Andrew Joseph White, “The Constellations Are Unrecognizable Here” (Strange Horizons, November 2021)
[Autistic author] Two trans boys are casualties of an intergalactic war, living on a medical spaceship where the doctors are helping them heal – but also paternalistically deciding what medical procedures they do and don’t need, offering reconstructive surgery to erase their scars but withholding any gender affirming care. There is a lot of self-harm and a lot of trauma in this story but the bond between the two characters, and the desperation they are driven to by the one-two punch of wartime atrocities and transphobia, is memorable. [Recommended-2]
Kiya Nicoll, “A Dragon in Two Parts” (Escape Pod, December 30, 2021)
[Autistic author] A disabled woman undergoes a procedure that will transform her physical body, turning her into a dragon. Magical cure stories are a hard sell for obvious reasons, but I ended up liking this a lot. There’s a refreshing nuance both to the protagonist’s thoughts and reactions, and to the transformation itself, which doesn’t always cure disability – it brings people’s bodies into alignment with their ideal selves, whether or not that involves a cure. This is one of those stories that leaves me wondering wistfully what would happen if its fantastical technologies existed for real. [Recommended-2]
James L. Sutter, “And All Their Silent Roars” (Nightmare, Issue 116, May 2022)
This is a really interesting case of a horror story – so interesting that I’m going to need to review it at greater length. A family with three bratty children moves into a new home, and the youngest – an autistic boy named Denny, who is obsessed with small animal figurines – digs up something in the sandbox which may be vaguely, ominously magical. Danny is delighted by what he’s found. The narrator, his brother Jeremy, isn’t so sure.
There’s a lot of quite ableist language toward Denny, mostly in dialogue but also to some degree in the narration. I don’t get the sense that the narrative endorses the ableism – it’s too nuanced to feel that way for me. Some characters are just plain vicious to Denny; others are gentler while still cringing at him a little. Jeremy goes out of his way to spend time with Denny and protect him from bullies, and seems to have some moments of genuine affection and connection, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking about Denny in an ambivalent, othering way, and feeling relief when Denny isn’t around. It’s perfectly realistic for a character like Jeremy, even if it’s one of the tropes I hate to see, and Jeremy seems to be dimly aware that his ambivalence isn’t quite what’s fair to Denny or what Denny really needs.
The Author Spotlight says Denny is inspired, partly, by Sutter’s own younger brother. It says:
I also think a lot of the story’s energy comes from recognizing ourselves in the narrator’s internal conflict. He loves Denny, while also resenting the inconvenience he poses. I think we all have to wrestle sometimes with the knowledge that we’re not as selfless as our loved ones deserve, and that sense of guilt adds to the story’s tension.
So, like, sure. I get that part.
The story is not badly written on a craft level; there are some intriguing moments of tension and atmosphere. But it still hews pretty close to a set of tropes that don’t work for me most of the time. It’s the kind of story where there’s an autistic character, seen somewhat opaquely from the outside, who gets involved with something creepy; the neurotypical POV characters wring their hands, but we’re also invited to wonder if maybe the Land of Creepy Things is where autistic people belong after all.
It’s possible to redeem or subvert these tropes, and Sutter veers close to that in places. (I really wonder what the story would look like from Denny’s point of view, for instance.) But, between the story structure and the ambivalently ableist POV, it didn’t quite subvert anything hard enough to end up landing for me. [Not Recommended]
Sunyi Dean, “How to Cook and Eat the Rich” (Tor.com, January 18, 2023)
[Autistic author] In a dystopian future riddled with food shortages, a wealthy man is tempted into a secret society of cannibals. The big twist at the end is not really a twist since it’s telegraphed right in the title; but if you are autistically angry at the state of the world and would like to see a very bad, entitled person get his comeuppance, then you’ll like it just fine. [Recommended-2]
Louise Hughes, “Out of the Rain” (Kaleidotrope, Winter 2023)
[Autistic author] The narrator in this story is a woman who is reincarnated over and over again, destined to die for the sake of a man’s character arc. When she meets another woman who remembers many lives, they find a way – just maybe – to escape together. Lyrical and melancholy. [Recommended-2]
Jennifer Lee Rossman, “Don’t Look Down” (Kaleidotrope, Winter 2023)
[Autistic author] An autistic girl, who’s recently been moved out of an abusive situation and into a group home, begins to have visions of strange creatures in the sky. I like this one for its moving descriptions of how the narrator dissociates, how she can’t quite trust that anything better than her past will stay real – and for the nuance of how the group home can be quite imperfect while still convincingly enough of an improvement on the past to cause these feelings. Although the narrator is reluctant to trust humans, her impulse is to reach out, to touch, to connect, even in an inhuman way. There’s an environmentalist message which feels a bit tacked on, but the psychological arc alone is worth the price of admission. [Recommended-1]
Lesley L. Smith, “Let Sleeping Gators Lie” (Academy of the Heart and Mind, April 5, 2023)
[Autistic author] A sweet, sad piece of climate fiction, with an adorable dog who may or may not be a ghost. [Recommended-2]
Yoon Ha Lee, “Counting Casualties” (Tor.com, April 26, 2023)
[Autistic author] An intriguing story about a war in which, whenever the alien adversaries win, they make a culture’s greatest arts disappear. There’s some pretty strong social commentary in this one, especially once we reach the end and find out why exactly the aliens are doing this. It’s tense, ruthless, and surreal in the way that Yoon Ha Lee does best. [Recommended-2]
(ETA: Yoon Ha Lee appears to have been misdiagnosed with autism, and has asked to be removed from Autistic Book Party.)
Mary E. Lowd, “Orange Sherbet Unlocks a Better Loot Box” (Deep Sky Anchor, June 2023)
[Autistic author] Mary E. Lowd is a very prolific author who I haven’t featured here as often as I should – as well as a tireless advocate for furry fiction, a genre that’s often misunderstood. But she’s at her best, in my opinion, when she writes about virtual realities. This is a short, sweet story that takes on some heavy topics, especially the effects of COVID-related isolation and heavy Internet use on children. But it takes them on gently, without shaming or monster-izing anyone – child or adult. [Recommended-2]