Special Needs in Strange Worlds Archives

NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Michael j. Sullivan! – Sarah Chorn

Michael J. Sullivan is the author of The Riyria Revelations, The Riyria Chronicles, and his recently released science fiction thriller, Hollow World. He’s been published in just about every way there is including, small presses, self, and the big-five. He spends part of his time trying to help aspiring authors learn the intricacies of publishing through a regular column on Amazing Stories, and soon he’ll be featuring author interviews on Adventures in Science Fiction Publishing. Michael has written twenty-three novels, published nine, and has been translated into fifteen foreign languages. His works have appeared on more than eighty-five “best of” or “most anticipated” lists including those compiled by Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and Audible.com.

Being Atypical in HOLLOW WORLD

by Michael J. Sullivan

I’ve been a big fan of Sarah Chorn for a really long time. Not just because of her amazing reviews, although that is reason enough, but because of her resiliency in weathering storms in her own life. Luckily for me, she’s a fan of my writing as well, and I’m grateful for her years of support. With the approaching release of Hollow World (April 15th from Tachyon Publications and Recorded Books), she invited me to do a guest post. So here I am.

I guess I should start out by setting the stage. Hollow World tells the story of Ellis Rogers, who travels far into the future (much further than he intended) in search of a cure for a recently diagnosed terminal illness. What he finds a world where disease, war, and even death has been eliminated. It sounds like utopia, and for some people it very well may be, but there’s a cost…isn’t there always a cost? In the case of Hollow World, genetic engineering has advanced to the point where everyone is identical, and trying to establish individuality in such an environment breeds its own set of problems.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from the incredible Elizabeth Bear! – Sarah Chorn

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction. She lives in Massachusetts with a Giant Ridiculous Dog. Her partner, acclaimed fantasy author Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin. You can learn more about her books by visiting her website. On April 8, 2014 Elizabeth Bear released the third and final book in the Eternal Sky trilogy, Steles of the Sky.

On Writing Disabilities

by Elizabeth Bear

It’s kind of funny to realize as I write this that I originally wasn’t going to submit a piece to Sarah’s blog series, because I didn’t feel like I had much to say about writing disabled people in science fiction. But after the second colleague suggested that I would be a good fit for the series, I had to stop and consider why they would think so.

And I realized that it’s probably because I write a lot of disabled protagonists. From Jenny Casey and Genevieve Castaign in Hammered and the sequel books–an amputee with neurological damage and a girl with cystic fibrosis–to the aneurotypical Michelangelo in Carnival from Matthew Szczgielniak with his maimed hand and congenital adrenal hyperplasia sufferer Lily Wakeman in Whiskey and Water to Tristen and Perceval Conn in the Jacob’s Ladder books, one of whom has albinism and the other of whom has lost the power of flight–now that I actually stop and think about it, it seems like most of my protagonists are “imperfect” in some way.

I have written characters with forms of epilepsy and characters with bipolar disorder. I have written anxiety sufferers and paraplegics and I have helped invent entirely new, science fictional syndromes. I have written more than my share of characters with post-traumatic stress disorder. That last, frankly, is because I don’t know how to write people who don’t have PTSD.

I’ve been trying to learn, though. You all are so unpredictable.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Rhiannon Held! – Sarah Chorn

Rhiannon Held is the author of Silver and its sequel, Tarnished. In her day job, she works as a professional archaeologist. Held lives near Seattle, Washington. You can learn more about her and her books by visiting her website. The third book in her series, Reflected, was published on February 18, 2014.

Unable to Shift

by Rhiannon Held

When I conceived of my character Silver, from the urban fantasy series of the same name, in a lot of ways she was a reaction to the sometimes troublesome idea of the “kickass UF heroine.” I didn’t even think explicitly about making her disabled, I just wanted to reach out to speak to readers in a different way—not the aspiration of somehow magically being so cool and powerful, but the identification with a character who was struggling and succeeding despite obstacles the reader might recognize. I hope that I’ve succeeded and she does speak to people, even if I’m not dealing with a particular obstacle that an individual reader might.

Silver is a werewolf who was injected with silver nitrate. It removed her ability to shift into wolf form, deadened the muscles where she was injected so she can no longer use that arm, and gave her brain damage so she either sees the werewolf spirit realm or hallucinates—depending on who you ask.
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Special Needs in Strange Worlds: Disabilities in YA

Being a teenager was awkward for me. It really wasn’t any fun and I hated just about every minute of it. I was a pretty pukey teen, though. Maybe it was more entertaining for other people, but I felt like an outsider. I had almost no friends. I had a hard time relating to anyone or feeling like I fit in. That’s probably why I have so actively avoided reading any young adult books. I want to avoid anything that makes me remember my horrible, hormone filled, confused years.

However, every year I challenge myself to read another area of the speculative fiction genre that I typically avoid, and this year I picked young adult books. This year I’ve read about ten young adult books, which is about ten more young adult books than I’ve read any other year. I am not an expert in all things young adult, and if I’m being honest with you, I should have had someone who reads more young adult than I do write this post, but I didn’t.

My foray into young adult speculative fiction has left me far more surprised than I ever expected to be. These books aren’t only (or always) filled with angsty love triangles, and teenagers who fall in soulmate love almost instantly. Most of the time, these books feel a lot more mature than I expected. These books are filled with young people dealing with very adult problems and situations. However, what has truly surprised me was just how much disability I’ve seen in young adult books.
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A “Special Needs in Strange Worlds” Reading List

January seems to be the month for lists, but life keeps happening the way it does and it’s pushed my list back to February. I apologize for that. I am learning that it is very hard to make a list like this because, as far as I know, there really isn’t one out there. I’m discovering, as I make this list, that it is both very hard to narrow down which books I should put on it, and also very hard to hunt through the annals of the internet to find all the books I possibly can that can fit on this list. Case and point, I’ve literally been working on this list for nearly a week and I am honestly ashamed by how short it is. There are so many more books out there, but I don’t have all the time in the world to find them and list them properly.

The process of making this list is a lot more philosophical than I first thought it would be. I’m running into a lot of questions. For example, would John Clever and his obvious antisocial behavior patterns be considered disabled? Differently abled, certainly, but would that make I Am Not A Serial Killer fit on this list? I can pretty much ask that question about any of Dan Wells books. The Scar by Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko was talked about in the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on my website a few years ago which you can read about here. Does that book fit in this post, or is it too vague? In The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, the more Arlen gets marked up, the less he can function in society. Does that make those books fit on this list?

You see the problems I run into? Perhaps I just overthink things.

I’m hoping this can be a joint project. I’ll start the list out with what I have here, and then you, my fine readers, can leave comments with all the myriads of books I’ve missed. I will, occasionally, update this list with your books added to it. Let’s work together to make this list long, and incredible.
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The Miriam Black books by Chuck Wendig have made me look at disabilities in a completely different way. Whether or not you think Miriam Black is disabled, or just inconvenienced by her ability to see how people die, Wendig does a great job at showing how Miriam is basically incapable of functioning normally in society. Her additional ability has so overwhelmed her, that it has made her a complete loner, absolutely isolated, and incredibly caustically awkward. She can’t hold a job, or stay in one place. She has no home, no friends, no sense of security or stability. All of the things that we enjoy so much in our lives are absolutely absent from hers, and those absences have shaped her in very brutal ways that have left incredibly profound scars.
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A few weeks ago I interviewed my disabled brother about reading SF/F  and what the genre means to him. This week I decided to balance it out by interviewing author Teresa Frohock, who has not only contributed her amazing book, Miserere, to the genre, but also is hearing impaired.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

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Earlier this year I successfully finished, for the second (and hopefully last) time, a battle with cancer. I was diagnosed in October of 2010, and I got my full body scan and official “all clear” from my doctor in April of 2013. I made it out alive, and that’s a lot more than a lot of people can say. Oddly enough, cancer didn’t just change me, or teach me more about myself and my capabilities, but it taught me a lot about writing speculative fiction. Specifically how disabilities are handled in speculative fiction. Despite the fact that books are often told about fictional people, authors draw upon real life situations to create their characters, worlds, and cultures. There are interesting parallels between how we handle our own hardships, and how authors allow their characters to handle their hardships and the character growth and development that results from their hardships and struggles – the personal and interpersonal battles they fought and won (or didn’t win).
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I’ve mentioned a few times that my big brother is the reason I got into genre. He is also the entire reason I write this column.

My brother Rob is disabled in numerous ways. Reading, for him, has always been a way to relate to the world, feel like he’s less alone, and help me understand his perspective. Rob is a hell of a guy, but due to severe seizures a few years ago, he can’t read anymore, which breaks my heart. He was the one who collected books and showed me what a wealth of information and experiences are in books. Books have helped me understand him more than I ever imagined I could.

I had a conversation on the phone with Rob to talk to him about what the genre means to him, and why he thinks that disabilities are important in speculative fiction. It was really enlightening to talk openly about disabilities in the genre with the person who got me into the genre in the first place. It was also really neat to see how disabilities are represented in the genre from a disabled person’s point of view.

Thanks to Rob for taking the time to do this interview. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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In the last installment of Special Needs in Strange Worlds, I talked about Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, and how powerfully, and realistically, she covers a myriad of disabilities in her debut book. This week I am pleased to bring you an interview with the author.

Jacqueline Koyanagi was born in Ohio to a Japanese-Southern-American family, eventually moved to Georgia, and earned a degree in anthropology with a minor in religion.  Her stories feature queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles, because she grew tired of not seeing enough of herself and the people she loves reflected in genre fiction. She now resides in Colorado where she weaves all manner of things, including stories, chainmaille jewelry, and a life with her loved ones and dog.

Q: First things first. Tell readers a little about yourself. What do you typically do when you aren’t writing?
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There is much about Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension that has attracted the attention of a lot of people. It’s a science fiction book featuring a woman of color with an impoverished background, some homosexual relationships and — most importantly for this column — disabilities. Before I continue, I should mention that I have an interview in progress with the author that I am incredibly excited about, so stay tuned to Special Needs in Strange Worlds for more on that sometime in the near future.

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Even if you haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, you’ve probably heard the name Tyrion Lannister thrown around a bit. Tyrion is, dare I say it, one of the most memorable, compelling characters in current epic fantasy. In fact, he is so compelling that I’ve had to make a stipulation on my Special Needs in Strange Worlds guest posts: Please do not talk about Tyrion Lannister. He is a fantastic character, but if I let everyone talk about him, that’s the only person anyone will ever talk about. (Full disclosure: I have also had to make that rule about Miles Vorkosigan, but I haven’t read those books yet so I’m not really qualified to talk about him.)

Speculative Fiction is a genre that has a tendency to overcompensate for disabilities. Some common examples are the blind person who is also a seer. There’s the guy with an injured leg that just happens to have superhuman strength or an abnormal level of loyalty; and the character everyone thinks is insane but actually sees the truth of all things. These are just a few of the common tropes dealing with disability that I run across frequently in my books. While I understand the need for authors to have an “in” regarding some of these abilities, or give their readers a reason for them to exist, it often makes me wonder if these disabilities even matter in the grander scope, as they are so overshadowed by the character’s incredible, implausible abilities.
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Welcome to Special Needs in Strange Worlds, a column focusing on celebrating disabilities in SFF. This column will focus on book reviews, author interviews, and guest posts to highlight the beauty and importance of our flaws.
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