More from Disability In Kidlit!

Happy Easter!

Disability In Kidlit has been doing a speculative fiction event these past few weeks. It’s been really interesting to see the different discussions coming out of it, some of which I may link to in my next Autism News post.

I was invited to do a couple of other things besides my “On the Edge of Gone” review. First, I wrote half the questions for this interview with Corinne Duyvis about her books. (It was my first time ever writing an interview for someone. I’m delighted that “do you love cats in real life?” was considered a valid interview question. :D)

I also wrote an original article: “Worldbuilding About, Through, and With Autism“. This article describes three different ways to successfully approach worldbuilding in a story with autistic characters, and three different ways that a setting can impact disabled characters. It’s based on what I’ve seen in the past few years doing Autistic Book Party, and brings in examples from the writing of C.S. Friedman, Rose Lemberg, Meda Kahn, and others.

More updates coming soon. 😀

Autistic Book Party, Episode 22: On the Edge of Gone

Today’s Book: “On the Edge of Gone” by Corinne Duyvis

The Plot: An autistic teenager and her family struggle to survive when a comet hits the earth.

Autistic Character(s): Denise, the protagonist and narrator.

For today’s Autistic Book Party, I have once again partnered with Disability In Kidlit. You can read my review here; the verdict, by the way, is Recommended.

Although Corinne Duyvis is a Disability In Kidlit editor, she was not involved in soliciting or editing this review.

You might be seeing a bit more of me on Disability In Kidlit in the next couple of days.

Kraken Quatrain

After a long wait, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #62 is out, and with it, my poem, “Kraken Quatrain”. Which is what it says on the can. In iambic tetrameter and everything.

I seriously doubt that someone is going to buy a whole issue of a magazine just because of a 4-line poem, but if you were considering buying an issue of ASIM anyway, perhaps this will sweeten the deal.

Autism News, 2016/02/17

Posts about books, writing, and media:

Events in the actual news:

  • For the first time, a U.S. court ruled that it was illegal to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage in sheltered workshops.
  • Shannon des Roches Rosa on Hillary Clinton’s autism plan
  • Kayden Clarke, an autistic self-advocate whose video about a support dog went viral, joins the long list of autistic people killed by police.

Other things:

February news and reviews

The Scrape of Tooth and Bone” has garnered some delightful attention from reviewers.

Maria Haskins added it to a list of weird and wonderful science fiction and fantasy short stories, along with work by Ursula Vernon, Angela Slatter, Nnedi Okorafor, and more:

This is a highly entertaining and uniquely imagined short story that mixes archaeology, dinosaurs, spiritualism, and…robots.

Charles Payseur had some kind things to say about it at Quick Sip Reviews:

The story just does a great job of really fleshing out the world and making Lilian, the main character, deep and layered and compelling… The way in Lilian is both kind of unreliable and yet entirely genuine is charming and endearing and gets across a nice sense of danger and adventure and wonder.

Bogi Takács featured the story on #diversestories on Twitter.

“The Scrape of Tooth and Bone” has also somehow sprouted its own Goodreads page. I think because GigaNotoSaurus stories are also released individually as ebooks?

Penny Stirling added an older story of mine, “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World“, to their list of free online aromantic and asexual fiction. “Rania”‘s narrator is an aromantic teenage girl.

Since the year began, I’ve sold two new poems – one to Breath & Shadow, and one to Asimov’s. More on them later.

Finally, this news is a bit old, but I have an author tumblr account now. For the foreseeable future, I plan to use it pretty lightly (mostly for reposting my WordPress posts, and occasionally reblogging autism stuff), but anyone who likes tumblr and wants to follow me there is free to do so!

About that awful SF Signal post

So this happened. (It would be better to link to a summary by an autistic person, but my time/spoons for trawling around to find one are very limited right now, and Jim explains it well.)

I’ve been very swamped with school. Last night I got home late after running a study with a bunch of people as part of my graduate research, peeked on to Twitter, and found everybody yelling about something.

A lot of people were very angry, triggered, shaking with rage. They’re not wrong to feel that way. My own response to the article was more muted. I was not very angry. I was too tired to be angry. To me it just read like more of the same BS that we get from well-intentioned, but VERY CLUELESS people… all the time. There’s too much of it out there for me to even feel very disappointed by it anymore – except that I was disappointed, profoundly disappointed, that it was showing up in a column which was supposed to be about disability representation.

(Sigh.)

I took another look at all my angry friends, but was too exhausted to respond or even note that I was there, aware of what was going on. Instead I went “fuck this shit,” ate some fruit, read some Darths & Droids because that’s all I had any brains remaining for, and went to bed.

I feel like I should be saying something, because I’m the Autism In SFF Person? But other people have already explained what the problems are. SF Signal has also apologized and taken down the post. (I am more triggered by arguments about whether or not a particular apology was “enough” than I was by the post itself, so I won’t be getting into that side of the discussion.)

Just know, if you’re non-disabled and reading this, that if people’s anger seems disproportionate it’s because we literally get this all the time. There is no escaping it; even bailing out and turning off the computer, as I did, is temporary.

I also want to write a brief note about empaths, because unfortunately, the author of the article opens by claiming to be one. Look, I’m someone who knows and loves empaths. It’s an actual thing. It involves picking up on people’s emotions so strongly that it becomes a sensory experience, sometimes a painfully overwhelming one. (It’s a thing that occurs a lot to people on the autism spectrum, and contributes to sensory overload. It’s not as helpful in dealing with social situations, or even in treating people with respect and courtesy, as one might think – because knowing or even feeling a person’s emotions doesn’t mean you necessarily have a fucking clue what you’re supposed to do about it. It’s also a concept that gets thrown around, distorted, and used unhelpfully in many New Age and neopagan communities, but eh, you could say that about a lot of things.)

When I read the opening of the article, I was actually kinda excited, because I thought, wow, maybe we’re going to have an interesting discussion of empaths from a disability perspective. Unfortunately, instead of describing her experiences and as an empath and how they interact with ableist expectations, the author goes on to just sort of meander around saying condescending and clueless things about people with other disabilities.

I’m not saying we should give the author a free pass for claiming to be an empath. Or anything else. But I’d be happier if we were able to discuss the very large problems with her article without a lot of the snide comments I am seeing about how empaths are not real, or assholes, or how their empathy should work differently, or whatever. Just as how I’d hope that we wouldn’t be making snide comments about any other group identity that the author of this bullshit happened to have. That would be great. Thanks.

The Scrape of Tooth and Bone

Out today in GigaNotoSaurus, is my new novelette, “The Scrape of Tooth and Bone“. It is set in a steampunk fossil expedition in the badlands of western Canada, and features an autistic protagonist. There are also giant robots, dinosaurs, Spiritualism, lesbian romance, and ghosts.

This is an older story, and one where I suspect I might do a few things differently if I was writing it again today. I’m still rather fond of it, though, and am very pleased to be able to share it with you at last. Enjoy!

What I loved reading in 2015

Feels weird doing this at the tail end of January, but better late than never.

 

Short Stories

Two of the stories I recommended for Autistic Book Party were also among my general favorites for the year. These are Rose Lemberg’s Birdverse stories, “Grandmother Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” and “Geometries of Belonging“.

Other favorites from the year include:

Heather Clitheroe, “Wild Things Got to Go Free“.

S.L. Huang, “By Degrees and Dilatory Time“.

Naomi Kritzer, “Cat Pictures Please“.

Kelly Link, “The Game of Smash and Recovery“.

Carmen Maria Machado, “Descent“.

Sam J. Miller, “When Your Child Strays From God“.

 

Long Poetry

By far the best long poem I read in 2015 was “Long Shadow” by Rose Lemberg. Here are other ones I very much enjoyed:

Theodora Goss, “Lady Winter“.

Theodora Goss, “Snow White Learns Witchcraft“.

Theodora Goss, “Swan Girls“.

Rose Lemberg, “archival testimony fragments / minersong“.

M. Sereno, “Adarna“.

This list makes my reading habits look much more limited and selective than they actually were. It’s my favoriting habits that were selective this year. I suppose I have particular tastes.

 

Short Poetry

Kayla Bashe, “Changeling Manifesto“.

Theodora Goss, “The Stepsister’s Tale“.

Peter Medeiros, “Dronin’“.

Virginia M. Mohlere, “Where Secrets Are Placed“.

Alyssa Wong, “For the Gardener’s Daughter“.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 21: The Speed of Dark

Today’s Book: “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon

The Plot: When scientists develop an experimental treatment that might cure autism in adults, a group of autistic adults working at a pharmaceutical company is pressured to undergo the treatment to keep their jobs.

Autistic Character(s): Lou Arrendale – the protagonist – along with his co-workers.

Well.

This is by far my most-requested review, and I’m embarrassed that it took me until now to get to. Whenever I say, “Hi, I’m Ada Hoffmann and I review speculative fiction with autistic characters,” someone always wants to know, “What did you think of The Speed of Dark?” And then I hem and haw, because I’ve Heard A Lot About It – Both Good And Bad – But Haven’t Read It. Now I’ve read it, so I’m actually qualified to have an opinion of my own. That’s a relief.

This book is, in my tiny corner of disability fandom, A Big Deal. Possibly The Biggest Deal. Some people loathe it. Some people adore it.

It’s also a cure decision story.

So. If you want to know why I don’t like cure decision stories, you should read that link. After reading “The Speed of Dark”, well, I still don’t like cure decision stories. (I’ll also note that some autistic people do want to be cured – I was reminded of this last fall at Can*Con. Not all autistic people have the same opinions as each other! The opinions stated here are, as always, my own.)

But there’s a lot more to say about “The Speed of Dark” besides “it’s a cure decision story”. Some of that is good, and some is bad.

Here’s the good first. “The Speed of Dark” is more nuanced than I was expecting. Specifically, it shows an awareness – which I hadn’t seen before in any other cure narrative – of the complicated power dynamics that go into discussions of cures. Here’s a quote from the first scene:

If they aren’t going to listen, why should I talk?
I know better than to say that out loud. Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think and saying what they want me to say…
Dr. Fornum crisp and professional, raises an eyebrow and shakes her head not quite imperceptibly. Autistic persons do not understand these signals; the book sys so. I have read the book, so I know what it is I do not understand.
What I haven’t figured out yet is the range of things they don’t understand. The normals. The reals. The ones who have the degrees and sit behind the desks in comfortable chairs.
I know some of what she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know that I can read. She thinks I’m hyperlexic, just parroting the words. The difference between what she calls parroting and what she does when she reads is imperceptible to me.

From the very beginning, Moon writes Lou as a character who is aware of much more than what “autism professionals” believe he should be aware of; who is aware, and critical, of the ableist attitudes that surround him; and who has learned to make compromises, as real autistic people do, in order to navigate that ableist world and survive.

That ableist world has an impact on the major decisions of the story. Lou and his co-workers are not asked politely if they would like to be cured. They are pushed towards a cure, through most of the book, by a deeply unlikeable, pointy-haired CEO who has decided that he will fire them if they choose to remain autistic – even though the job at which they work is specifically one that takes advantage of their autistic strengths in pattern recognition. (Lou is a patterns thinker, and it’s implied that his co-workers all are as well.) It’s a deeply unjust and rather terrifying situation, and also illegal, as many characters in many scenes point out. Doubly so because the “cure” is an experimental treatment, never tested on humans before. There’s no guarantee it will work. There’s no way to predict exactly how much and in what ways the characters will change if they go through with it.

Lou thinks and talks about the injustice of his situation – as he should. He’s deeply confused by it and unsure of what to do for most of the book, but he’s aware that this is something his company should not be doing, that it’s not fair to make him and his co-workers choose between invasive medical treatment and losing their jobs, that the people involved – regardless of what they might say – do not have his best interests at heart. This makes his ruminations about what to do a good deal more interesting than the ruminations of a typical cure decision story protagonist.

This brings us to one of the things I liked less about the book, which is the bizarre disparity in what kind of actions different characters can take against this injustice. Lou is aware that his situation is unfair; everybody in the situation is aware of this. But the people who get to react against it fully – the people who get to say, holy shit, this is fucked up and dangerous and illegal as hell, this is not okay, Lou, let me get you a lawyer – are not autistic. Invariably, for some reason, they’re Lou’s neurotypical friends.

I want to be careful how I say this. It’s not that Moon thinks neurotypicals are great. There are a lot of bad NTs, like the people who devised this experiment in the first place, and Lou’s boss, and Lou’s stalker (yes, there is a stalker subplot, which if nothing else is a welcome distraction from the cure decision). There are also NTs who mean well but are mostly ineffectual, such as Lou’s immediate supervisor (who frustrates me, and that’s all I’m going to say about that). There are also good NTs. This is fine. The good NTs are, without exception, able to stand up for Lou, to insist that what’s happening to him is wrong, and to offer concrete help. They’re never ableist by accident or oblivious to an ableist issue. They even, mysteriously, know more about neurodiversity issues than Lou does:

“Lou, you’ve been holding out on us. You’re a genius.”
“It may be a splinter skill,” I say. Tom’s expression scares me; if he thinks I am a genius maybe he will not want to let me fence with them.
“Splinter skill, hooey,” Luciea says. She sounds angry; I feel my stomach clenching. “Not you,” she says quickly. “But the whole concept of splinter skills is so… antiquated. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses; everybody fails to generalize many of the skills that they have.”

All of which would also be fine, except that the other autistic people in the story never get to have these traits. The autistic people in the story have a community where they genuinely interact, and they can be confused and upset at what’s happening to them, but that’s about as far as their self-advocacy (or their advocacy for each other) ever goes.

The only autistic person who consistently and emphatically says that she does not want a cure, that a cure is not okay, is a woman named Linda. Lou and Linda don’t particularly like each other. Linda’s beliefs about autistic community are so extreme that she actively discourages Lou from making any friends who aren’t developmentally disabled; he should “be with his own kind”. Linda’s friend Emmy, who is not autistic, but has an unspecified related disability, takes these beliefs even further, and takes to following Lou and harassing him because she heard that he has a crush on an NT woman. (Emmy is not the stalker in the stalker subplot, but it’s implied that she could be. I should note here that I’m sure people with these beliefs exist somewhere, but I’ve never encountered them, and I follow a lot of activist-type people who REALLY hate cures.)

Autistic people in “The Speed of Dark” can’t seem to advocate for themselves unless they are unlikeable extremists – and even then, their advocacy is not particularly effective. Yet several NT characters, even though it’s not clear how they learned anything about neurodiversity before knowing Lou, get to advocate for Lou perfectly.

People talk about White Saviors in fiction who somehow get to be better at solving POC’s problems than the POC themselves are. I’m tempted to call Lou’s friends Neurotypical Saviors, but that might be appropriative. Let’s just say that it does not reflect my experiences with autistic and NT people in real life.

Anyway, apart from having some neurotypical savior friends and wondering what to do about being pressured into a cure, Lou gets to do several other interesting things. He competes in a fencing tournament and does quite well! He deals with his stalker in what ends up being a satisfying manner. He has philosophical thoughts about physics. There’s a lot of material in here that’s actually pleasant to read, and Lou spends a lot of time learning and growing, finding that he can embrace change and do things he hadn’t thought he could do.

So what does the learned and grown Lou end up eventually doing about his cure decision? To talk about that, I’m afraid we will have to go behind the cut, because there are SPOILERS. Big ones. ENDING SPOILERS. Seriously – this is a book about which a LOT of people say, “I liked it except for the ending.” So to talk about what I really think of “The Speed of Dark”, I am going to have to tell you the /entire/ ending. In detail. You’ve been warned.

Ready?

Continue reading “Autistic Book Party, Episode 21: The Speed of Dark”