggests solving the three-body problem with an evolutionary algorithm, reports on some ominous events, and then does very little else. But his big scene isn’t even really a plot device, because it isn’t crucial to what else happens in the rest of the book.

A reviewer who is familiar with modern Chinese culture and its view of neurodiversity might have better insight into Wei Cheng than I do (and I would welcome comments in that vein in the comment section!) In the absence of that, I find him a puzzling but interesting minor character who, despite his internalized ableism, is not really badly portrayed.

The Verdict: Marginal

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

Autism News, 2017/01/02

U.S. politics news:

  • On Buzzfeed, 13 disabled activists talk about their reactions to the American election
  • ASAN is joining the newly formed Modern Medicaid Alliance, advocating for the importance of Medicaid in American disabled people’s lives
  • ASAN statement on the nomination of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, and why this nomination is dangerous for disabled people (among others)
  • The state of Michigan passed legislation to severely restrict and regulate the use of restraint and seclusion on K-12 students. (TW: descriptions of specific instances of restraint and other ableist treatment)

Posts about self-advocacy:

Pan-disability news:

Misc:

Sad Things Other Than Trump: