Autistic Book Party, Episode 56 And A Half: Short Story Smorgasbord

AJ Odasso, “Tables Turned” (Stone Telling, Issue 8, August 2012)

[Autistic author] This poem describes a complex and uncomfortable power dynamic that many autistic people will recognize: an able-bodied person pitying and trying to comfort the narrator, out of a hidden discomfort of their own, when the narrator would rather that their strength be seen. It’s not specific to disability: the same dynamic might occur with a narrator newly growing in confidence with any number of parts of their identity. But I suspect autistic readers are going to like this one. [Recommended-2]

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Bogi Tak√°cs, “The Merry Knives of Interspecies Communication” (Angels of the Meanwhile anthology, 2016; reprinted as a free Patreon reward)

[Autistic author] Flash fiction in which communication with aliens requires a painful telepathic ritual, and a masochistic crew member cheerfully volunteers. It’s very short even for flash, but the way ongoing consent to the communication process works is interesting, and the ending is cute. It comes with an even shorter, equally cute story, “One of Our More Atypical Invasion Plans”, which is one sentence long. [Recommended-2]

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A.C. Buchanan, “A Spell to Signal Home” (GlitterShip #41, 2017; I read it reprinted in Transcendent 3)

[Autistic author] A dreamy poignant story about witches, strandings in space, and siblings. The narrator in this story is nonbinary and AFAB, and I really like the way the story depicts the tensions between the narrator’s need to not be treated as a woman, and their cis sister’s wish to highlight and celebrate women. Reconciliation and understanding might just be what brings this narrator safely home at last. [Recommended-2]

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R.B. Lemberg, “These Are The Attributes By Which You Shall Know God” (GlitterShip, March 2019)

[Autistic author] A surprisingly trippy story about architecture, aliens, and Spinoza. The Ruvan, super-powerful aliens who have conquered Earth, believe only in reason, logic, and straight lines. A human with an interest in imagination and beauty must hide their thoughts, and oddly, succeeds – even after the aliens seem to have transformed them into something rational, post-human, and under their control. (There’s also a brief, cheerful queering of the story of Noah’s Ark, which I enjoyed.) [Recommended-2]

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Merc Fenn Wolfmoor, “Now Watch My Rising” (Fireside, May 2018)

[Autistic author] In this metamythical tale, a wolf is told that their purpose is to eat the sun at the end of all things. The wolf disagrees and hunts through a myriad of other tales for an alternative. I found that this one drives its point home almost too hard, but the point – in which an often-vilified character rebels against the stories that are told about them, and strives to define their own stories instead – is one that many marginalized readers will need. [Recommended-2]

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Rivers Solomon, “Blood Is Another Word For Hunger” (Tor.com, July 24, 2019)

[Non-neurotypical author] A young slave murders her masters, and the resulting shock waves in the spirit world cause her to give birth to a new, undead found family. This is an unsettling story about community, freedom, and what is necessary in order to defend them. I especially like the grumpy/sunshine contrast between Sully, the protagonist, and Ziza, her firstborn; and how the story portrays trauma and depression in a way that feels hopeful while resisting cures and other easy answers. [Recommended-2]

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Nyla Bright, “Spectrum of Acceptance” (Escape Pod 689, July 2019)

[Non-neurotypical author] This is a very interesting setup for a story – an #ownvoices tale about a planet of autistic people, told from the perspective of one of the few neurotypical teenagers who lives on that planet. I have very mixed feelings about it; there’s a lot that it does well and a lot that makes me leery.

I’m always cautious of “reverse oppression” stories, and “Spectrum of Acceptance” is more or less set up that way. Ada, the neurotypical main character, constantly corrects her own thoughts and feels that her neurotypical social and emotional impulses are “wrong.” This is not only the result of being different from those around her, but a result of actual therapy in which autistic people tell her that her neurotypical speech is wrong and hard to understand. In some ways it’s good and clever to show an NT character engaging in this kind of self-correction – it illustrates that feeling “wrong” in this way is a result of social control, rather than necessarily a sign of being objectively wrong. But while reading the story, I was constantly raising eyebrows at the kinds of things Ada is told are wrong, including using metaphor and being able to read facial expressions. (Where are the hyperempathic, hyperverbal autistics in this universe? Meh.) Like some other fictionalized autistic communities I’ve seen, it seemed to present a limited view of what autism is. Or maybe that’s part of the point of the story – showing that, even in a community purporting to free a group from oppression, restrictive social norms may arise which don’t completely match that group’s actual needs.

“Spectrum of Acceptance” also partially subverts some aspects of the reverse oppression narrative. While Ada feels out of place in autistic society, she learns that NT society is also imperfect, and in some ways even worse. I liked this part of the plot, but I felt that it, too, was somewhat oversimplified. One of the traits that horrifies Ada is that people from Earth ask for things even when they don’t need them, thereby “using” other people. Perhaps this is only a social norm of Ada’s planet, but I feel that it presents an overly optimistic view of autistic community; autistic people are by and large good people, but I’ve seen plenty of us making the same mistakes around demands for emotional and caregiving labor that others do.

Overall, this didn’t quite work for me, but I did find it interesting and thought-provoking and I’m glad I tried it. I feel like this is the kind of worldbuilding question that we need to discuss much more and from many more angles. [YMMV]