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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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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Our contributors are awesome.

Regular readers (and even irregular ones) will know that Sarah Chorn (also known as Bookworm Blues) does an awesome post series called Special Needs in Strange Worlds here at SF Signal and also on her blog. Through that series of posts, in which she examines disabled characters in speculative fiction, she has named many, many books that showcase such characters. A recent post of hers solicited suggestions from readers to add to A “Special Needs in Strange Worlds” Reading List.

Another SF Signal contributor (and proprietor of the wonderful SciFi Fan Letter), Jessica Strider, works in a bookstore and she decided to bring Sarah’s list into realspace. She did this by setting up a bookstore display showcasing some of the books on the list. Jessica talks about it here. Go read it and see how our contributors transform themselves from readers into superheroes.

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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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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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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