Cool Stories I Read In September and October

Dani Atkinson, “Bibliopothecary” (Cast of Wonders 270, September). Freakin’ adorbs. Makes me wish books were given out by perscription like this in real life, too. 😀

Gillian Daniels, “Persephone Kidnaps Him” (Liminality, Issue #13, September). I LIKE THIS SO MUCH MORE THAN THE ORIGINAL PERSEPHONE MYTH.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad, “Fandom for Robots” (Uncanny, Issue 18, September). ASDFGHJKL! This is SO CUTE. Who the heck doesn’t like cute robot stories? I feel like I need a “TEAM CUTE ROBOTS” jersey. (A. Merc Rustad would be the first to join me on this team.)

Delia Sherman, “At Cooney’s” (Uncanny, Issue 18, September). Not sure I’ve seen a queer time travel story like this before, except maybe in Captain America fanfiction? This one plays so skillfully with the topic of queer history, how we forget and remember our history, and what that does to us – how we have done both before, and will do them again.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 6 and 7

6. Moon Laws, Dream Laws

The Un-God told us, later, that this was a lie, and that the sun’s disappearance was astronomy and optics. But a story can be true and not true, just as my Lady is the moon and not the moon.

This story was written – and by that I mean conceived, drafted, beta read, revised, and submitted – in one week. It entirely owes its existence to Krista D. Ball, who was friends with the person editing Tyche Books’ “Ride the Moon” anthology, and who asked around to everyone she knew when the editor suddenly had several of their solicited authors back out at the last minute.

I was not at all convinced that I could write anything good to such a short deadline, but with Krista’s encouragement, I just DID it. Not only did the editor like the story, but it ended up in pride of place as the anthology’s very last story – the one that summed up the anthology’s themes, I suppose, most fully.

“Moon Laws, Dream Laws” takes place in a fictional world that venerates polytheistic, mystical gods – gods whose whims can and do directly influence the physical world. But it’s also a technologically advanced world that is building a moon colony. The protagonist, Viola, is a priestess of the Lady of Blood and Stone, an easily angered, Artemis-like moon goddess. Her wife, Trulia, has been selected for a mission to the moon – but the Lady of Blood and Stone is very particular about who and what is allowed on her surface, and things quickly go awry.

Trulia was one of the first overtly autistic characters that I wrote into a published story, and I liked very much having a queer autistic woman as a love interest.

Viola and Trulia’s universe appears again – with a completely different set of mortal characters, and a very different kind of plot – in “The Herdsman of the Dead”, a story from Shimmer Magazine that didn’t make it into MONSTERS IN MY MIND. (I think “Herdsman” is a very good story, but it wasn’t a tonal fit for the collection.) The Herdsman of the Dead is a god who is mentioned a few times in “Moon Laws”, so people who’ve read that story can look out for that bit of continuity.

Song Pairing: There is no better song for a story about a moon priestess than Bellini’s “Casta Diva“, a literal hymn to the moon in operatic form.

7. Memo From Neverland

I fell out of my crib with nothing.
Now the mermaids and tigers are mine-

A short poem about some of the more practical considerations of being Peter Pan. It appeared in Kaleidotrope’s Winter 2014 issue, and is free to read there online. The poem emerged from some thoughts that I had about “adulting”, and about what it really does and doesn’t mean.

A beta reader told me that this poem is wildly out of character for Peter Pan and at odds with values that he strongly espouses in the actual books/plays/films. I considered this criticism seriously, and concluded that it’s true, but that I also don’t care. 😀

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 39: Citadel of the Sky

Today’s Book: “Citadel of the Sky” by Chrysoula Tzavelas

The Plot: In a fantasy kingdom, a series of magical murders heralds the arrival of something even more sinister.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

“Citadel of the Sky” is set in a nation ruled by the Blood, a powerful magical family. The Blood are the kingdom’s mystical protectors, with magical powers that differ significantly from those of ordinary wizards.

One of those powers is the ability to enter the “phantasmagory” – a psychic realm which is like a collective unconsciousness made physical. Stray thoughts and emotions in the phantasmagory take surreal physical forms, and so do more important magical things. But a member of the Blood who enters the phantasmagory is completely oblivious to the outside world, and can’t leave again until they genuinely desire to. Older members of the royal family often develop a kind of dementia, spending more and more time in the phantasmagory, and becoming more and more confused when out of it.

This linking of royal blood to disability leads to some interesting worldbuilding, including a system in which each member of the Blood has their own “Regent” – a sworn servant who helps them with everyday tasks. (Right now I am all about the idea of caretaking as a service, rather than a form of authority, so I really liked the Regents.) It also means that, aside from magical threats, many everyday affairs of state are carried out by a different group of nobles – a group which is happy, overtly or covertly, to seize power from the inattentive Blood.

As well as the fictional disability of the phantasmagory, both of “Citadel of the Sky”‘s viewpoint characters are non-neurotypical in ways that more closely parallel the real world. Princess Tiana is young, scattered, impulsive, and likely has a form of attention deficit. Kiar, her bastard cousin, is more focused and serious – but also has intense social anxiety.

The challenge of writing a protagonist like Tiana is that the plot has to stay focused and forward-moving, even when the protagonist isn’t. Tzavelas doesn’t always rise perfectly to this challenge. Although many exciting things happen, the pacing often feels slightly off, as if the characters are making scattershot and separate responses to each event rather than having their own throughline.

I should also warn, for readers who are allergic to such things, that “Citadel of the Sky” is the first in a five-book series, and its ending resolves very little.

Still, at its best, “Citadel of the Sky” is a fun and surreal epic fantasy in which non-neurotypical women get to be princesses and chosen ones. That is a kind of story that we definitely need more of!

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics Statement: I have never interacted with Chrysoula Tzavelas. I read her book by buying an e-copy for my Kindle app. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. 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.

A post about Miles Vorkosigan

This post was commissioned by one of my Patreon backers, David Lamb. High-tier Patreon backers can have four pieces a year – flash fiction, poetry, or blog posts like this one – written to any prompt or topic that they like. You can check out this, and my other tiers of rewards, on Patreon.

Miles Vorkosigan is the protagonist of most of the books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar series. He is a disabled man, the son of an important Lord (or, later, Count) on a feudal planet, who cons his way into a mercenary fleet and has space adventures. (This is a woefully inadequate summary of the Barrayar series, which also includes feudal and interplanetary politics, mysteries, espionage, entire books that veer away from the military stuff in favor of quirky space romance, and a ton of thoughtful explorations of the societal impacts of biotechnology, among other things.)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Miles is one of the most beloved disabled characters in all of science fiction. He’s often the first example people give of good disability representation. Too often, he’s the only example.

Miles’s disabilities are many. He has dwarfism, brittle bones, and a host of attendant complications from an incident with poison gas that happened in utero. (In later books, he also develops a form of epilepsy.) Miles is also non-neurotypical – I’m not sure if a coherent mental diagnosis is ever given in the books, but fans seem to agree that he is bipolar and has ADHD.

Bujold gives these disabilities the attention they deserve. Miles is never reduced to just a spokesperson for his disabilities, but they do consistently affect how he moves through the world, whether it’s being seriously injured by things that an able-bodied person would shrug off, submitting to yet another painful and tedious medical procedure, having atypical and alarming reactions to in-universe medicines, or simply dealing with the stigma of being visibly disabled on an intensely ableist planet. (And I do mean intensely – Barrayar was once decimated by a nuclear war, and many of its residents still live in terror of radioactivity-induced mutations, to the point of practicing infanticide for minor birth defects.)

Miles is hyperactive, often hypomanic, fearsomely clever, and has all the resources of a Barrayaran nobleman at his disposal. This makes him a delightful protagonist, the kind of person that you watch just to see how he gets himself into trouble this time – and how he creatively problem-solves to get out of it again, if not always in the manner his superiors would like.

In short, Miles is a tremendously good disabled character. But this is not to say that he is above criticism. One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Miles as disability representation is that, aside from the disability itself, he’s actually extremely privileged. He has all the money he could want for medical care and actual bodyguards, not to mention entire space fleets, to protect him. He is more or less literally royalty, not to mention all the other titles he accrues throughout the series. Ableism is still a thing that hurts Miles, and his health is always going to affect what he can and can’t do. But many of the difficulties and compromises that real-world disabled people make for their own survival never touch him.

This is less really a problem with Miles as a character – disabled people should get to fantasize about being royalty, too! – and more an example of the problem that happens when we try to hold up one character as the pinnacle of representation. People have been writing lately about how, when there’s only one female superhero, or one female whatever, she’s expected to be all things to all women – and, because that task is impossible, fails. Miles can’t be all things to all disabled people, either, and he shouldn’t be where the search for disability representation stops. No matter how cool Miles is, we won’t have real representation in science fiction until many other disabled characters, all intersectionally different and all also extremely cool, can be recognized alongside him.