Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #24 Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! [September Fiction]

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! is here!!! And with it comes a whole heck of a lot of fiction and poetry. To be specific, ten stories and ten poems. But, because this is also a regular issue of Uncanny, the work will be released publicly over two months. And so, to keep things manageable for me, I’m going to be tackling this extra-big issue in four parts—September fiction, September poetry, October fiction, and October poetry. So let’s dig in! The first half of the issue’s fiction is up and features five short stories touching on aliens, assistive devices, families, and a whole lot of disabled characters getting shit done. The work in these focuses primarily (for me, at least) on occupations and growing up. About facing down intolerance and violence and finding ways to find community, hope, and beauty in a universe that can often be ugly and cruel. So let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Likhain

“Heavy Lifting” by A. T. Greenblatt (5004 words)

No Spoilers: Gina is new to her job running the computer side of a soup canning operation, which otherwise just her only friend in town, Bruno. Together the two direct a group of robots who...well, who have been acting strangely lately, trying to escape because of someone hacking into their systems. When the latest attempt goes much further than the previous tries, though, Gina must think quick to try and figure out what’s really behind these attacks, and what she can do about it, all the while dealing with her own mobility issues and the numerous ways that she’s limited by those around her. Including her well-meaning-but-maybe-not-so-clueful friend. It’s fun and brash, capturing a voice that is a bit jaded but mostly just fucking tired of having to be held back all the time because people assume because she’s limited in one way, she can’t be trusted in any way. And it subtly builds up a post-apocalyptic world in a way that’s interesting and not overbearing, asking some important and often-ignored questions about disability and scarcity.
Keywords: Robots, Hackers, Friendship, Mobility, Assistive Devices, Dogs
Review: The first thing I noticed about this story was the voice, which is conversational but also tired of shit. Tired of being treated worthless, tired of having people walk around as if having a disability in a time when civilization seems a bit on the decline is a crime. And indeed, Gina is tired of the way the town isn’t accessible to her, the way that people tend to ignore her or see her as something of a burden despite the fact that she’s very capable and they have technology enough that her disability really isn’t a limitation on how she can help them. By working through robots, she can do physical work, and with her computer skills she can do a lot that other people can’t. And the story is a reminder that in all settings, disabled people are not burdens unless other people (or authors) make them into that. Because even when Bruno is knocked out of commission, Gina is still able to take control of the situation and solve what’s been happening, something that he didn’t really have an interest in doing. Because she often has to focus on process, on more than just the immediate situation, she is able to excel at seeing what’s being missed, and working to set things right. And it is just a fun read, about freedom and freedom, and about trust and skills. It’s about how Gina has to constantly prove herself where others expect to be respected because of their bodies—because of what they _do_. But that, when people stop judging her because of her disability, they can all be free, and can all reach further together. A great read!

“The Frequency of Compassion” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (5056 words)

No Spoilers: Kaityn works for the GEP, an organization dedicated to the peaceful exploration of space. They are joined on a long-distance and rather dangerous scientific mission by only an AI named Horatio, and that’s just the way they prefer. They are hyperempathic, which means that they can feel what other people are experiencing, as long as they are similar enough. And so when a strange being crashes on the planet they are studying, followed closely by a rival organization’s ship, Kaityn acts quickly to determine what’s going on, and to render aid to the being they know is in pain. The piece is a sweeping look at consent and violence, identity and language. It reveals the complex fears and insecurities that Kaityn has because of how most humans think about space exploration and meeting alien races, and their whole mission is framed by a loss suffered when they were young that they don’t seem to have completely healed from. There’s a danger that the story traces, from those who are all too quick to violate, to commit violence. And the piece shows how a group of people stand up to that violence and reach for something beautiful.
Keywords: Aliens, First Contact, Space, Non-binary MC, AI, Pronouns, Consent
Review: There’s a lot going on in this piece, which I feel at its core is about consent and compassion and the cost of living among people who treat violence like an inevitability and exploitation as a moral good. For Kaityn, the universe is a beautiful and complicated place, full of things to discover and connections to make. And yet some of their enthusiasm about going out and exploring has been curbed by loss and by the constant wear of people questioning their decisions and their identity. Assuming that consent isn’t important in the face of Humanity and it’s Grand Destiny of Dominance. And yet what Kaityn finds is that the whole is not greater than the one. Or perhaps, that when one is diminished, all are diminished, and some of the beauty of the universe is lost. And there’s just this great sense of people helping people in the piece, of people reaching out in peace and empathy and finding a kinship. An understanding. It’s a rather classic first contact story, one where the who peoples involved are similar but where it’s humanity that has a bit to learn about how to treat others, and how even to treat themselves. It’s a great and moving story about respecting people and listening to what they’re saying, and leaving people room to find the right language for themselves. Because it helps to prevent people from doing violence to one another, and seeking to minimize violence is a noble goal. A great read!

“The House on the Moon” by William Alexander (5097 words)

No Spoilers: A disabled child participates in a field trip with their class to a castle on the Moon, an anachronism wrought by a war criminal wealthy enough to buy a pardon for his crimes and to fly a European fortress through space to build his home. The narrator is equal parts curious and disgusted, and sets about exploring the limited area the class is allowed to tour. As they move, they build a picture of the world they’ve lived in, recovering from a Eugenic War and with a great many people moving to the Moon to make their home. For some, it’s a place to go for economic reasons, but for the narrator it has the added dimension of helping to make them mobile thanks to the lower gravity. They still use a cane, but it doesn’t stop them from getting into trouble when the opportunity comes to maybe to a bit of extra exploring. The piece is wonderfully strange while still packing a very real emotional punch. The near-silliness of the castle contrasts with the atrocities the man who built it sought to commit, and it leaves the tale as a whole fun and exhilarating while also a bit haunting.
Keywords: Music, War, Eugenics, Castles, The Moon, Field Trips, Schools
Review: I love the way this story builds up this bizarre place on the moon. Filled with the eccentric fancies of a terrible, terrible person. It’s so interesting because so many of these places exist where you go in and can enjoy the sort of museum atmosphere of them and appreciate the architecture but the history beneath that and the hate beneath that can be staggered, to think of who died to build it, not just the buildings themselves but the wealth that funded it. That it was all built on exploitation and death and, often times, by people who openly participated in campaigns to kill people because of their skin or their ability or religion or any number of other things. It’s a chilling reminder that our world is full of beautiful places that cover over very ugly beliefs that we don’t often full face. And the story is also so much fun, so fleshed out and lived in. The narrator is young and yet they’ve lived through so much, still coping with a trauma that few might understand, because people want them dead just because of their body. And everything moves smoothly and quickly for the most part, the narrator filling in background details but not everything clicking fully into place until the end. Where we the reader kind of get to see this world as if it’s all fun and games but they have to live with the reminder that it’s not, and that informs why they have access to things that aren’t strictly legal. Because they need the advantage to be able to fight to survive. And they have to, given that the castle they’re walking through is basically haunted by the ghost of a man who would have killed them without hesitation. And really, it’s a wonderfully complex story with a great cast of characters and a voice and feel that shine. Go read this one, okay? It’s amazing!

“An Open Letter to the Family” by Jennifer Brozek (1463 words)

No Spoilers: Hayley is a scientist living in space at least in part because it allows her relief from the constant and increasing pain caused by a rare disease she has. It’s something that has guided a large portion of her life, driving her to find a situation where that pain is as managed and minimized as possible, and she doesn’t waste a lot of time thinking of the ways that things might have been different. Instead, she pushes forward, and part of that means eschewing some of the values that other people expect her to have. Her relationship with her body is unique, and the story, framed as a letter to her loved ones, is an attempt to shed some light on that uniqueness, and to reveal what she’s going to be doing going forward. It’s a piece that really focuses on language and values, and how holding on to certain things that made sense on solid ground, with full gravity, doesn’t make sense when you don’t have to, when you can escape that gravity and float free. It’s an earnest and touching piece about difference and acceptance and wanting to be understood.
Keywords: Letters, Space, Zero Gravity, Amputation, Family
Review: For me, so much about this story is tied up in language, in expectation. In the ways that values are in part shaped by utility. That really how people end up defining themselves and humanity as a whole often comes down to things that are by no means necessary for human life. And that, indeed, further disadvantage and dehumanize people who already are dealing with pain, difference, and navigating a system that is not designed for them. For Hayley, she’s spent so much time getting to a place where he pain is more manageable, and so much effort trying to excel in a way that would allow her to create a less painful environment for herself. Even so, though, she’s dealing not just with a system that prefers able people, but with a system that thinks that what works for able people works for everyone. And so of course any deviation from what’s considered “normal” is somehow deviant, less than human. And so Hayley speaks to that directly when she says that she’s going to have her legs amputated because they are causing her not just discomfort and pain, but could lead to evne more severe medical issues. She rejects the idea that she’s not whole without legs, and lays out her feelings about herself and what she does. She addresses the way that her family treat their home like hers, despite the fact that their home isn’t at all suited to her. They expect her to maintain their values, despite those values finding her lesser. And while she rejects that she tries to teach them that her rejecting their values for herself is not her rejected them, is not hating them for preferring a higher gravity. And I like that the story is about her reaching out to them while firmly describing her boundaries and what’s going to happen. It’s a short but hitting piece that’s very much worth checking out!

“Birthday Girl” by Rachel Swirsky (2839 words)

No Spoilers: Bella has been invited back to her sister Jenny’s house after a year away, a fissure caused when her Jenny’s child Natalie (conceived using Bella’s egg) manifested bipolar symptoms and Jenny reacted...poorly. The piece looks very honestly and baldly at the ways that disability is often seen as a moral failing, and how it has led to people being institutionalized in basically prisons, and tortured, and even worse. For Bella, growing up bipolar and for a time mute as well meant enduring a great deal of abuse, something that Jenny thought that she understood. But in the ways that many able people think they know exactly what it’s like to be disabled, the true weight didn’t really hit home until Natalie’s conditions became more evident. This lightly speculative piece, taking place hopefully not far in the future, explores the wounds that family can inflict on one another, and gulf of misunderstanding that often exists between even siblings. And yet there is a hope to the piece as well. Of the beginning of understanding, and in a wider sense a promise that abuses of the past don’t need to be repeated.
Keywords: Sisters, CW- Abuse, CW- Suicide, Surrogacy, Birthday Parties
Review: This is a rather difficult story to read, because it strikes at sibling relationships in some deeply intimate ways, showing just how difficult it can be to be different. To be seen as sick. As broken. As beneath notice. The relationship between Bella and Jenny is one that seems always to have been strained by the lack of understanding Jenny has. The way that both of them ended up internalizing the hate they heard spewed. The way they continued Bella’s mistreatment even without their awful parents around. And how, even though at this point Jenny is beginning to try, that distance has not been crossed. Because, despite Jenny knowing a bit more now because of her daughter, that knowledge is incomplete, and twisted a bit by Jenny wanting to protect herself from judgement about what’s she’s done and what she’s said. She knows what she’s done is terrible, and she wants to feel that how she’s helped her own daughter is enough to make up for how she mistreated and hurt her sister. When that’s not how it works at all. And that’s really why I love this story, because it’s so real. Because the ending, while perhaps hopeful, is not entirely happy. It still involves Bella expected to do labor for her sister, to make Jenny feel better about what happened. And it’s difficult and it’s wrenching and it’s good. Like really, it just nails this relationship and the complicated, messed up nature of it, and it’s very much worth spending some time with because yeah, fuck. Be sure to check this one out!


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