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Autistic Book Party, Episode 19: Ascension

The Book: “Ascension” by Jacqueline Koyanagi.

The Plot: A ship engineer stows away hoping to become part of a ship’s crew and is quickly caught up in bigger difficulties than she bargained for.

Autistic Character(s): The author! (As evidenced by, for example, her work for Disability in Kidlit during Autism Month.)

This is the second time I’ve reviewed a book by an autistic author that didn’t have any autistic characters in it. (The first was The Meeting of the Waters by Caiseal Mór). I honestly find these books pretty hard to review. It means I have to break my usual rule of talking only about the representation of autistic characters. How do I do that without being harder somehow on these books (or, conversely, easier) than I am on the others? I don’t know. It’s a work in progress. Bear with me.

I will admit I found “Ascension” rather difficult to get into at first. I bounced off the writing style – especially the way Koyanagi describes strong emotions, which I found telly and clunky. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because once the protagonist gets on to the ship, there is a lot of shiny. A pilot who fades in and out of existence, an engineer who’s really a wolf, a planet of transhuman surgically modified partygoers, mysterious villains who will blow up planets to get their hands on the protagonist’s sister… Once you get into it, there is plenty here to keep a reader entertained.

There’s also plenty here for those readers who get excited by diverse and complex casts of characters (and, yes, that includes me). The crew, as well as the characters we meet elsewhere, are a diverse and boisterous bunch including many characters of colour, tough and sharply-drawn female characters, queer and polyamorous relationships, even an otherkin character (the aforementioned wolf).

In particular, Koyanagi does a good job of depicting characters with physical disabilities, including the protagonist’s own chronic illness. Alana lives with Mel’s Disorder, a fictional degenerative illness causing pain, tremors, and (if untreated) eventual death. Her disability doesn’t define her, but it does realistically inform the way she looks at the world and the type of difficulties she encounters while trying to stow away and become a ship’s engineer. Being a poor, working-class character, Alana also encounters plenty of conflict simply trying to obtain the medicine that will keep her alive.

Alana’s sister, Nova, is able-bodied and well-off, working as a glamorous “spirit guide”. The conflict between Alana and Nova, which initially comes off as shallow, becomes much more complex and interesting when their attitudes towards their bodies come into play. Alana fights to inhabit her body and to live her life to the fullest despite pain; Nova has a horror of anything merely physical and uses anorexia to try to escape her otherwise-healthy body. While this conflict isn’t explored quite as fully as I would have liked, it is explored and the book’s eventual resolution reconciles the sisters in a perhaps surprising way.

It’s not a perfect book. The writing IS telly. But I think a lot of my readers are going to really enjoy what Koyanagi is doing here. In particular, if you are hungry for better depictions of characters with disabilities in general – real, breathing, complicated disabilities – you’re going to eat this right up. Koyanagi is providing something people need, and I have no doubt she will continue to do so in the future.

The Verdict: Recommended

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Autism News, 2015/06/25

June 18 was Autistic Pride Day. Nobody ever tells me these things until it’s the actual day. Here is an Autistic Pride Day message from Ari Ne’eman and ASAN!

Lately Dani Alexis Ryskamp has been making all sorts of really excellent posts so I’m just going to lump them all together awkwardly into one part of the list.

Here are some long but really interesting academic type posts:

Some potentially sad/upsetting social issues posts:

Misc:

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Steven Brust, “The Desecrator” (Tor.com, March 2011)

This is another story about Daymar (whom we last met in Dragon and Hawk). This time, Daymar is doing archaeology! He’s interesting, helpful, and competent, but the narrator – who is not Vlad – finds him irritating in a manner more or less identical to Vlad’s. At the very least this is better than Hawk, since the narrator doesn’t deliberately use and manipulate Daymar; he’s just an unsavory guy on an adventure who happens to run into him. Still, there’s no real development for Daymar, and no real departure from the formula of “protagonist has adventure peripherally involving Daymar; Daymar is helpful but annoying; protagonist gets what he was looking for; the end.” [YMMV]

*

Marie Vibbert, “Keep Talking” (Apex Magazine, December 2014)

This one reads as though the author tried to be respectful, and did some research, but never looked outside of medical model / Autism Speaks-esque resources. It’s at least fairly realistic, but a lot of really problematic stuff is presented uncritically – such as forcible physical restraint being used as the go-to method of ending a meltdown. We sometimes get the POV of Sarah, the autistic character, but it is very shallow and never gives much insight into useful topics, such as why the idea of moving to a new place might be upsetting enough to her to cause the aforementioned meltdown. There is a general “poor me, I am defeated and unhappy in life because of my disabled child” vibe from Sarah’s father, who gets much more POV time. The story’s conclusion validates Sarah on a plot level, actually to an unrealistic degree – she makes a major scientific discovery and is instantly offered jobs by universities – but it ends, not in rational triumph or pride over this achievement, but in continued self-pity from her father, who never seems to have taken Sarah’s research seriously anyway. [Not Recommended]

*

Beth Cato, “The Time Traveler’s Diagnosis” (Star*Line 38.1, January 2015)

A poem about a time traveler who is able to go into the past to correctly diagnose autism. There is a nice theme here of connecting to an autistic person at their level instead of hurting them with intensively medical techniques. However, it feels very oversimplified, with the title character attempting to solve everything in only a few sage words of advice. [YMMV]

*

A. Merc Rustad, “Under Wine-Bright Seas” (Scigentasy, May 2015)

A small, ornate story of sea creatures, escapism, family, and acceptance. The protagonist (transgender and with expressive speech difficulties) is not necessarily autistic, but reading him as autistic is not inconsistent with what is depicted, and there will be a large portion of autistic readers who find him easy to identify with. Such readers will also appreciate the positive, hopeful note on which the story ends. [Recommended]

*

Rose Lemberg, “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” (Beneath Ceseless Skies, June 2015)

A coming-of-age story about a girl named Aviya, her lover, her transgender grandparent and her younger sibling, Kimi. Kimi is a minimally verbal autistic child, and Aviya’s struggle to respect and care for Kimi while Kimi comes of age in their own way is a major part of the story. Both the care of Aviya and others for Kimi and the prejudice and lack of understanding shown by their society at large feel real and well-developed. The core reactions are likely universal, yet the details of both are culturally specific and very interesting. This is a very good case study in how to write autism both respectfully and creatively in a secondary world. [Recommended]

Rose’s story notes say a little bit more about Kimi.

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Zombies* are not people. Zombies are mindless, infectious cannon fodder. The thing to do when meeting a zombie is to either run away or kill it before it infects you.

People are not zombies.

People who need to take medicine, but feel slow, fogged, or confused because of side effects of this medicine, are not “turned into zombies”. They are still people.

People who are put on medicine against their will, or unnecessarily, and who experience these same side effects, are not “turned into zombies”. They are still people.

If you are have actually experienced one of the above and describe yourself as feeling like a zombie, I am not going to judge. You can describe yourself how you like. What annoys me is when people who are not on medicine describe people who do take medicine in this way, in order to make a point about how terrible medicine is.There are a lot of legitimate complaints to be made about overmedication of certain groups, and about the practices of large Western pharmaceutical companies. You can make those complaints without dehumanizing the people who are most affected by what you’re complaining about. Kthx.

———-

*In the standard popular culture depiction. I am aware there are variants. That’s sort of not the point. 😛

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Autism News, 2015/05/11

Wow. So much happened during/after Autism Month, I’ve been having trouble keeping up with it all! But here is your vaguely-sorta-monthly-ish dose of autism stuff that has happened online.

Since it’s Acceptance Month (to many of us), here is some acceptance stuff:

An autistic 11-year-old named Kayleb Moon-Robinson was arrested and charged with felony assault for knocking over a trash can and struggling against a policeman.

Disability in Kidlit’s Autism On the Page event was very cool. And VERY relevant to my interests.

Other stuff in the actual, newspaper-y news:

Misc:

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Ekpyrotic Theory

My new poem, “Ekpyrotic Theory” is up at Lakeside Circus.

Despite the title, this is a love poem.

You may also be interested in reading about the ekpyrotic universe theory in the Wikipedia.

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Surprise! I did not one but two collaborations this month with Disability in Kidlit. The newest one went up on the weekend while I was LARPing, so I wasn’t able to announce it the same day… but better late than never, right?

The Book: “The End Games” by T. Michael Martin

The Plot: Two young brothers attempt to escape from a zombie apocalypse.

Autistic Character(s): Patrick, the protagonist’s five-year-old brother.

Read the full review HERE.

The Disability in Kidlit editors found this book difficult and wanted more than one perspective, so you can also read Harper Lynn‘s review as well. The two reviews are complementary, each focusing on different aspects of the book; I was very engrossed with picking apart the characters and their relationships, as well as the book’s abuse themes, while Lynn focuses more on plot issues.

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Autistic Book List changes

Just a note that I’ve reorganized the Autistic Book List slightly. Looking through some of the recent Disability in Kidlit posts and seeing how many cool autistic people are out there with cool opinions, I realized that organizing unread books based on what I think of the author, etc, doesn’t really make sense. So, the books are now organized based on whether or not there are clueful autism-related reviews of them by other people. That way, if you are looking for Autistic Book Party’s opinion on a book and I haven’t gotten to it, you’ll know that there are other useful opinions by other people.

I’m sure that I’m not aware of all or even most reviews of autism-related speculative fiction by autistic people, so please feel free to link me to any such things that I might not be aware of.

Please note that reviews by autistic people really are best. Reviews that talk about autism but are not written by autistic people will be handled on a case by case basis. In general, I’ll be more likely to add a review by an NT person pointing out problems than a review by an NT person saying “this was so good and inspiring”. It might be, but I’ve simply seen too many cases of well-meaning NT people saying the latter and not knowing what they are talking about, so right now I’m treating those with caution.

Originally published at Ada-Hoffmann.com. You can comment here or there.

Ad Astra 2015 convention report

I'm back from Ad Astra! It was, like last year, exhausting and great.

I branched out this year in the number and type of panels that I did. Last year I felt that I was dipping my toe into the water, and stuck to safe topics - what is it like to be a writer, who are my favourite villains. This year I was a little more adventurous. I signed up to be on the Identity and Diversity panel as well as Mental Health in Fandom, even though I was scared they'd be a little too intense for me. Turns out that the panels with lively discussion on an important and meaningful topic are actually my favourites! Who'd have thought? I definitely want to do more of this in the future, now.

I also was super pleased and surprised to see how many people on the different panels WANTED to hear about autism. When it was relevant (and on 3 of the 5 panels, it was) I mentioned in my introduction that I write a blog about representations of autism in science fiction, but almost in a sort of apologetic way, like I didn't want to go on about that the whole panel if people were interested in other things. Instead, people were interested! Really interested! Like 50% of the Big Bang Theory panel and 50% of the Mental Health panel turned into people wanting to talk about autism, which was amazing. And then I realized that I shouldn't have been surprised. This is fandom, after all. I've heard it referred to as "the world's largest Asperger Syndrome support group". My special power is not that I have it, but that I talk about it and have been talking about it for a while now, and doing the research so I can talk about it even more and in more detail.

I also ended up recommending Meda Kahn and Luna Lindsey (among others) to people on the Identity and Diversity panel and they actually wrote it down. So this satisfies my life goal of continuing to promote Meda Kahn everywhere.

(To do for next year: Prepare longer list of people to recommend. At EVERY panel.)

Unfortunately I didn't manage to branch out very much in my other con habits. I'm still trying to figure out how to do conventions as anything other than "do the panels and readings that I was assigned, go to maybe 1 or 2 other things and wander around a little, but mostly just hide in my room between assigned things recharging from the sensory overload". Figuring out how to balance my neurological needs with my desire to participate more fully, and how to socially approach people in general, is still a work in progress.

Related to that - Amal El-Mohtar, Michael Matheson, James Bambury, Charlotte Ashley, and others! HI! I saw you around (except for Charlotte who I thought I was going to see at a panel and then didn't) and went, "There's that person! I should say hi to them!" and then didn't. But I think you are great! Maybe I will see you and go "There's that person!" again next year! That would be excellent.

This sort of thing is really great, I think. Definitely worth the travel and the con crud. I think I need to do it even more than I am doing.

Autism News, 2015/04/02

Today is Autism Awareness Day or Autism Acceptance Day, depending on who you ask. It's also Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month, for the same reasons.

Some posts about acceptance, in keeping with the theme of the month:

Some posts about ableism and advocacy:

Some posts about ableism in other contexts:

Also! Posts about autism in books, which is Relevant To Our Interests here:

Misc:

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