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.