Autistic Book Party, Episode 27: Defying Doomsday

I’m going to be doing something a little different today, reviewing an anthology – Short Story Smorgasbord-style – rather than a novel.

The stories in “Defying Doomsday” revolve around a deceptively simple question: what happens to disabled people when civilization ends? Post-apocalyptic literature too often either assumes that we will die – that an apocalypse reduces humanity to “survival of the fittest”, and that disabled people are by definition unfit – or forgets to chart our place in the narrative at all. “Defying Doomsday” consciously takes a different view, showing us disabled people’s stories in the apocalypse, centering their humanity and their desire to survive, even if the ability to do so is in doubt (and while it’s dire for everyone, it’s not always as dire for disabled people as one might assume).

The whole anthology covers a broad spectrum of different disabilities and is well worth a read, even though the grim subject matter can sometimes make it a difficult one. Four stories in the anthology involve autistic characters and/or authors, so here at Autistic Book Party we will review the book by taking a closer look at these four.

*

Corinne Duyvis, “And the Rest of Us Wait” (Defying Doomsday, May 2016)

[Autistic author] Set in the same apocalyptic Netherlands as “On the Edge of Gone“, this story focuses on a different main character – not an autistic girl like Denise, but a refugee singer with spina bifida, whose name is Iveta. Unlike Denise, Iveta makes it to a temporary shelter, but things at the shelter start to go wrong, including a permanent loss of electrical power. The plot is less complex than the plot of the novel, but if anything, the ableism of people around Iveta and her uncertainty about her future are depicted with an even more brutal honesty. Iveta truly doesn’t know if she’ll survive, but she fiercely self-advocates and holds on to her humanity throughout. [Recommended]

*

Seanan McGuire, “Something in the Rain” (Defying Doomsday, May 2016)

(ETA: For an additional note about this story, see this post.)

A grimly amusing story in which a teenage girl with autism and schizophrenia is the good guy, a manipulative neurotypical bully is the bad guy, and the bad guy gets her comeuppance in the end. It’s drawn in very broad strokes, sometimes at the expense of psychological accuracy, which will bother some readers; the remorseless means by which the protagonist resolves her problems will bother others. On the whole, though, I found it a satisfying story which is emphatically on the autistic protagonist’s side. [YMMV, but I liked it]

*

Rivqa Rafael, “Two Somebodies Go Hunting” (Defying Doomsday, May 2016)

A story about a boy named Jeff and his physically disabled sister, Lex. I read Jeff as autistic due to a variety of factors which may or may not have been intended that way. I felt that Jeff’s autistic traits were appropriately varied, subtle (at times), and realistic. But I could have done with a bit less focus on Lex’s annoyance with him, even though it turns out to have a non-autism-related underlying reason in the end. [YMMV]

*

Bogi Tak√°cs, “Given Sufficient Desparation” (Defying Doomsday)

[Autistic author] Aliens have invaded and convinced some humans to work for them at menial tasks. Both the aliens and anti-alien resistance groups are ableist, but in different ways. The protagonist has motor dyspraxia which the author shares, and which limits their ability to fit in with either group. They end up stumbling onto a third option, but even this option may raise as many problems as it solves. An interesting story underscoring what happens when neither side of a conflict makes room for everyone. [Recommended]

Autistic Book Party, Episode 15 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord!

Adrienne J. Odasso, “Letters to Lost Friends & Imaginary Lovers” (Strong Verse, November 2012)

[Autistic author.] A poem. Not about autism, but about connections and the loss of the same. Given that we are so often accused of being unable to form or desire connections in the first place, this is important. It is also very pretty, and very sharp with its evocation of specific emotions. [Recommended]

*

Alex Dally MacFarlane, “Thin Slats of Metal, Painted” (Crossed Genres, Issue #1, January 2013)

Jess is a young girl with a strong interest in measuring things, who interacts with paintings as though they have feelings and agency. I read her as autistic, though I don’t know if that was the author’s intent. I’m not entirely happy with the way her imaginary life is handled, for reasons that are somewhat idiosyncratic to me and have very little to do with autism per se. But MacFarlane does an excellent job of showing that Jess is highly imaginative and empathic despite her solitary existence. As a result, the story rings true. [YMMV]

*

A.C. Buchanan (writing as Anna Caro), “Built in a Day” (Luna Station Quarterly Issue 013, 2013)

[Autistic author.] This story involves a strange planet, a time loop, and a person whose past and future selves work together to build a city but cannot directly interact. The ending has the protagonist learning to end her isolation, and I am conflicted about this: part of me wants to say, “Why can’t one of us stay alone and be happy that way, for once?” But even I do not really want to be alone forever, and there is nothing ableist or condescending about the way Caro drives the story to its conclusion. I think my discomfort here is a sign that the author is engaging effectively with themes that are highly emotional for many autistic people, including myself. This makes it, in turn, an important story. [Recommended]

*

Meda Kahn, “That’s Entertainment” (Strange Horizons, November 2014)

[Autistic author.] A story about disability being used as exploitative entertainment and exploitative entertainment being used as activism. This one didn’t drop-kick me in the feels quite as hard as “Difference of Opinion”, but it’s very smart, very on-point and very sad. [Recommended]

*

Luna Lindsey, “Meltdown in Freezer Three” (The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, December 2014)

[Autistic author.] Like Macfarlane’s story, but to an even greater extent, “Meltdown” deals with the persistent animism experienced by some autistic people. Unfortunately the whole thing is a little too cartoony for my tastes, and the plot doesn’t entirely hold together. (Why are a pair of small children suddenly trying to violently destroy an ice cream truck? Who is supervising all of these children? And where does Corrine get off saying she “doesn’t believe in magic” when there are already tiny “faeliens” living in one of her ice cream freezers?) Still, Lindsey gets props for writing a protagonist who is more visibly developmentally disabled than most, and for an ending which validates Corinne’s atypical thinking style as few endings can. [YMMV+]