Autistic Book Party, Episode 36 And A Half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Alyssa Hillary, “Where None Have Thought To Go” (self-published, 2014)

[Autistic author] An autistic person named Mendel makes friends with a planet of sentient AI and becomes a cyborg. Along the way, he makes a decision that could change how the people around him think about autism.

This is a really interesting concept but the execution confused me. For instance: the other protagonist, Trevina, is surprised to hear that Mendel is not neurotypical; but only a few minutes later in the same scene she is thinking sophisticated thoughts about how difficult it has always been for him as an autistic person to operate in an NT world, without any indication that anything about these thoughts might be new. Soon afterwards, Mendel is justifying big decisions by saying that people have always refused to believe he can think – yet people close to him had no idea he was not NT until that day.

These parts of the story would work better for a character with a different diagnosis and treatment history, to such a dramatic extent that I wondered if the author had changed their mind about the character partway through writing and forgot to correct it – or if there’s something about how people are treated in this SFnal world that we’re not being told. As it is, despite some attempts at explanation, the motivation behind most of Mendel and Trevina’s actions remains opaque.

(Also, minor gripe: AI goes into Mendel’s brain and turns him into a cyborg without his informed consent, and no one including Mendel has more than a vague passing issue with this. Please don’t do that.)

I feel like, with a thorough edit, this would become a good story that has interesting things to say. I do like the way that the cyborg and AI characters’ minds are depicted. It’s certainly not a story that fails, in the sense of being insulting or dehumanizing, the way many NTs’ stories do. But the writing is so slapdash that most of its conceptual value gets lost in the shuffle. [Not Recommended]

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A.C. Buchanan, “Puppetry” (Accessing the Future, April 2015)

[Autistic author] A war story about a soldier with a computer system in her brain that can take over her physical actions, and how she and her fellow soldiers manage a mutiny. Buchanan’s protagonist is not autistic, but has severe dyspraxia. The army’s system allows her to plan movements that look normal – but also prevents her from running away or taking any other initiative, even as basic as helping a wounded comrade without permission. Autistic readers will relate to the clever things the story has to say about cures, normalization, control, and autonomy. There is also an interesting thread about the accessibility implications of terraforming, which is something I hadn’t considered before. [Recommended-2]

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Suvi Kauppila, “Wither and Blossom” (Samovar, March 27, 2017)

A story about a person who returns to the fantasy world that they and their autistic sister shared when they were young. I am not sure how I feel about the death themes in this story; the autistic character dies young of what is implied to be a suicide, although the adults in the story chalk it up to “wandering”. Most of the adults in these characters’ lives are quite ableist, and it’s only the narrator who takes the time to communicate with their sister and to share her world. It’s very easy for young dead disabled people in this type of story, as with tragic queer narratives, to be handled problematically. What saves this one for me is how the narrator genuinely values their sister, even when the people around them don’t. Their shared world is not merely a beautiful sad memory; both it and the sister herself are things that the narrator actively works to return to, even years later. The eventual success of these efforts presents the autistic sister as someone who both needs the NT narrator and has something to offer them, and whose world just might be more beautiful and real than the ableist “real” world. [YMMV, but I liked it]

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Bogi Tak√°cs, “Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus” (Clarkesworld, April 2017)

[Autistic author] A story from the point of view of a sentient octopus, many generations after humans “uplifted” octopi and helped them communicate using a psychic interface. Of course, the humans were not completely benevolent when they did this – they wanted to use the octopi for something, and to use other humans as well. There are no autistic characters in this story, but it’s a story that interrogates the ethics of “animal uplift” tropes as only a story by a neurodivergent author could. [Recommended-2]

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Richard Ford Burley, “I Fight Monsters” (Strange Horizons, May 8, 2017)

[Autistic author] A poem about a monster-slaying, Beowulf-like hero who is gradually becoming monstrous himself. There’s a lot of play with sound, rhyme, rhythm and alliteration in this poem; I would recommend reading it aloud. The descriptions of monsters and violence are visceral without becoming gratuitous, and the ending is well done. [Recommended-2]

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