Announcement: Autistic Book Party is shutting down.

(You can also read this on Buttondown.)

Hi all,

It’s been a quiet few months! Actually, this year’s winter semester (Jan-April) was the busiest I’ve ever been at my dayjob. The newsletter fell by the wayside. Fiction writing didn’t – I’ve actually written a ton of words, these last few months – but so far it’s all been behind the scenes. There’s a few things I’d hoped I would have an announcement about by now, but publishing is slower than ever lately, so I don’t.

But I do have a couple pieces of public-facing news:

  1. Bogi Takács ran a very cool interview with me on eir Patreon about RESURRECTIONS. I love when the colleagues who “get” me ask the questions I can really sink my teeth into, and this interview is definitely that kind.
  2. My story “Music, Not Words” will appear in Neurodiversiverse: Alien Encounters – an anthology of stories about neurodivergent protagonists encountering aliens. I procrastinated so hard on posting this that their Kickstarter is over now, but it funded successfully and met several stretch goals, and it was also chosen as one of Kickstarter’s “Projects We Love”! Definitely look out for the book itself when it’s published; I have high hopes about this one.
  3. My story “The Silent Sea” will appear in the upcoming “quiet” issue of Baffling Magazine.
  4. I wasn’t actually involved with this in any way, but if you like my work enough to be on this mailing list, you should definitely check out the Strange Horizons neurodiversity special issue.

I also have one piece of news that will be sadder for some of you, which is that after about twelve years running, I’m shutting down Autistic Book Party. Existing reviews and the existing book list will remain as an archival resource, but they won’t continue to be updated.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but mainly it’s become apparent to me that I can’t keep up with it anymore. And the fact that I can’t is a good thing – in a way. Hold on; I’ll explain.

Autistic Authors Are Everywhere

When I started this project, back in 2011, it was genuinely hard to find openly autistic authors of speculative fiction for adults. I knew there was interest in that topic, as a part of the big, post-RaceFail wave of interest in representation; but my list was pretty tiny and janky. The only one I knew of who worked with traditional publishers was Caiseal Mór. In 2011, it seemed to me that, if I worked hard and focused, I could get through the entire list.

(In retrospect: LOL.)

This was not because there weren’t autistic people in speculative fiction. We’ve always been here. I remember back in 2009, when a then-partner took me to Montreal Worldcon, and someone on a panel referred to spec fic fandom as “the world’s largest Asperger Syndrome support group.” [1] The actual number of autistic authors wasn’t different in 2009, but back then, many didn’t know they were autistic, or secretly knew but weren’t ready to say so to the world.

In the baker’s dozen of years since 2011, I’ve watched as authors I already knew and admired obtained diagnoses, self-diagnosed, or came out publicly. I’ve watched #ownvoices autistic authors like Essa Hansen, Alex White, and Caitlin Starling burst into Big 5 debuts. I’ve watched an even bigger explosion of autistic and neurodivergent voices in self-publishing.

More recently I’ve watched some very big names quietly, casually come out as autistic. Seanan McGuire tweeted about being autistic in 2023. Neil Gaiman casually came out as autistic on Tumblr this spring. (Which, oh my God. He is one of my big, early influences. Whew.) These are mega-famous, massively-multi-award-winning authors. I’m sure more like them are coming, and I’m sure others have already said something that, for whatever reason, I just haven’t seen.

I love that Neil Gaiman is one of us, but in a weird way, Neil Gaiman was the last straw. What does it actually mean to boost autistic voices in a world where there are autistic authors who’ve won staggering numbers of Hugos already? I designed Autistic Book Party at a time when the known number of us was tiny, and when 99% of everything written about us was crap. We are no longer living in that world.

It feels weird to say, when there is so much else wrong in the world – and when injustices like electric shocks, sheltered workshops, and ABA therapy are still being done to us. I’m not saying we’ve won the war for disability justice. I’m just saying that, in this particular battle – the battle for autistic and other neurodivergent voices to be recognized in the field of science fiction – we kind of already won a while back. And I’m sitting on my little blog about it, beating a dead horse.

This Is No Longer A Job For One Person

The fact that there are lots of autistic authors doesn’t only mean Autistic Book Party’s mission has become less urgent; it also means the mission has become more difficult to do. Guys, I have a day job which is more or less full-time, I have a writing career of my own, I’m not the fastest reader in the world, and I have other mental health stuff going on. I don’t have the time or spoons to review every autistic author’s book, or even an appropriate, representative sample of these books. And with every book I don’t read, while ostensibly running a blog like this, I end up snubbing someone who deserves not to be snubbed. I end up blatantly playing favorites and reviewing my friends more often, not because I think playing favorites like that is okay, but because my faves and friends are the ones I have the motivation to keep reading when life is tough. I’ve been embarrassed for a long time at how inadequate my efforts are to the task of actually representing the full range of autistic writing in this genre, and I want to stop.

I’ve tried bringing more people in and making it a team effort. We’ve had some great guest posts by Richard Ford Burley, for instance. But in the end, all the other autistic writers I know and trust are as overloaded as I am – if not more. I don’t have the personnel or the project management expertise to successfully expand this way.

I’m also aware that, as my career advances – and I think it is advancing, very slowly – the power dynamics at play here start to look hinky. What does it mean to autistic authors who are just starting out if there’s one person sitting on a blog like this, declaring themselves the foremost expert on good autistic writing, and if that one person doesn’t like their book? [2] Or if that one person ignores them? What does it mean, in particular, to autistic authors who are marginalized in ways I’m not?

I also don’t like the dilemmas that a supposedly-comprehensive review series & book list draws me into with regards to categorizing people. What if someone publicly identifies as “neurodivergent” without specifying further – do I make my best guess based on whether they come off to me as autistic or not? Do I exclude everyone unless they specifically say “autism” in public? What if they kinda-sorta mentioned autism in public but in an ambiguous way, or a way that they deleted later, or that got buried and no longer comes up easily in search results? What if someone has a lot of different mental health diagnoses, and autism is just one of them, and not an important one to them? What if a third party tells me an author is autistic, and I note that down, and then I look it up later and can’t find a direct source? What is the impact of any of these choices on some of the most marginalized groups, like Black authors, who are more likely than white authors to identify as “neurodivergent” without further details, because accurate diagnosis is less accessible to them? What is the impact on other, less visible neurodivergent groups who routinely get drowned out in a sea of Autism Awareness?

I think it’s still valuable to talk about autism, the autistic experience, and the ways that this is or isn’t represented well in fiction. I hope that this conversation continues. But I think that it needs to become decentralized and diffused between many different sources, the same as most of our other discourse about identities and books.

I Still Want To Talk About Autistic Books

I want to read and talk about autistic books, but I want to do it on my terms, which are different from the terms I had in 2011. I want to do it more casually. I want to do it as part of a broader conversation about things I’ve enjoyed reading or found thought-provoking, whether they have to do with autism or not. And while autism will always be important to me, it’s becoming less so. I’ve been finding out in the past few years that I have other forms of neurodivergence besides “just autism,” most of which I’m not ready to talk about in public, and although you may not believe it, I also have other interests besides my own neurodivergence. [3]

When I read autistic books, I want to focus more on the autistic authors I would naturally enjoy reading, even if that’s just personal taste. I want to keep broadening my horizons and reading a diversity of different autistic authors, but in ways that work for me at the time, instead of trying to take on responsibility for having the correct opinions on everything in an entire field. I like doing “Things I’ve Been Reading” posts; I’m hoping I can do more of those in the coming months.

Since last fall when I was last able to post about it, there are several autistic books I’ve read and liked and just haven’t had the time to write up my thoughts on. [4] Some of these will go into “Things I’ve Been Reading” in a shorter, more casual form. With others, honestly, my main thought is “I liked it!” and maybe, instead of trying to spin up a long review that sounds erudite, I can just leave it at that.

You haven’t seen the last of me and my autistic thoughts, but it’s time for a change.

Thanks for understanding.

———-

[1] The term “Asperger syndrome” is no longer in common use, for good reasons that I’ve addressed elsewhere, but this was 2009 and that’s what they were calling it then.

[2] A multiply-marginalized neurodivergent person once told me that they’d stopped writing poetry because of how I criticized one of their poems. This still haunts me. Like, what the fuck. If that person is reading this, I’m really sorry.

[3] I know, I know. It gets navel-gazey in here sometimes.

[4] Such as: Chuck Tingle’s Camp Damascus; Essa Hansen’s Ethera Grave; Andrew Joseph White’s Hell Followed With Us; Malka Older’s The Mimicking of Known Successes; and Clara Ward’s Be the Sea. Also shout-out to Avi Silver’s Pluralities, which I initially read for Autistic Book Party with its old publisher years ago but then couldn’t review because it got pulled, and which is out in revised form from Atthis Arts now and finally getting the recognition it deserves, but which I literally can’t remember anymore why it was an Autistic Book Party book or whether Avi is autistic or not and I just get confused when I think about it. There’s good neurodivergent stuff in that book, but in a different way from what I usually write about and which I’m not sure how to approach in a review. Anyway, if you’re the author of one of these books and you’re reading this, then again, I’m sorry.

One Reply to “Announcement: Autistic Book Party is shutting down.”

  1. Thank you for the update, Ada. I read this blog every Monday and was very happy to see a new post. I’m sad Autistic Book Party will be ending but I’m also glad to know the status of it. Thanks for all the work you’ve done writing about autistic authors’ books!

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