Autistic Book Party, Episode 30 And A Half: Short Story Smorgasbord – Award Edition!

Today I’m going to do something a little bit special. I worried that, by separating my Recommended stories into Recommended-1 (for stories with autistic characters, regardless of author) and Recommended-2 (for stories by autistic authors with no autistic characters in them), I would be somehow ghettoizing the work of autistic authors. Instead, I feel freer and more excited about reviewing stories that would go in the Recommended-2 category. I’m no longer putting pressure on myself to justify why these works are as relevant to Autism Issues as the Recommended-1 stories; I can let them be their own, good, thing.

In this spirit, I want to review four short works by autistic authors that are up for awards this year. Let’s celebrate some autistic award nominees!

*

Rose Lemberg, “The Ash Manifesto” (Strange Horizons, October 10, 2016)

[Autistic author] A powerful poem about personal strength (and un-strength), written in gorgeous, mythic words. “The Ash Manifesto” was one of my favourite speculative poems of 2016, and is one of two poems of Lemberg’s to be nominated for the Rhysling award this year. [Recommended-2]

*

A. Merc Rustad, “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door” (Fireside, January 2016)

[Autistic author] A 2016 Nebula finalist, this is a subversive take on portal fantasies in which two friends in different worlds attempt to fix the malfunctioning portal that is keeping them apart. It’s a short, sweet tale with a firm emphasis on the value of community and connection, and some gorgeous, surreal descriptions. There is also some minor, but nice, queer content. [Recommended-2]

*

A.J. Odasso – “Nothing Goes Away” (The New England Review of Books, November 30, 2016)

[Autistic author] A poem that uses beautiful language to describe a moment of inaccuracy by a doctor, and the sheer density of thought that can occur in a moment in response. I don’t know if this poem is autobiographical, but it is certainly meant to be read as the experience of an autistic person who is similar to the author, and it succeeds at that. It is one of three poems of Odasso’s that are nominated for the Rhysling award this year. [Recommended-1]

*

Bogi Takacs, “Marginalia on Eiruvin 45b” (Bracken, issue ii)

[Autistic author] A poem about a character, like some of Takács’ fictional protagonists, who accumulates intense levels of magical power in their body and has to learn to let some of it go. (Eiruvin 45b is a verse from the Talmud, which, as far as Google can tell me, has to do with movement and water – but you don’t have to be a Talmudic scholar to understand the basic events in the poem and appreciate the way they are described.) “Marginalia” is a Rhysling nominee this year in the short category. [Recommended-2]

*

Of course I cannot review my own work, but just to round out the set, I will note here that my own short poem, “The Giantess’s Dream“, has also been nominated for this year’s Rhyslings.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 28 And A Half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Pat Murphy, “Inappropriate Behavior” (scifi.com, 2004; reprinted in Escape Pod)

A young autistic girl named Annie remotely operates a mining robot on a deserted island. After a storm, a shipwrecked man washes up on the island needing assistance, but the adults working with Annie may be too preoccupied giving her therapy to listen to what she says about him.

I thought that this was a really clever story. Annie’s point of view is well written, distinctively autistic, and believable. The remote operation technology and its effects on her senses are very interesting, and the critique of NT therapists is so on point that it hurts. A few sections felt like they over-explained about what autism is, but this was probably necessary in order to make sure NT readers understood the story, especially in 2004, and most sections are not like this. I also wish that some attention had been paid to the potentially exploitative relationship between Annie and the mining company. Some of what she does in the mining robot is profitable for them, despite being classed as “therapy”, but the conflict of interest between their profit and Annie’s wellbeing is not addressed. Overall, though, the story is enjoyable and effectively accomplishes what it sets out to do. [Recommended]

*

George R. Galuschak, “Counting Cracks” (Strange Horizons, November 2011)

A strange alien noise invades Earth, killing or disabling most people, and a small band of mostly-autistic survivors sets out to deal with it at the source. I found this story difficult to follow, and some details were confusingly wrong. (For example, in the narrator’s backstory, his counting-related compulsions just… suddenly go away one day, and his sympathy for other people who think that way evaporates just as quickly.) However, I appreciated the story’s overall message, in which embracing autistic symptoms instead of suppressing them is the key to victory – and the characters continue to do so long after the victory is won. [YMMV]

*

Bogi Takács, “All Talk of Common Sense” (Polychrome Ink Volume III, May 2016)

[Autistic author] A flash story about an autistic court jester who discovers a deception from the court mage. The trope of disabled people becoming jesters, and using their disability to parody more powerful people, is well known. I like how the disability in this one – and the social prejudice it brings – is made plain without exoticizing. [Recommended]

*

Edward Willett, “I Count the Lights” (Strangers Among Us, August 2016)

A diplomat needs to solve a murder on an alien planet, but the only one who can help him is an intellectually disabled alien. The alien’s neurotype is considered holy on their planet, but the diplomat takes an immediate dislike to him.

I was on the fence about whether to include this story in Autistic Book Party. It features both the aforementioned alien and a human with a similar disability, which might be autism (rocking, repetitive behavior, and difficulty with complex language) or might be another developmental disability. I decided to err on the side of inclusion.

The story is well told, and the diplomat learns over the course of the story to value both of the disabled character’s contributions. Unfortunately, the main reason why he learns this is because both of the characters prove useful to him in solving the mystery, and his action in response to this is to… graciously allow them to continue being useful to him. Considering that, and the POV character’s initially very strong ableism, I wasn’t super thrilled with the contribution of the story overall. [YMMV, but I didn’t like it]

*

Helen Stubbs, “Uncontainable” (Apex Magazine, December 2016)

A barely-communicative little girl prone to violent meltdowns is the only one who understands a terrible secret. This story echoes some aspects of changeling folklore, but with a nice twist. Someone is stealing children’s souls, but the disabled child is not the victim of this stealing nor an inferior replacement for a stolen child. Instead she becomes the one who bravely saves the other children around her, even though the adults don’t understand. I liked that aspect of the story, but was less pleased with some other aspects, including the final scene, which seems to cement the girl’s role as an all-purpose knowing-terrible-things plot device rather than providing a logical reason why she would have known what was going on. [YMMV]

Updates and sales

I’ve been continuing to sell things these past few months, which is gratifying.

My short story “A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover From the Bottom of the Sea” will appear in Strange Horizons next week. This is my first short story sale in quite a while, hopefully with many more to follow.

Another short story, “As Hollow as a Heart”, will appear in the December issue of LampLight. This story is about Lady Blue, the gender-flipped Bluebeard protagonist of “Lady Blue and the Lampreys”, but may or may not actually take place in the same universe at that story. More on that later.

For poems, I’ve sold “The Giantess’s Dream” to the very first issue of the erotic speculative poetry magazine Twisted Moon, which is coming out tomorrow – eep! I guess you’ll get another post tomorrow. Another much shorter poem, “Unicorns”, will appear in a future issue of Liminality.

Finally, a few updates on works that are already in the wild. I neglected to mention that earlier this month, “Million-Year Elegies: Edmontonia” went up on the Mythic Delirium website and is now free to read. And the HWA 2014 Poetry Showcase, which features my poem “Evianna Talirr Builds a Portal On Commission”, is now out in paperback. Happy reading!

Million-Year Elegies: Oviraptor (and a convention update)

I continue to be completely swamped, mostly by good things!

Can*Con. Um. Can*Con. I somehow went to an entire convention in Ottawa last weekend and forgot to post anything about it. Spoons were in short supply, but it was a lovely convention as always and I enjoyed seeing both familiar and new faces (and a few people I knew, but only from online). I did panels on Mental Health and Character Arc and Bodies of Difference: Disability in Science Fiction, and read “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library” aloud.

(Side note: This is still my greatest story title ever.)

The Bodies of Difference panel was especially good, with all of us agreeing that we could easily have talked about the topic for another hour. Shout-out to Derek Newman-Stille, who was, as always, an excellent and clueful moderator.

Also, school. Omg school is starting and I completely forget how everything just flies out the window at the beginning of every new semester. I’m taking a class, as well, for the first time in several years, so that’s new.

And!

While I was mostly off the Internet for a few days due to technical issues, my poem “Million-Year Elegies: Oviraptor” went up as part of the Strange Horizons fund drive bonus issue!

The poem is, as @goblinpaladin put it on Twitter, “a great poem about a sad dinosaur fossil”.

Strange Horizons is an amazing magazine. They were my first full-length professional fiction sale, and one of my first poetry sales. They consistently publish interesting work by diverse authors and employ diverse editors also. If you like my poem or anything else they have published, and you can afford to do so and haven’t already, then I would strongly recommend their fund drive as a worthy target for your donations.

Updates

These were meant to be my end-of-November updates, but either life happened, or I procrastinated; I am increasingly unsure if there is a difference. It seems that every meaningful activity takes time that could be used by some other meaningful activity; this does not negate its meaning. Life is, by and large, going well. As my mental health and personal life slowly and painfully improve, as my ability to get things done at school slowly improves, as my private writing life also improves, my ability to be present and available in my writer persona on social media has deteriorated. I do not know why.

Anyway, my poem “Octopi Viewing a Submersible” has garnered some positive attention. Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews had some flattering things to say about it. Diane Severson Mori at Amazing Stories also gave the poem a nod in her “Women Destroy Hard SF Poetry” post (which is not affiliated with Lightspeed Magazine’s “X destroy Y” series).

Charlotte Ashley has also posted an interview with me to help promote the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest. In this interview, I discuss my story “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library“, which won the contest in 2013, and went on to be published in Strange Horizons. I also say a little about what is going on in my writing life now.

Octopi Viewing a Submersible

I have a new poem up in Strange Horizons, “Octopi Viewing a Submersible“. I also recorded an audio version of the poem, which can be listened to on the Strange Horizons October podcast.

This poem was an experiment in Germanic alliterative verse. I didn’t expect much to come of it, and am thrilled that it’s found such a good home with such good company.