Announcing THE FALLEN

For a long time the most frequent question people have asked me about THE OUTSIDE is, “Will there be a sequel?”

THE OUTSIDE stands on its own, but its ending suggests many future possibilities and further ways the characters’ arcs could develop.

I am pleased to finally be able to announce that a sequel, tentatively titled THE FALLEN, is officially under development.

Watch this space for more news.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 57: No Child Left Behind

Today’s Book: “No Child Left Behind” by Claudia Casser

The Plot: A visitor from a parellel universe creates a prep school for neurodivergent Earth teenagers and refugee teens from his home world.

Autistic Character(s): The author; Geoff, the main viewpoint character, is also a teen with ADHD.

This is a book that has some cool ideas, but that I really struggled to get into because of the writing style. It’s a book whose early chapters seem to flit from thought to thought without much sense of context, stakes, or how it feels to be the various POV characters.

I do like some aspects of the way Geoff is written. The way his mind races is very realistic for a teen with ADHD. For instance, here’s an excerpt from when one of the characters explains to him that people from their universe have electromagnetism-related psychic powers:

Holy cow. Holy cow squared. You could do a lot of stuff with electromagnetic bursts.

You could fry pacemakers and memory beads. Could you fry cell phones? I shoved mine deeper into the back pocket of my jeans. Could you fry neurons? Had Lord Kemp fried my Mom’s neurons when he shook her hand? Is that why she was letting me sleep over? How could I stop them from frying my neurons? Could I find something to fry their neurons if they tried to fry mine? My foot was tapping like crazy.

But this excerpt also exemplifies what I found frustrating, because before any of these questions is addressed or before Geoff can make up his mind to do anything about them, another topic comes up and distracts everyone. This is fairly typical of how exposition and character interactions are handled throughout the part of the book that I read.

It’s also not solely a feature of how Geoff is characterized. An adult from the other universe named Lord Kemp, also has POV time; the style in his chapters is very similar to Geoff’s style. He says and does zany things, and it’s vaguely shown what his motivations are (he wants to build a school on his estate and doesn’t understand why zoning laws prohibit this), but the scene still kind of flits around without much context or illustration of what he’s sensing or feeling, or why he reacts the way he does.

I mentioned a long time ago, in my review of “Kea’s Flight,” how modes of communication that are natural for non-neurotypical people – like, in that case, infodumping – are sometimes classified as bad writing by neurotypicals. It can be worthwhile to push past that initial impression to understand what that communication style means for the characters. (I’ve reviewed other books in which I felt that long infodumps worked particularly well for building the characters, including “2312” and “Experimental Film.“) I feel bad that I couldn’t follow that advice with “No Child Left Behind.” For a reader with ADHD the aimless flitting around might feel exhilarating and relatable. It just happens to be something that I personally bounced off of pretty hard, and that made it a struggle for me to keep reading or to emotionally invest.

After I reviewed the very triggery “Mirror Project,” I decided to make a rule that I was allowed to DNF (did not finish) Autistic Book Party books if I wanted to. (I had also previously DNFed “Dance For The Ivory Madonna,” which was not triggery but just very badly written.) “No Child Left Behind” isn’t full of triggers, and it isn’t entirely bad the way “Dance For The Ivory Madonna” was. But it’s not working for me, and in the interests of getting to other autistic books in a reasonable timeframe, I’m going to put it down.

DNFed in chapter 6.

The Verdict: YMMV, but I didn’t like it

Disclosure: I read this book because Claudia Casser offered me a free review copy. This is the only interaction I have had with the author.

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.

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

Cover of the "Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019" anthology. The title and the names of the editors (Carmen Maria Machado and John Joseph Adams) appear on the cover. The art on the cover is a woman in a dress, with suggestions of planets and galaxies around her, holding a luminous sphere.

Things have been hectic and I am more than a week delayed in announcing this, but the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 anthology is out, including my story, “Variations on a Theme from Turandot,” which was first published in Strange Horizons. I’m honored to be included in such excellent company.

And check out that beautiful cover art! I’m only partway through reading the anthology and I don’t know what, if anything, the cover was intended to illustrate; but I can easily picture it as Liù, from my story, holding the Prince’s soul in her hands.

(I am also continually amused to have been included in this anthology from way up here in Canada, but apparently “Best American”‘s official policy is that it includes both Canada and the US. Ok!)

A Note For Dreamwidth Friends

Hello, Dreamwidth friends! I have been terribly, horribly negligent about the plugin I use that has been mirroring my posts from WordPress to Dreamwidth, and I somehow failed to realize that I had changed my password and that the mirroring stopped working. In, like, April. Whoops. Like, I was still reading my Dreamwidth friends list but just… not posting anything that showed up.

I believe I’ve fixed the problem. I believe I am also THE WORST at this. If you’ve missed me, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve been up to these past six months.

First of all:

A few things I wrote around the web as promo for THE OUTSIDE:

Other new work:

Autistic Book Party posts:

Cool Story, Bro:

Enjoy! It should be back to normal from here on out on Dreamwidth.

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 Takács, “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]

*

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]

*

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]

*

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]

*

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]

*

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]

Cool Story, Bro: My Favorite Short Works From July and August

Megan Arkenberg, “The Night Princes” (Nightmare, Issue 81)

This is a story about war, trauma, helplessness, and the stories that one young woman tells, Scheherezade-like, in order to make it through the night. But what really fascinates me about it are the intricate ways that the world of the story and the “real” world echo each other, sometimes obvious and poignant, sometimes resisting easy interpretation.

*

Isabel Cañas, “No Other Life” (Nightmare, Issue 82)

This is everything I want in a vampire short story: romantic, darkly sensual, wistful, and queer.

*

Theodora Goss, “The Cinder Girl Burns Brightly” (Uncanny, Issue Twenty-Eight)

I have seen a lot of twists on the story of Cinderella before, but I hadn’t yet seen THIS one. Nicely done.

*

Ali Trotta, “The Magician Speaks to the Fool” (Uncanny, Issue Twenty-Eight)

A powerful Tarot-themed poem about life lessons, complexity, and courage.

*

D.H. Kelly, “The Furious Chisel” (The Future Fire, Issue 2019.50)

I really like this novelette about a disabled woman who reprograms her caregiver robot, and the robot who may be slowly gaining self-awareness as a result. I like the way the human and the robot have a helpful and respectful relationship instead of being pitted against each other, even when they’re faced with difficult conflicts of interest. I like how it resists easy answers about what sentience and personhood mean, what rights accompany them, how you can tell they’re there, or what should be done as a result – but how the narrator is deeply thoughtful about these things, and respects the robot’s ability to choose in the limited ways available to her.

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

I’m so happy for all the people, including some people I know and some authors I am a huge fan of, who won at the Hugo Awards this weekend! (And if you count everyone who participates in AO3 as a co-winner then that’s even more people, gosh. I’m happy for them, too.)

I have been staying at home doing my own, non-Worldcon things, but I do have a happy little announcement for those who haven’t seen it yet: my story Variations on a Theme from Turandot will be reprinted in the BASFF 2019 anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams and Carmen Maria Machado.

This is a huge honor and I’m very pleased. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Variations yet, it’s still up in Strange Horizons where you can see what the fuss is about for free. 🙂

Autistic Book Party, Episode 56: Ghost in the Machine

Today’s Book: “Ghost in the Machine” by C.E. Kilgore

The Plot: Orynn, a Vesparian – a member of a powerful, secretive race of empaths – falls in love with an android named Ethan, while the two of them are assigned to a diplomatic mission in space.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

I’ve been noticing (partly thanks to some intrepid commenters!) that although I have my mainstay favorite autistic SFF authors, most of whom are traditionally published, there’s also a lot going on with autistic SFF in the indie publishing world. And while I’ve read and recommended self-published books before (including “Failure to Communicate,” my first and so-far-only Highly Recommended novel), I’m often only barely aware of what goes on in that side of the industry. Plus I was looking for a happier read, so I decided this time around to branch out into something much less familiar to me – an indie SF romance. I listed several speculative romance options for my Patreon backers, and this was the one that generated the most interest, so I gave it a try.

In “Ghost in the Machine” we meet our heroine, Orynn, who is a complex, multifaceted character and easily my favorite person in the book. Young by Vesparian standards, caring and in many ways unsure of herself, Orynn is bound by a set of strict cultural rules aimed at keeping her people safe, including the requirement that she erase herself from non-Vesparians’ memories after working with them. In some ways, she is fabulously powerful, able to influence and command the minds of everyone around her and to disguise herself effortlessly, taking on an endless series of contrasting cover identities. In other ways, she is very fragile – both emotionally and physically, as she requires hidden assistive technology even to deal with the gravity that humans and other races consider normal.

Most of all, Orynn is afraid of the consequences of her power, which can be used very destructively if she lashes out and loses control, and which can also be a security risk for other Vesparians; part of the reason why they’re so secretive is because they were brutally enslaved and used as weapons in the past. But the requirement that no non-Vesparian should ever remember her weighs heavily on Orynn:

At almost two hundred years of age, Orynn was still considered young by her people’s standards, and so her lapse in emotional control from time to time had to be expected. It wasn’t the real reason Tersai was having second thoughts about taking her on the mission, and Orynn knew it. The largest concern, or rather the largest disappointment, continued to be Orynn’s desire to exist.

Vesparians are so secretive that the word “exist” has a special meaning for them – meaning, roughly, to have a prolonged acknowledged presence in the minds of non-Vesparians, without being disguised as a member of some other race – and is forbidden.

Orynn isn’t an autistic character, but she’s a kind of escapist fantasy that I think will appeal to many autistic women. Many of us can relate to being social chameleons, or to being hyperempathic and very aware of others’ cues, and Orynn has both those abilities to a deliciously exaggerated degree. Her fragility and vulnerability, behind her many public faces, is equally relatable. Many of us know well what it feels like to be afraid of what we’ll do if we melt down, or to worry that in some sense we aren’t real people the way everyone else is. Orynn carries an exaggerated, escapist version of these fears as well, and all in all she feels like a romantic heroine designed for us.

I was less thoroughly won over by Ethan, the android (or Mecha, as they’re called in Kilgore’s universe). He’s all right; he’s intelligent and has a wry sense of humor. Although the back cover copy makes it sound otherwise, Ethan is already capable of a basic range of emotions when the story begins. We see him amused, annoyed, fond of his friends, fearful, even angry; many Mecha are capable of these things, although Ethan is particularly “evolved.” He is also sexually active, having a long string of casual encounters with random women who are sexually curious about Mecha. But he’s never been sexually or emotionally attracted to anyone before, and his feelings for Orynn are so incomprehensible to him that at first he mistakes them for her having somehow empathically tampered with him.

I’m not aromantic, but I know the trope of an android learning to love can be problematic for aro readers, especially if romantic love is somehow privileged or separated from other emotions. Ethan’s arc doesn’t lean very hard (as far as I could tell) into the worst aspects of this trope, but it still is this trope at its heart, and it doesn’t subvert the trope’s potentially acephobic traits, nor does the book ever show self-awareness by pointing out that ace/aro orientations exist in humans or that they are okay ways to be. (It’s also very much not a story arc about demisexuality/demiromanticism, as Ethan’s feelings for Orynn appear very suddenly and at a time when he doesn’t know her well.)

The story’s romantic arc in general feels a bit overwrought to me, piling up every possible reason for the characters to be anguished about themselves and each other at once, and often not addressing or resolving those reasons well. And as soon as the largest of those reasons are at least somewhat resolved, both characters leap quickly into a very extreme level of romantic commitment to each other. I know instant lifelong commitment is a trope some romance readers really enjoy, but it’s one of my least favorites and I wasn’t super happy with it.

Speaking of romance and tropes, I’m only a casual reader of romance, but I know there are fairly strong expectations in romance about happy endings. I was startled to discover that “Ghost in the Machine” lacks one. It’s the first in a series, and even after Orynn and Ethan romantically commit to each other, the book manages to partially undo that and to end on a very anguished cliffhanger.

There were a few other things I didn’t like, including some moments of casual misogyny and slutshaming that go unchallenged, and a very tropey physically disabled villain who is introduced at the last minute.

Overall, this book didn’t really work for me, but I’m glad I met Orynn. If you like romantic space opera with lots of feels, and you’re not bothered by the tropes I complained about here, then you might try it out.

The Verdict: YMMV

Disclosure: I have never interacted with C.E. Kilgore. I obtained an ecopy of this book by “buying” it from Amazon (in quotes because it was being offered there for free).

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.

Fairest of All

I have a new novelette, “Fairest of All,” out in the Jubilee 50th issue of the Future Fire.

I originally began to write this back in 2016, with a fairytale-themed anthology in mind, but it quickly ballooned out much too large for that anthology’s requirements. It’s a story that fought me every step of the way and I’ve often outright hated its existence. It’s also one of the most intensely, obnoxiously #ownvoices short stories I’ve ever written. The characters are autistic, they’re polyamorous, they’re abuse survivors; at least two are queer, and one is genderqueer (and also a talking anthropomorphic otter, long story); they make a lot of mistakes but are trying their best to find love and community with each other and to escape the multiple different structures that have hurt them.

This story isn’t based on an existing fairytale, but it plays with many familiar fairytale themes: simple language, kindnesses repaid, arbitrary fairy rules both beneficial and malicious, the importance of a heart’s desire. Changeling folklore, including its more violent aspects, also explicitly plays in to how this story works. (If that’s of interest to you, you might read the story in parallel with my small rant about changelings at the beginning of this review.)

(In case you couldn’t tell from the above descriptions, there is a lot of abuse in this story, both in the form of child abuse and of abusive adult relationships. Proceed with caution if this is triggery for you. The first scene is the worst; if you make it through that one, you’re probably okay.)

As a longer novelette, there aren’t a lot of markets for fiction of this length, and I’m grateful to The Future Fire for taking a chance on this weird, personal, deceptively simple but difficult story.