Ad Astra Convention Report!

I am back from Dinosaurcon Ad Astra and it was AWESOME. I am not very coherent right now because of post-convention splatbrain and also some mild con crud which has been held back with Advil Cold & Sinus (I will post a more detailed summary of the villainy panel later, when I have brain again, because I know someone here asked me for that), but in the meantime here are some things that happened.

Convention Highlights

  • Meeting people who I had only talked to very briefly online before, or who hadn’t been on my radar at all, but who are SUPER COOL AND NICE. I get the sense I did less hanging out and chatting than most people do at conventions, but I enjoyed the chatting (and, when I was watching someone else’s panel, the observation of chatting) that I did do. I found out belatedly that there are also other ways to interact that would work for me (like… staying and allowing people to come up to me and ask questions following a panel/reading, instead of RUNNING AWAY at the end of my reading like a silly person) and which I will try next time.
  • Doing a reading! (I read “Transitional Chords”, a Lovecraftian music school story which is currently out of print! It was very dramatic.) Having people SHOW UP at my reading who weren’t my family or Internet friends and had no reason to be there except they thought the reading might be cool! Having these people APPLAUD VIGOROUSLY after the reading, and then tell my mom (since I was worried about looking attention-hungry or something and left very quickly, as stated) how cool it was. SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS. I WANT TO DO ALL THE READINGS NOW. <3

Convention Low-lights

  • They spelled my name wrong on all of my author material. 😛 😛 😛 EVERYONE DOES THIS. But they were super apologetic about it and gave me a Sharpie to draw the second “N” on my placard, so it was mostly just funny.
  • Showing up at Klingon Karaoke and then realizing that it had been an incredibly long day and I had no tokens to actually do the karaoke. I wanted to sing, but I was just sitting there being vague and confused and unable to figure out simple procedures, and my partner was like “Ok, let’s go back to the room.” 🙁
  • In general, I was experimenting the whole convention with how to pace myself. I wanted to be very careful since I had some pretty late night panels to do. As a result I did not see as many other panels and readings as I would have liked. I think I’ve learned some useful things about how I operate in these circumstances and will be able to do more next time, but we’ll see.
  • Making concluding remarks at my reading with a dramatic sweep of my arms, which knocked over my water bottle and spilled water all over the place. LIKE A CHUMP. 😛

Convention Huh?!-lights

  • The “How To Be an Effective Panelist” panel for new panelists at which the actual person doing the panel was 1/2 hour late. LOL. You can guess what we decided the first rule of being an effective panelist was.
  • The dude who cornered me in the dealer’s room and said, “I loved your panel! I loved the part where you said you wanted to stab yourself in the eye with a toothpick!” Um… Thanks? *blink*
  • Being fast-talked into buying Girl Guide cookies from Erik Buchanan. Wait, what? These aren’t even SFFnal. What is going on. *takes a bite* These are pretty good cookies, though.

More ephemeral emotional stuff

You guys, I’ve been to conventions before, but I’m usually a dealer’s assistant (and spending all day in the dealer’s room makes me PRETTY DAMNED LOOPY, lemme tell you). This was different. This was me dressing up in real clothes and being a professional and being taken seriously by people who are just as excited about the field as I am. Really! I was on panels with people like Julie Czerneda and Stephanie Bedwell-Grime and I had as much to say as they did! And no one thought that was weird! Also have I mentioned that PEOPLE SHOWED UP TO MY READING.

It’s one thing to see this happening in parts of the Internet and another thing to see it in real life, concentrated into one place.

I’m so happy. Now if only the room would stop spinning.

Dinosaurcon 2014

Around this time of year I start to see a lot of complaints about cruel April Fools’ jokes, and how loads of people on the spectrum despise this occasion. Which is totes valid. I don’t want to be cruel. But at the same time, I have a healthy appreciation for absurdity; and the best April Fools’ jokes have much more to do with absurdity than with actually trying to fool anybody.

So, bearing this in mind:


A convention promoting the use of dinosaurs, synapsids, pterosaurs, sauropterygia, and other prehistoric beings in speculative fiction. (Sharks, crocodiles, vampire squid, etc are also accepted, due to the fact that they (a) are about as old as dinosaurs, and (b) are badass. Cockroaches, however, are discouraged.)

Friday, 6:00 pm: Applied Ethics for Apex Predators

So your protagonist is seven-ton pile of pure lethality, capable of swallowing a human in a single bite. Good for her. But, without blunting the fangs that made her awesome in the first place, how do you make sure readers look past the terrifying killing machine to see a relatable character they can root for? And how do you stop her from crossing a Moral Event Horizons simply by feeding herself? We share some tips and tricks learned from experience.

Friday, 9:00 pm: Dinosaurs and the Human Life Cycle

Were you one of those children who could list the full Greek or Latin name of every dinosaur when they were 5, or did you come to appreciate paleontology later in life? Share your stories and relate how the love of dinosaurs shaped you as a person.

Saturday, 11:00 am: Reading

A joint reading by Ada Hoffmann and Merc Rustad. Expect MANY RAPTORS, considerable squid, and some surprise sneak peeks at forthcoming work. It will be especially surprising for Merc, since I didn’t tell em e was going to be on the panel until this post happened…

Saturday, 2:00 pm: They Just Have Way More Dinosaurs Now Than They Did When I Was Five

Why is Anzu wyliei called a “chicken from hell”? Is Nanuqsaurus hoglundi cute or just a sad imitation of its larger cousins? What do you think of Pegomastax africanus‘s bristling hairdo? Catch up on the latest paleontology gossip with our team of experts.

Saturday, 5:00 pm: The Permian-Triassic Extinction

Known as the “Great Dying”, this disaster was almost twice as deadly as the famous asteroid-induced death of the dinosaurs, even though it gets less press. What happened? How did life on Earth recover? And could it happen again?

Saturday, 10:00 pm: Dino Song Sing-Along

A karaoke/filk session composed exclusively of songs from all of those awful “Land Before Time” sequels. Prepare to be amazed.

Sunday, 2:00 pm: University of Etobicoke Room Party

Come join our fun-loving local scientists for snacks, drinks, cupcakes, and the special guest appearance of 2 recently genetically reconstructed petting-zoo velociraptors. Unlike in certain movies, these girls are only three feet tall, and are covered in soft, iridescent feathers. So cute! Nothing to be scared of. What could possibly go wrong?

Hugo Nominations

So apparently listing all the things one nominated for awards is the in thing.

I have a leftover Hugo membership from last year, meaning I can’t vote, but can nominate (and frankly, nominating means more to me anyway). I skipped some categories, like novels, for instance. (I am SO BEHIND on actually reading novels that were published in the same year that I read them. It is frankly EMBARRASSING. And don’t even get me started on movies. Movies are worse.)

Here is the nominating I did do:


  • Aliette de Bodard, “The Waiting Stars”
  • Tori Truslow, “Boat in Shadows, Crossing”

Short Stories

  • Meda Kahn, “Difference of Opinion”
  • Sunny Moraine, “I Tell Thee All, I Can No More”
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Them Ships”
  • Sofia Samatar, “Selkie Stories are for Losers”
  • Carrie Vaughn, “The Best We Can”

It was tough picking just five short stories. All of them are from my earlier favorites post except Carrie Vaughn’s story, which I found on someone else’s favorites list after the fact. Stories by Kenneth Schneyer, Linda Nagata, and Nghi Vo only barely missed the top five, and of course, everything on my fairly lengthy favorites list is awesome.


Apex, Goblin Fruit, Shimmer, Stone Telling, and Strange Horizons.

Fan Artist

I’m not really an art person, but I couldn’t help but nominate Ashley Ellen Frary because I am so thrilled by her bright and colorful illustrations for Issue #1 of Plunge Magazine.

Campbell Award

This was so hard. Harder than picking just five short stories. There are so many fascinating and amazing new writers this year. I would have been much happier if there had been TEN places on the ballot, not five.

Also, I did not manage to finish reading the friggin’ enormous Campbellian Anthology in time. This is because I am a bad reader who manages reading time badly, and I should feel bad.

Finally I settled on:

  • Meda Kahn
  • Helen Marshall
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Then I took a long, hard, conflicted look at that fifth spot on the ballot, and at my short list of other eligible people whose writing I really liked. And I thought about it. And then I wrote in my own name.

I don’t have any delusions of getting onto the final ballot with competition like this. But I’m genuinely proud of how much I accomplished for the first time in 2013. And if I don’t believe in myself, who will?

So that’s that, then.

It occurs to me after the fact that there are no men on my ballot ANYWHERE. (Well, I guess the managing editor of Strange Horizons is a man, and some folks here are genderqueer, but still.) This was totally not on purpose; I wasn’t even thinking about gender when I made these selections. Huh.

Ad Astra Convention Schedule

I’ve been keeping quiet about this, but it’s official: I’m going to be a Professional Panelist at Ad Astra, in Toronto, April 4-6.

I’ve been to conventions before, but usually as a regular person. (Actually, no, that’s a lie. Usually I’m a dealer’s assistant. Long story.) This is the first time I’ve been invited to actually, y’know, do stuff. The con staff were very good about putting me on a few, widely spaced panels so I don’t get overloaded, but I’m hoping it will work out well and I’ll be able to do more at conventions in the future. Here’s my schedule:

Writing When You Have A Day Job: Friday, 9 pm. (In which I talk about writing and grad school.)
The Writing Life: Saturday, 10 am (In which I talk about writing EVEN MORE, lol)
What Makes a Great Villain? Saturday, 9 pm (In which I geek out about Darth Vader, Disney villains, Loki*, and whoever else I am feeling excited about at that point)
Ada Hoffmann reading: Sunday, 2 pm (30 min. In which probably no one shows up except my family and then I read bits of my stories or possibly other stuff, and everyone just kinda hangs out. That’s my prediction, anyway. :D)

I doubt there are a lot of folks in the Toronto area who read this blog, but if I know you even vaguely in any capacity, I’d love to see you there!


*Since our last discussion of characters/villains on here, I’ve actually, y’know, watched both the Thor movies. So now I can have intense discussions about Loki and why he has so many fangirls without sounding like a total doofus, YAY! 😛 😛 😛

Autism News, 2014/03/23

Boycott Autism Speaks organized a #StopCombatingMe flash blog in response to the proposed renewal of the Combating Autism Act in the US. Lots of interesting posts came out of this one. The most valuable, IMO, is Emily Morson’s “Changing The Paradigm from Treatment to Education“. I’ve read a lot of posts talking about how some autism therapies can be harmful, but this is by far the most comprehensive and cogent one I’ve seen in terms of explaining why some of them are harmful and what needs to change. [TW abuse, not detailed]

More on social issues:

  • Darryl Cunningham has an informative comic about the MMR vaccine controversy (This isn’t new, but it is the first time I saw the comic, so I’m linking to it now.) 
  • Did you know that some doctors refuse to give organ transplants to disabled people because they would rather give them to able-bodied people instead? Yep. Fortunately, the busy bees at ASAN have created a toolkit to help advocates with this issue!
  • Judy Endow on passing
  • Lydia Brown on what it’s like to have violence as a special interest [TW violence, obviously]
  • Real Social Skills on representation and being a “real” disabled person
  • Anonymous on whether or not it’s good to tell your employer when your child has special needs (Spoiler alert: it’s a double bind, like every other disclosure issue. *sigh*)

More on the “what to do (and what not to do)” front:


  • Ron Suskind on how his autistic son used Disney movies to learn to navigate the world. (Warning: There is some language / framing near the beginning of the article that I am not entirely comfortable with, but if you can manage to read through that part, the middle and end are well worth it.)
  • Cynthia Kim on pronoun reversal

On Failing

These things are all different from each other:

  • Trying to do a good thing and succeeding
  • Trying to do a good thing and mostly succeeding, but with significant flaws that need to be talked about
  • Trying to do a good thing and failing badly
  • Doing something genuinely controversial (that is, a thing that some people think is really good, and some people think is really bad, for reasons that cannot be reduced to privilege/ignorance)
  • Pretending to try to do a good thing, but putting in so little effort that a fail is inevitable
  • Refusing to try at all

Not all fails are the same kind of fail. Small fails matter and need to be talked about, too. But sometimes there is a temptation to treat all fails as equally awful (I feel tempted towards this in some of my reviews, at least – maybe it’s just me) and I think we lose something important when we do that.

I want to talk about this, but I’m having trouble articulating the reasons why I want to talk about it, or even what my thoughts are.


Activism can be very complicated, in spite of people occasionally insisting that it’s simple. Especially if your understanding of human interaction is a little vague to start with.

In light of this, I really appreciate Real Social Skills’ post about how to do activism.

Autism News, 2014/03/09

Great news! Last news post, ASAN and other disability rights organizations were campaigning for President Obama to include disabled workers working on 14(c) certificates in his increase to the federal contractor minimum wage. Those efforts paid off, and “sheltered workshops” employed by the U.S. federal government will now have to pay their workers the same wages as everyone else.

Obama’s minimum wage increase was only for a specific sector of the U.S. economy, though. Sheltered workshops in the private sector are still allowed to pay disabled workers less than a dollar per hour. ASAN and the other groups who achieved this are now hoping to have section 14(c) repealed altogether, so that the minimum wage throughout the U.S. will apply to everyone, abled and disabled.

In other news, the US’s Combating Autism Act is up for re-authorization. This act is more or less what the name implies: a research funding bill in which the vast majority of funded research aims to create a world without autistic people, not to help existing autistic people with the services they actually need. More details from ASAN here. You can also check out the hashtag #StopCombatingMe on Twitter.

Life issues:

  • S.E. Smith on why disability rights and caregivers’ rights should not be in opposition to each other. (The article is mostly about people who work professionally as caregivers, but a great deal of this also applies to disability parents and other family member caregivers.)
  • Saintgloria on social networks
  • Joeymom on parenting a child who is known to wander


Sad Things:

  • March 1 was an official day of remembrance for disabled people who are murdered by their caregivers. (Yes, there are that many.) If you forgot to mark the date on March 1, you might like to take a moment to look at Autism Memorial.
  • Avonte Oquendo, the autistic boy from my last news post who died after wandering away from school, is still in the news. People are talking about ways to prevent further deaths through the use of tracking bracelets and other forms of control; Lisa Daxer explains why it’s not that simple.
  • Also, here is a very interesting conversation from Tumblr about self-diagnosis and substance abuse.

Short Story Spotlight: “Twelve Seconds”

The Story: Tina Gower, “Twelve Seconds”, Writers of the Future 2013 (read in this year’s Campbellian anthology, which is free until Hugo voting closes)

Like “Touch of Tides,” this is a short story that I need to go on at length about in order to explain why it’s cool. It’s a clever subversion of the cure decision story, though one doesn’t find that out until a good ways in.

(Yes, there are going to be moderate spoilers here; I can’t figure out how to avoid it. I will try to avoid spoiling the ending.)

Before I read “Twelve Seconds,” I didn’t think the cure decision story could be subverted. Whether or not the protagonist decides to be cured, a cure decision story still revolves around handwringing over whether or not autistic people should be allowed to exist. How do you subvert all the problems with that, short of avoiding it altogether?

“Twelve Seconds” has an autistic protagonist, an older man named Howard working at a police station, who is conflicted about his autism sometimes wishes he could be NT. Meanwhile, some doctors elsewhere in the storyworld are working on a cure for autism which will soon be available.

However, the story does not revolve around Howard deciding whether or not to be cured. The cure isn’t even mentioned until partway through the story, when Howard is already working on some apparently-unrelated problems; so when someone mentions it to him, he brushes them off and goes back to what he was doing. Even though Howard fits the “typical cure decision story protagonist” profile, he does not find the idea of a cure interesting, and does not spend nearly as much time thinking about it as the NTs in his life seem to think.
This in itself is an important subversion, but there is more.

The cure doctors do, of course, become relevant to the plot – but not in the usual way. Howard’s main problem, throughout the story, is to investigate a problem with some of the data he has received in his job at the police station. The more Howard finds out about this problem, the more closely these doctors appear to be embroiled in it. They’re relevant, not because Howard is autistic and needs them, but because they’re part of the plot.

The cure in question doesn’t only work for autism. It involves radical neurological rewriting, so it is also touted as a cure for several other conditions – including PTSD. It is a traumatized co-worker, not Howard, who is most interested in these doctors and in being cured. (Which is understandable to me; I’m fairly sure that, unlike autism, most people with PTSD would like to be cured.)

Also, the cure technology is situated within a larger landscape of interventions available to people like Howard. These interventions have benefits and drawbacks, just as therapies for autistic people can have benefits and drawbacks in real life. Howard, for example, uses Augmented Reality goggles to mediate his sensory input. These goggles help with overload and prevent meltdowns, but they also provide intrusive commentary on Howard’s actions, shaming him for harmless behaviours which happen not to be what NTs expect, and they dampen the pattern-matching abilities which make Howard so good at his job in the first place. Moreover, Howard’s use of the goggles is sometimes coerced; wearing them in certain situations, for instance, is a condition of his employment.

Gower is not Meda Kahn, and her story is not polemic. She does not spell out how the problems with Howard’s goggles relate to ableism and social power. However, she shows the problems quite clearly, shows us how Howard’s insecurities develop around them, and allows us to draw our own conclusions. The result is a story which is sometimes uncomfortable to read, especially when one doesn’t know if it will turn out all right in the end, but worth reading.

And I said I wouldn’t spoil the ending, but just so we’re clear: in the end, Howard is not cured. The doctors with the cures are very definitely not good guys, and they don’t win. And the brief characterization given to the doctors, though they do not get much direct screen time, will have many autistic readers wincing and nodding in recognition.

The Verdict: Recommended