Short Story Smorgasbord: Special Rhysling Nominees Edition!

Last year I listed the autistic speculative poets who were nominees for the 2017 Rhysling award. This year it’s almost time for the 2018 nominees to be announced! But before that happens, I want to take you on a retrospective of Rhysling (and Dwarf Stars) nominations from before 2017. Because some of the most accomplished speculative poets of our time are autistic, and that’s awesome.

This is an incomplete list, mostly for reasons of convenience. For instance, AJ Odasso has many more nominations than this, but I don’t have easy access to a print or electronic copy of many of them right now. Similarly, all three of these poets have large back catalogs of poetry, and I couldn’t possibly review every single poem they have published. Hopefully picking the award-nominated ones is as good as way as any to deliver a suitable highlight reel.

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Rose Lemberg, “Odysseus on the War Train” (Abyss & Apex, July 2008). A subversive take on the Greek myth of Odysseus, and on the damage warriors do both to those they fight and to those they leave behind. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Burns at Both Ends” (Star*Line, January 2009). This poem is also the opening poem of “Marginalia to Stone Bird”; it is a paean to intensity, and to using the poet’s talents as they prefer and see fit, not as any concerned people would have them be used. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Godfather Death” (Goblin Fruit, Fall 2009). A poem about a boy who becomes Death’s godson, and a doctor. Intertextual, slyly silly, and genuinely poignant. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Walrus” (Trapeze magazine, August 2010). A… dancing walrus?! This is short and cute, and it was nominated for the Dwarf Stars award. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Twin-Born” (Goblin Fruit, Fall 2010). A myth of birds and blood, grief and flawed creation and desire. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “In the Third Cycle” (Strange Horizons, September 2011). A complex love triangle unfolding over multiple lifetimes, and a part of the Journeymaker Cycle. This poem is not only a Rhysling nominee, but also won the Rannu competition. [Recommended-2]

AJ Odasso, “Parallax” (Stone Telling, March 2012). A poem about gender euphoria! Also about constellations and the liminality of never quite belonging to any accepted category. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Between the Mountain and the Moon” (Strange Horizons, July 2012). A lyrical love myth involving cats, moon goddesses, ritual dance, and a volcano. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “I will show you a single treasure from the treasures of Shah Niyaz” (Goblin Fruit, Summer 2013). The story of all the different forms of labor from all sorts of different people that went into the making and acquisition of a beautiful tapestry. While a single wealthy ruler locks the tapestry away, the poorer people who created such beauty continue with their lives. This one was not only nominated for the Rhysling, but won third place in the long category. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “The Journeymaker, Climbing” (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2013). A small (this one’s a Dwarf Star nominee) poem of a journey up a mountain, with mink and crows and trees and beautiful language throughout. [Recommended-2]

AJ Odasso, “Queen of Cups” (inkscrawl, March 2014). A short poem of uncertainty and longing, of the desire to travel and the struggle to believe that you’ll find what you travel for. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Landwork” (Goblin Fruit, Spring 2014). A gorgeously written tale of a person who stitches broken land back together, quietly doing their healer’s work though that very quietness causes other mages to scoff at them. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Dualities” (Mythic Delirium, October 2014). I mentioned the theme of doubling in my review of Lemberg’s collection, “Marginalia to Stone Bird”. This poem is a prime example, describing the resonance of two people in two different universes who are somehow aware of each other, and whose lives follow inexplicable parallels. [Recommended-2]

Bogi Takács, “You are Here / Was: Blue Line to Memorial Park” (Strange Horizons, November 2014). This poem is a fantastic technical achievement – when a reader clicks “PROCEED”, the words individually rearrange themselves into a completely different but equally intelligible version. Both versions together tell an eerie and evocative story about a war memorial inside a hollow planetoid. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Archival Testimony Fragments/Minersong” (Uncanny, January 2015). One of Lemberg’s rare forays into science fiction, this is a creepy and beautiful poem about an ancient sentient spaceship crushed under rock where miners are poised to rediscover it. [Recommended-2]

Bogi Takács, “The Iterative Nature of the Magical Discovery Process” (Through the Gate, March 2015). This is a seemingly cute poem about a lesbian couple experimenting with magic to make them fly. It does much more than it appears to at first glance, treating magic very naturalistically as a scientific process, complete with false starts and partial solutions. There’s some gorgeous description of food, a beautiful supportive relationship between the protagonists, and even sneaky math re-inscribed as magical incantations. [Recommended-2]

Rose Lemberg, “Long Shadow” (Strange Horizons, March 2015). OOF. This poem is a LOT – it’s long, and epic, and deals with the aftermath of war and trauma in a way that defies easy answers, or even the idea of answers at all. It’s also an instalment in the epic Journeymaker Cycle; it can stand on its own, but there are parts that will mean more if you have “Marginalia to Stone Bird” and can devour all the Journeymaker poems at once. This is one of my favorite speculative poems ever. [Recommended-2]

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: Story notes, part 41 and 42

41. Centipede Girl

Centipede Girl has hands, feet, teeth, a tummy, just like a real girl. Forgets they are there, sometimes.

This is the infamous “centipede story” – the one that my family loudly refuses to read. In their defense, it is a story about people who congenitally have centipedes crawling all over them. The core of the story is less about OH NO BUGS, and more about loneliness – but that doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant read.

I hate centipedes, actually. They might be my least favorite animal ever. (My primary partner, Dave, says that this is unfair to the centipedes – like spiders, house centipedes do good deeds by eating up all of the other bugs that would otherwise infest the home.) The story was inspired by a large centipede that crawled brazenly right out on my keyboard WHILE I WAS TYPING something or other to one of my RPG friends.

(“Brb hunting for giant centipede,” I wrote, after screaming and falling off my chair, and then losing track of where the thing had gone. The friend in question, whose changeling sorcerer had a habit of casting Summon Monster I to produce fiendish centipedes, was bemused.)

After this happened, I spent a few days hypervigilant and imagining centipedes everywhere, even falling off my body or scurrying up to help retrieve small items. At which point I decided that my bug-related misery had become outlandish enough to be worth sharing with the world. I added a poignant motivation for my centipede-y protagonist, and a weird, ungrammatical narrative voice (I blame the latter on the fact that I’d just discovered China Miéville), and I was off to the races.

“Centipede Girl” appeared in the Journal of Unlikely Entomology and was reprinted in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing – the first of my stories ever to do so, or to achieve any similar type of critical acclaim. This only made the loud declarations of “I’LL READ ANYTHING OF YOURS EXCEPT THE CENTIPEDE STORY, EW EW EW” even funnier.

Recently, though, my father announced to me that he has put a copy of MONSTERS IN MY MIND on the end table next to his chair. On evenings when he has the spare brain cycles (my father being even more disabled than I am), he intends to sit down and, bit by bit, read the full collection.

“All The Things,” he said loyally, “even centipede girl.”

Song Pairing: As chosen by Unlikely Story’s editors during their Year of Bugmusic, the theme song for “Centipede Girl” is Dolores O’Rioran’s “Centipede Sisters”.

42. The Changeling’s Escape

A winding aisle through pillar-trees
to lie in hallowed darkness
as the summer creatures hum.

This poem was inspired by an actual episode of autistic “wandering” that happened when I was old enough to know better, but evidently still didn’t. (I just assumed it would be obvious that the dark woods were freakin’ gorgeous and I need to go into them RIGHT THEN – or, at the very least, that my family would see where I went. Oops.)

The first draft of the poem was much more defiant against parents not understanding, etc, but that aspect of it didn’t resonate with readers. The version that was eventually published – in the now-sadly-defunct Ideomancer – tells a more satisfying, and also more fictional, story. There’s more historically plausible (and unrelated-to-my-actual-life) detail given as to why the child in the story would want to leave her family – but the focus also remains firmly off them, and on the present and future.

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

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:

Misc:

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.