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.
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.
- On autism and community
- On self-care after a conference
- On being indistinguishable from peers
- On how to choose a career while autistic (and why “special interests” are not the whole story
- On dating guides for autistic people
Here are some long but really interesting academic type posts:
- Emily Morson on special interests among neurotypical children
- A report on IMFAR 2015 (an autism research conference), with links to lots of interesting abstracts, by Shannon Des Roches Rosa
- Jim Sinclair (in Disability Studies Quarterly!) on being autistic together
Some potentially sad/upsetting social issues posts:
- Feminist Aspie on autism and gender violence
- Kerima Cevik on police violence
- Liam from Yetanotherlefty on how the social model of disability applies to mental illness
- Feminist Aspie on disregarding normal
- Steph from Socially Anxious Advocate on leaving ABA practice
- Kate Corbett Pollack on why there are more disabled children in schools than there used to be (TW for talk about institutionalization and eugenics)
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.
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. 😛
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:
- A big collection of Autism Acceptance 101 posts
- Shannon des Roches Rosa on how people with autistic loved ones can honour Autism Acceptance Day
- S.R. Salas on autistic parenting
- “Protestina“, a poem by Dani Alexis Ryskamp
- Emily Morson on quality of life
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.
- ASAN statement on #justiceforkayleb
- David M. Perry on why this is not an isolated incident
- You can sign a petition to pardon Kayleb
- Lydia Brown on racism and intersectionality in disability justice
Disability in Kidlit’s Autism On the Page event was very cool. And VERY relevant to my interests.
- If you are interested in representations of autism in fiction (so… like… 4/5 of my readers) then I highly recommend that you read the whole thing, but if you do not have time for this and would like links to (what I thought were the) highlights, here are some highlights!
- Reviews: “Rogue” by Lyn Miller-Lachmann; “Anything But Typical” by Nora Raleigh Baskin; “Isla and the Happily Ever After” by Stephanie Perkins
- Articles: Jessica Mulqueen on autism as a fad; Bogi Takács on intersectionality; Elizabeth Bartmess on behaviourizing and humanizing descriptions; Jacqueline Koyanagi on undiagnosed autistic characters; Corinne Duyvis on the “autism voice“; Corinne Duyvis on overcoming autism [read this one even if you think you already know the problem with cure stories; it goes further than that]
- An interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann
- Also, here is Corinne Duyvis in the news explaining the importance of representation
Other stuff in the actual, newspaper-y news:
- Microsoft has a plan to hire autistic people for full time jobs (but frustratingly few details?)
- Research (by an autistic researcher!) into autism and sexuality
- An autistic boy whose school did not want to let him attend graduation
- A 15-year-old autistic girl and her family were kicked off a plane for requesting accomodations
- Emma Dalmayne on meltdowns
- Real Social Skills on watching the same video over and over
- Joel from Evil Autie on problems with stored phrases in communication devices
- An overview of M. Kelter’s posts about Asperger’s and depression
- M. Kelter on proprioception and perspective
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Here is the Autism Acceptance Month official website
- And an Autism Acceptance Month master post from The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, including sales on assistive technology and AAC from a number of vendors
- There's an autism acceptance pledge you can sign
- Autism Speaks is running a Light It Up Blue campaign for Autism Awareness. Amythest Schaber explains why autistic people aren't Lighting It Up Blue.
- The #WalkInRed campaign encourages people to wear red, not blue, to promote acceptance.
- The Mocha Autism Network has taken a different tactic: they advocate Royal Blue to promote awareness of autism among underrepresented communities, especially Black and Latino children.
- A poem by Emma Zurcher-Long
- Emma S. on why she is wearing neither red nor blue today
- A message of hope from Real Social Skills
Some posts about acceptance, in keeping with the theme of the month:
- A roundtable hosted by M Kelter on how to foster radical self-acceptance in autistic teens
- Juniper Russo on learning that autism runs in her family
- An Autism Acceptance FAQ by Feminist Aspie
Some posts about ableism and advocacy:
- Lydia Brown lists 5 ableist reasons why autistic bloggers have more trouble finding an audience than non-autistic bloggers who write about autism
- Dani Alexis Ryskamp proposes the #AutisticBlogChallenge
- Lisa D. on the future of severely disabled children
- Aspergia Jones on why you shouldn't say that autism "isn't a disability"
Some posts about ableism in other contexts:
- Feminist Aspie explains the problems with functioning labels
- M Kelter on making friends
- A graphic about Whole Body Listening
- Also, an essay by Berenice Olivas on autism and Child Protection Services [REALLY LARGE TW FOR THREATS TO TAKE ONE'S CHILDREN AWAY in this one kthx]
Also! Posts about autism in books, which is Relevant To Our Interests here:
- Chrysoula Tzavelas on autism and accidental representation
- It's Autism on the Page month at Disability in Kidlit.
- And here's a cool Kickstarter for an anthology of stories about disabled characters in post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction.