Can*Con 2018!

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be back at my favorite Ontario convention, Can*Con in Ottawa. Here’s my schedule:

Friday, 4:00 pm: Star Wars, Heroism, and Society.

The galaxy far, far away has long been a reflection of society’s views. How are changing concepts of heroism and the fight of good vs evil reflected in the new Star Wars canon? Are we just telling different stories, or has our view of what a group of heroes should be genuinely shifted? And what is the influence of what’s ‘allowed on the screen’ today versus Hollywood norms forty years ago? Éric Desmarais, Ada Hoffmann, A.A. Jankiewicz, Sylvain Neuvel, Evan May (Moderator)

Saturday, 1:00 pm: She Is The Slayer: Analyzing Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

More than twenty years since the television show debuted (and longer since the original film), Buffy the Vampire Slayer remains an enduring pop culture phenomenon – and the franchise is said to continue in the near future. What is so compelling about this series? How did it break tropes and barriers in storytelling (or not)? What has it influenced since? And if it returns, how could the next iteration of slayers reflect today’s society?

Saturday, 3:00 pm: Career Paths in Short Fiction.

A lot of writers have made their mark on the industry or advanced their career into other streams by writing and selling short fiction. Where should you be looking if you want to level up with short fiction, and what tools are at your fingertips? Lex Beckett, Susan Forest, Ada Hoffmann, Rich Larson, Derek Kunsken (Moderator)

Sunday, 11:00 am: I Wrote A Novel! Now What Do I Do With It?

You’ve written “the end” on your finished draft. Now what? Is it as good as it can get? How do you know? If not, how do you improve it? After it is as *perfect* as you can get it, you kind of have three choices: (1) traditional publishers, (2) self-publishing, (3) trunking it. Jen Albert, Ada Hoffmann, Jennifer Carole Lewis, Rati Mehrotra, James Alan Gardner (Moderator)

Sunday, 2:00 pm: Reading.

Spoon Knife 3: Incursions

Spoon Knife 3: Incursions, an anthology of neurodivergent authors writing about the ambiguous edges of reality, is out now from Autonomous Press, and contains a reprint of my popular autistic spiritualist lesbian dinosaur robot novelette, “The Scrape of Tooth on Bone,” which first appeared in GigaNotoSaurus. Enjoy!

Autistic Book Party, Episode 49: Changeling

Today’s Book: “Changeling” by Delia Sherman

The Plot: Neef, a mortal changeling (i.e. a mortal who was swapped with a fairy and brought to the fairy realms as a child) accidentally breaks a geas. To be allowed to return to her home in a fairy version of Central Park, she must undergo a dangerous quest.

Autistic Character(s): Neef’s fairy changeling counterpart (i.e. the fairy who was swapped with Neef and brought up by mortals). Both Neef and Changeling share a legal, human name, but since true names are dangerous in the fairy world, Neef’s counterpart is referred to mostly as “Changeling”.

Changeling folklore is my problematic fave. The idea of fairies switching their babies with human babies – resulting in human parents having to take care of a disabled, or otherwise defective, fairy child – goes back deep in Western culture. There’s something compelling to many disabled people about the idea that we are not broken or defective humans, however we might appear – we are simply magical creatures who don’t fit into a human’s world. But of course, there’s also something compelling to many ableist parents about the idea that they were owed a normal child, and someone stole it – and that their real, disabled child isn’t quite theirs.

While we no longer believe in fairies, it’s not difficult to see echoes of the changeling myth in modern parents who complain of regressive autism “stealing” their child, or who speak with victory about “getting their child back” when various issues improve. Nor is it difficult to trace a lineage from the parents of changeling folklore, who often threatened the disabled child with harm in hopes of scaring it away and getting the original one back, to various dangerous quack treatments for autism today.

Some disabled people, including myself at times, find something empowering in the idea of being magical creatures. Others find it literally dehumanizing, and will fight tooth and nail to be recognized as always and only and entirely human. (Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s essay on “The Shape of Water” gives an example of this latter perspective.)

Anyway, Delia Sherman’s “Changeling” is a middle-grade fantasy adventure that doesn’t get even a little bit into any of this complexity, which might explain some of my issues with it.

Or maybe that’s not fair. I don’t expect middle-grade books to be super intellectually complex, or to grapple with all the emotional issues that concern me as an adult. I may be barking up the wrong reviewing tree.

Changeling’s role in the story is a very familiar one for autistic sidekicks. Neef discovers her early in the quest, in a dangerous situation, and impulsively promises to keep her safe even though Changeling annoys her. From that point on, Changeling tags along on the rest of the quest: mostly a burden, mostly annoying to Neef, occasionally very useful, always overtly displaying one stereotypical autistic trait or another, and mostly too busy melting down (or shutting down, or engaging in desparate stimming as she tries to cope with all these new experiences) to give her perspective on anything in particular.

Neef is a cutely bratty tween, and she has no training in how to deal with autistic people, so I don’t exactly expect her to be good at dealing with Changeling, but her consistently annoyed cluelessness didn’t exactly make me enjoy the book.

Changeling stumped up behind me, her face stony. “You took me by surprise,” she said. “I do not like surprises.”

I was in no mood to deal with fairy nerves. “Well, you’re just going to have to get used to them.”


“We’re on a quest, that’s why. There’s going to be surprises, and things jumping out of bushes, and all kinds of things you don’t like. If you melt down every time that happens, we’re dead. And I mean that literally.”

Her mouth set in a grim line. “I am afraid. I want to go home.”

“Me, too. Remember what I told you back at the Museum? We have to finish the quest first.”

Changeling hummed. I tapped my foot. “Very well,” she said at last. “I will do my best to expect the unexpected, and I will try not to have a meltdown. It is only fair to warn you that I am not always in control of them.”

She sounded so like the Pooka promising to try and behave that my irritation vanished. “And I’ll do my best to explain things when I can.”

We do get one interesting bit of world-building about changelings early on. Not only is Changeling an autistic child, as the folklore would suggest, but Neef recognizes many of her autistic traits as fairy traits. She counts items to soothe herself, because many fairies also have a counting compulsion; she cannot stand to be touched, because neither can many fairies; her meltdowns are “fairy fits,” and at least one actual fairy has one of those during the story as well.

Neef does make accommodations for a few of these traits, such as holding on to Changeling by her clothes, when hanging on to each other is necessary, instead of holding her hand. But if Changeling’s traits are fairy traits, and Neef has spent her entire life learning how to get along among fairies, then something doesn’t quite add up. Her knowledge of mythological fairies is extensive and she has been deliberately taught and tested on it often – but her knowledge of how to deal with Changeling is really quite small.

I find myself wishing that the book was told from both perspectives and not just Neef’s, because I really want to know what Changeling thinks of many of the developments in the book. She has just discovered that fairies are real and that she, technically, is one. How does she feel about that? Does she want to learn more about fairies in order to better understand herself, or to cling to her adoptive family? How does she feel about Neef, who is essentially a non-autistic version of herself, and who doesn’t seem to like her much? In the latter half of the story, she spends a lot of time looking into a magic handheld mirror that gives her information; what is she watching and learning in there, apart from the quest-relevant things that Neef asks for? Changeling doesn’t say anything about any of these things, and Neef is profoundly uncurious about them.

Changeling also, as I mentioned, does very useful and clever things for Neef a few times, in between shutting/melting down. It’s very unclear whether, and in what way, this changes Neef’s opinion about her; Neef is self-centered like many tweens, and is more concerned with charging ahead to the next part of the quest.

At the end of the book, there are signs that Neef and Changeling have begun to like each other a bit more. Changeling asks Neef to come visit her in the future, and Neef seems moved by the request. But like many friendships and romances in adventure stories, this felt a bit tacked on. I had very little sense of when in the book this sense of friendship had emerged or why.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book more than I’m letting on. Sherman’s fairy New York is a lively and charming place that I enjoyed exploring with Neef. But from a representation standpoint, “Changeling” was a lot like reading a middle-grade version of “Silence” or “Hawk.” Another story where an NT protagonist drags around an autistic character, who is sometimes plot-useful but mostly an annoying burden. I am tired of reading this story. Given the rich emotional significance of changeling folklore is to many autistic people, Changeling’s arc feels like a missed opportunity.

The Verdict: Not Recommended

Disclosure: I have never interacted with Delia Sherman.

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Autism News, 2018/09/09

SFF writers writing about their autism!

More writing and reviews:

American politics:

Politics and policy from other places:

A pair of Sad Things links about prisons:


Misc News From the Summer

In between the book announcement (aaaaaa!) and the alarming number of short story / poetry publications within a month or two of each other, here are a few other things that have happened recently.

  • My Robot Dinosaurs! story, “Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting,” now has an illustration by Kit Leighton! Check out that pair of adorably fearsome little robot raptors.
  • I was interviewed on the podcast Females in Fantasy. Notably, this interview was recorded before the book announcement for THE OUTSIDE went live, so mention of that book does not appear in the podcast, but I do talk about autistic characters quite a lot.
  • My steampunk dinosaur ghost novelette, “The Scrape of Tooth and Bone” will be reprinted in the upcoming anthology Spoon Knife 3: Incursions. Of all the stories I’ve ever published, I would say “The Scrape of Tooth and Bone” has been the one with the most longevity. It made only a very mild splash on its first publication, but every few months when I least expect it, I still see someone unexpectedly mentioning or recommending the story on Twitter – often in the context of recommending their favorite lesbian SF. (I hasten to add, in case any of those people are reading, that the protagonist of THE OUTSIDE and her girlfriend are also lesbians!) I’m pleased to see that its dino-life will continue to extend itself in this form.