Autistic Book Party, Episode 58: The Trans Space Octopus Congregation

Today’s Book: “The Trans Space Octopus Congregation,” a short story collection by Bogi Takács.

Autistic Character(s): The author, among others!

This is a generally excellent collection. As is often the case with a single-author collection from an author I know, many of the stories were not new to me, and they won’t be new to long-time Autistic Book Party readers either (see the Reviews Index). Much of the joy of such a collection is in seeing the stories arranged next to each other, seeing more strongly how themes recur and patterns emerge.

“The Trans Space Octopus Congregation” ranges from historical fantasy to modern-day political allegories to far-future space opera, but there is a remarkable unity to the themes throughout. The writing is accessible and clear, but there is a very strong Bogi Takács aesthetic, which is hard to describe until you’ve seen it. It’s to do with powerful magic-users at risk from those who want to abuse them as weapons; matter-of-fact acceptance of states which in another author’s hands would be body horror; sensory seeking; Jewish mysticism; and non-sexual BDSM. Eir worlds are diverse and complex, with multiple cultures mingling and clashing, even within very short works. When political and other large organizations enter the stories, it’s with a wry awareness of those organizations’ flaws, ranging from the well-meaning but inefficient to the horrific; but it’s never without a sense of hope, if only in the sense of ordinary people making the effort to help each other. Those octopi from the title also appear here and there (though, sadly, not in the exact manner the title implies; there is no literal religious congregation of transgender space octopi).

The word “autism” is never used, but non-neurotypical characters abound in this book. The Ereni – citizens of a magical planet of autistic people – appear in several stories, though their universe is large, and they are mainly seen in minor roles here, through the eyes of other sorts of people. In works set elsewhere, characters stim, perseverate, have motor coordination issues, and generally behave in such a way that it’s easy to read autism in if you want to. Queer and trans characters also abound, as the title implies, often in the form of casual but clearly spelled-out nonbinary rep.

I’m not sure I have much else to say about Bogi’s writing that I haven’t already said in prior reviews, but “The Trans Space Octopus Congregation” showcases the author at eir best. If you’re a fan of the writing of eirs that you’ve seen online, you should definitely check this one out.

The Verdict: Recommended

Disclosure: Bogi Takács is someone I consider a personal friend. I received a free electronic review copy of this book.

If Autistic Book Party is 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.

Cool Story, Bro: Favorite Stuff I Read In September and October

Carmen Lucia Alvarado, “Astronaut Poets” (Samovar, September 2)

I’m often hesitant about “all X are like Y” statements, which is how this poem begins, but I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little and I feel seen.

*

Sarah Gailey, “Away With the Wolves” (Disabled People Destroy Fantasy!)

This is a werewolf tale that quickly and quietly goes elsewhere than expected. Suss is a chronically ill girl who can change into a wolf when she wishes to; wolf form is the only time she isn’t in pain. Her wolf self isn’t overly violent, but she doesn’t always remember or control what she does, and the people around her are quick to blame her when wolf-related things go wrong. What I love about this, besides the disability representation, is that Suss’s arc isn’t about repressing or embracing a vicious animalistic side. Instead it’s about agency, belonging, and finding ways to give back to her community as her whole self.

*

S.L. Huang, “As The Last I May Know” (Tor.com, October 23)

Huang takes what could have been an arid, trolley-problem-style thought experiment – would people in power be less likely to give certain kinds of orders in war, even in self-defense, if they had to viscerally experience those orders’ human cost? – and fills it with heart and feeling. This is the kind of story where there are no easy answers, just all-too-human characters whose lives and needs are all too real, even as they come into conflict in seemingly impossible ways. It’ll stick with you.

*

Cynthia So, “If Love Is Real, So Are Fairies” (Uncanny, Issue Twenty-Nine)

A poem full of sweetness and longing and hope. The feeling of having an imaginary fairy to link you to someone, as the poem describes, is relatable to me.

*

Ali Trotta, “Three of Swords, King of Cups” (Fireside, July)

A poem about love, rebirth, and honoring oneself even in pain. I really love the metaphor in this one.