Dinosaur (Monster) Culture

I recently read Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” a foundational work in the study of fictional monsters and their role in human culture. (My girlfriend sent me a copy. We’re intellectuals!) Of course I’m all about this; my debute short story collection was called Monsters In My Mind. And it strikes me that dinosaurs, with their seemingly fantastical physical forms and their sense of power and danger, were my first monster love…

(Read the whole post on Substack)

A Dreamwidth update!

Apparently my WordPress-Dreamwidth synchronization keeps not working and I keep not noticing that it’s failing to work until like… months after the fact. Nine months after the fact, in this case. I’m sorry! Okay so if you’re on Dreamwidth and you’re wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to since May 2020, which was definitely ten thousand years ago in pandemic time, here’s the deets:

BIG BOOK NEWS

  • My first poetry collection, MILLION-YEAR ELEGIES, will release from Kindle Direct Publishing on March 9. This collection of dinosaur poetry uses ancient life to explore themes of trauma, power, survival and how we see ourselves. Due to an Amazon glitch, the paperback version is actually already available.
  • THE FALLEN is, of course, still on track to release in July.

Short stories/poetry:

Autistic Book Party

Also:

I’m sorry I’ve neglected you, Dreamwidth friends! I read all your posts and enjoy them, I just… forget to be “there” in any visible way, sometimes. Hopefully the glitch is fixed, though, for now.

Katie the Ceratosaurus

Like many children, neurotypical and otherwise, I spent a lot of my early childhood obsessed with dinosaurs.

I don’t remember how it started. It could have been the movie The Land Before Time. It could have been Dougal Dixon’s Dinosaurs or one of the other lavishly illustrated books my parents bought for me to encourage my interests. It might have been Walt Disney’s Fantasia,with its primal images of fire and transformation, hunger and disaster and death. (It definitely wasn’t Jurassic Park – I was already obsessed before that movie came out.) But I think it was probably earlier than any of those. In first and second grade, I remember trying to turn every school assignment into an opportunity to write my own story about dinosaurs, complete with illustrations, which I made by drawing the same dinosaur shapes with a stencil over and over…

(Read the whole post on Substack)

Everything Is True: An Introduction

It’s been a weird-ass year.

The pandemic and other world events have changed the ways we live our lives. That includes autistic people, maybe not more than most, but maybe a little differently. If we live alone, then the peace and quiet we crave is not just available but mandatory – maybe even more than we want. If we live with people, there’s even less getting away from them than before. If we are looking for social connections that work for us, they’re harder and harder to find.

I’ve been getting creative…

(Read the whole post on Substack)

MILLION-YEAR ELEGIES – now in print!

Surprise! The release date was supposed to be a month from now, but Amazon doesn’t like doing print pre-orders, so as soon as I uploaded the final print designs for Million-Year Elegies, it became available as a paperback. Happy accidental book day!

Here’s the purchase link on Amazon.com, and I’m told that it’s gone live on most of the other national Amazons as well. If you order now, in some areas, you might get the paperback delivered by Valentine’s Day, which would be a lovely treat if you or someone you love is into dinosaur poetry.

You can also read the table of contents, prologue, and acknowlegements with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

The Kindle edition’s release date is still going to be March 9, and we’re also going to have the official launch event on Twitter on March 9 – stay tuned here for more announcements closer to that date.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 63: Power to Yield

Today’s Book:“Power to Yield,” a novella by Bogi Takács, published in Clarkesworld

The Plot: A young woman named Oyārun develops a fascination with a man named Aramīn – a controversial political figure who helped found her world in its current form, and who puts volunteers through agonizing magical transformations in order to keep that world safe.

Autistic Character(s): Oyārun, plus almost everyone else on her planet, because we’re back in the Ereni universe, yay!

Those of you who’ve been around for a little while will know how much I like the Ereni universe, in which there is a whole planet of autistic people with magical powers who have developed a culture of their own. “Power to Yield” shows us a corner of that universe that might not be what we expected. Other stories have mentioned the System, a magical shared consciousness that helps manage daily life on Eren; “Power to Yield” shows us how the System is made and maintained, why it is necessary, and what the price is. Ereni volunteers contribute to the System by merging their consciousness with the System for a period of time, through a process that Aramīn invented – but it is difficult for human minds to process so much magical information at once, even with preparation. The process of doing so is intensely painful, yet strangely compelling and even addictive.

This is a premise that incorporates many of Takács’ favorite themes – magical power and how to control it, neurodivergence, transformations, and non-sexual BDSM – but it might just go deeper into them than any story I’ve seen from Takács before.

“Power to Yield” is also set earlier in the timeline than much of Takács’ other work, when both Ereni society and the System are still new. The System, or something like it, is necessary because of the extremely high level of magic on Eren – without something in place to control it at a large scale, the planet would spawn monsters and other dangerous effects that would make it almost impossible to live there.

Aramīn is a neurodivergent character both by Ereni standards and by our own. He’s not autistic; instead, he is referred to with the slang term “Falconer.” In context, he seems to have something like ASPD. He has much less affective empathy than other people (though not none), and he has to set strict rules for himself in order to conform to the moral standards of the society he’s in. Even though Aramīn was a pivotal figure in the Ereni independence movement, people on Eren fear and distrust him because of his neurotype – except those who have worked with him in the System, who speak of him very highly indeed.

This ambiguity is a part of what draws Oyārun to Aramīn; after researching him for a school assignment, she becomes so fascinated with him that he becomes her new special interest. I love how the idea of special interests is worked into Ereni culture in this story. There is a word for them (“abuwen”) in the Ereni language, and there are robust online communities where Ereni discuss their special interests with others who share them; there are even intriguing hints of a sort of abuwen hierarchy, with abuwen being considered differently based on whether they are actively helpful, harmless (as with Oyārun’s previous abuwen, artistic paper folding), or potentially harmful. Unfortunately a special interest in a real, living person falls into that latter category – it’s not unheard of, but it can become a problem very fast.

I don’t know if the timing was a coincidence, but shortly after this story was released, I saw some discourse floating around on Twitter, saying that fixations on other people shouldn’t be considered special interests, because they are harmful. To classify a harmful thing as an autistic trait, according to this argument, would either be to condone the harmful thing (because the poor little autistic people who have the fixation can’t help it) or to imply that autism is inherently harmful. I disagree with this discourse, actually. I think it’s worthwhile to note that some autistic traits – and traits of many other forms of neurodivergence – can cause harm if they are not handled properly. I think it’s worthwhile for us to sit with that.

In any case, Takács sits with it in this story, and e resists the urge to tie the situation up with a tidy lesson. Oyārun worries that her abuwen will be harmful, and tries to suppress it – but that doesn’t stop her from eventually stalking Aramīn until he discovers her. Aramīn isn’t especially upset, but he in turn worries that, if he accepts Oyārun’s offer to work with him in the System, he’ll be taking advantage of her. From one point of view, her abuwen makes her vulnerable in a way other volunteers aren’t. Yet the System is desperately short on volunteers, and if she’s willing to do the work, then he needs her.

The results of this collaboration – successful on its face – remain emotionally ambiguous to the end. Is Oyārun’s work with the System a noble self-sacrifice? Is it somehow wrong? Is it necessary? Maybe, the story suggests, it’s all of those things. And maybe everyone on the planet Eren – Oyārun and Aramīn most of all – is just going to have to live with it.

The Verdict: Recommended-1

Climbing Lightly Through Forests

“Climbing Lightly Through Forests” is out today! It’s a tribute anthology in honor of Ursula K. LeGuin, and the poems are by an incredible collection of speculative poetry luminaries from around the world. Also me. I’m in it.

RB Lemberg and Lisa M. Bradley did the brilliant work of reaching out to poets and curating poems for this antho. RB solicited me directly, saying that they had collected a great deal of wonderful work for this book already but still felt they were missing my voice.

I was hesitant. I had read and liked some of LeGuin’s work before and understood how important she was to speculative fiction, but surely the work of writing meaningful tribute to her should be done by others? LeGuin scholars? Superfans? I didn’t know what to say.

RB listed some works of LeGuin’s that they did not have poems about yet for the book. One was “The Lathe of Heaven.”

“I think I didn’t like that one,” I said.

“Why not?” said RB. We talked.

Eventually RB, in their wisdom, suggested I read it again.

I got “The Lathe of Heaven” from my university library, read it again, and was immediately captivated. It was a very different book from the one I remembered reading in high school – or, more accurately, I am now a very different person. What I thought I’d read in high school was a treatise on why we shouldn’t try to change the world because nothing will get better. What I found myself reading, in my 30s, was something quite different – a story about abuse of power, about the control and the nature of power. A story about a man who experiences something he can’t control, and about the man who tries to bend that experience forcefully to his own will, under the guise of helping. Of course it all gets fucked up immediately. In my 30s, now that I’ve lived, these are rich themes for me.

So I found myself writing a poem in response to “The Lathe of Heaven” quite easily, and with gratitude to RB for guiding me to look at it again. My poem is called “Dream Logic.” I hope you’ll read it, and I hope it fits in among the work of these countless other amazing poets.

As an addendum, I also want to say that I’ve worked with RB before, and that the kind of process I’ve just described is something that is often missing from discussions about how to edit and curate work diversely. Even with a friendly banner in the submission guidelines saying that marginalized people’s work is welcome, marginalized people are often more hesitant to include themselves than others, quicker to conclude that they don’t belong, or that this particular project isn’t “theirs.” I would never have written this poem that fits into RB and Lisa’s anthology if RB hadn’t taken the time to talk with me, if they hadn’t known both me and the work well enough to patiently make the suggestions they did.

To do this kind of thing as an editor requires not only a welcoming attitude and willingness to do emotional labor – it requires *connectedness.* It requires a deep knowledge of who is in the field that others might overlook and what those individuals might need from you. It’s privilege that I’ve been able to stick around in this field long enough to make these kinds of connections. But it’s also deliberate work on the part of RB and many others who have worked to include me and others like me. RB and Lisa are very good at this work, and I’m *really* excited to read the collection in its final form with all the work from all these different wonderful poets.