Tag: writing

Backstory: Operators and Civil Rights

When I first started building the world of Hoshi and the Red City Circuit around 2000, I was mostly interested in why our world shits on its artists, scientists, and creatives. Autism and computer science were behind the core concept of the Operators, but autism was less relevant to the civil rights themes I wanted to explore. I wasn’t yet thinking in disability rights terms.

I was radicalized (woke) in the gay rights movement (LGBTQ+) of the 1980’s. I drew chalk bodies on the steps of city hall with Act Up, marched in the (pretty scary, actually) parades, and feared for my life under personal death threats in the town next-over from where Charlie Howard was murdered. I am not cis-gender; I am not hetero-normative; I am not safe in large parts of my own country. I wanted to draw these experiences into story, maybe to connect with others who shared them, maybe as the endless exorcism that those of us with histories of trauma have to endlessly do.

Still, I struggled to write about Operator oppression. The stories lacked focus and clarity. Too subtle, too nuanced, somehow not tied enough to other world-concepts. Why, besides the obvious danger the Operator technology poses and the weirdness of the Operators, were they so hated? Why are those of us in queer bodies, of queer hearts and minds, so hated?

I can be slow to get the point. It wasn’t until I became aware of the disability rights movement around 2005, and that it was my movement too, that I realized that weirdness itself is the reason we are mocked, hated, murdered. Neurodivergent or queer, non-Christian or creative, different is bad in a world where animal reactions go largely unexamined. In theories of altruism, labeling and prejudice is an unconscious means for deciding if people will cooperate predictably or not. Human animals gravitate toward those the most like them. The rest are to be feared–perhaps even killed.

Operator rights gelled around disability rights, fueled by my initiation in gay rights, because in my fictional post-gender, post-sexuality, post-race, post-post-apocalyptic universe (perhaps when humanity is down to barely enough gene pool to survive, such distinctions may, for just enough years to redefine “other,” matter less) the vectors of oppression become ability and occupation. But I hope that readers will see these stories as being for everyone who lives in fear, who is denied opportunity, and who is breathing the yet-unresolved air of institutionalized oppression. And I hope, as Hoshi’s world eventually does, our world too bends toward justice.

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Science in the Fiction: Autism, Neurodivergence, and Idioglossias

No, my characters are not explicitly Autistic. Yes, they are implicitly based on how some of us (myself included) experience autism, the intense world theory, and findings related to the associative nature of autistic intelligence (yes, I know “intelligence” is a troubling concept, but I’m not getting into it here). I invented K-syndrome, to be transparent, because I didn’t want to get into discussions about what autism is or isn’t, or how what I’ve written is not like so-and-so’s experience of autism–and anyway, this is speculative fiction, which means that I get to make stuff up to be convenient to the business of storytelling. In this case, that business was two-fold: 1) from a technological perspective, to meet the needs of the quantum brain computers used by the characters; 2) from a thematic perspective, as a device to explore real-world issues around disability and disability rights.

My characters are explicitly neurodivergent. A genetic difference causes them to perceive and interact with the world and themselves in a way that is not like how most people do. Autism is one of may kinds of neurodiversity. Medically-oriented people classify that diversity into diagnostic bins: autism, schizophrenia, bipolar, attention deficit disorder, learning disability, etc. There are strong arguments for the value of diverse minds in society–just like there are for the value of diverse critters in ecosystems.

From a technological perspective, the neurodivergent connection to the quantum brain computers lies how the characters process language, and their highly associative thinking. At the heart of the characters’ language “impairment” is an idioglossia – a language known to only one’s self. This is both what enables them to create strong encryption in quantum systems, and isolates them, even among their own kind. With respect to associative thought, wrangling complex mathematical structures requires a good deal of nonlinear, pattern-type thinking.

From a thematic perspective, just as in our world, there is a tension between the benefits of neurodivergent minds–“autistic super-powers,” perhaps–and the decency to value people simply as human beings, without need for them to have “powers” or some other thing that mainstream society values more than person-ness. There is a tension between the brilliance and wonder of our experience of the world, and our frustration as we butt up against the limitations of both functional impairment and a society and culture hostile to what we need to survive. And there is a tension between acknowledging what we do better than typical thinkers, and typical thinkers exploiting that–exploiting us–for their own gain. These tensions and oppressions are not fiction.

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Disability Literature Consortium Reading 3/28

I’ll be reading from Hoshi and the Red City Circuit at AWP with the Disability Literature Consortium Reading on Thursday March 28th 6pm – 9pm.

Authors will be: Susanne Antonetta, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Jennifer Bartlett, Jeannine Hall Hailey, Cade Leebron, Raymond Luczak, Dora Raymaker.  Read poems from all at wordgathering!

ASL-Interpreted!

Backstory: Invisible Aliens in the EM

The élan vitals–the invisible aliens that inhabit the slow waves of the electromagnetic spectrum and some part of physics we’ve yet to understand–were my invention to play with the notion of: what if ideas were sentient and we could talk to them?

They were then sourced from a jumble of ideas, both scientific and fantastic, plus hands-on play with circuit boards and an Arduino, to work out practical things like, “how could something with fine-tuned control of EM but no corporeality talk out loud?” Just a short list of sources: ghosts, radio broadcasts, shamanism, magnetic resonance imaging, tulpas, Jung’s collective unconscious & archetypes, western hermetic and ceremonial magick, piezoelectricity and multiple other concepts from the study of electricity and magnetism, Lovecraftian horrors, strong artificial intelligence (which cannot be created via computation in the universe of the stories), mushrooms and fairy rings, a wistful childhood fascination for psychic alien companions–

There are a three “kinds” of élan vitals in the liminal universe. There are the huge, complex, ancient, incredibly alien ones like Strange Navigator, few of whom can communicate with humans, and even less of whom have stuck around to do so once they figured out what shits we are. There are smaller, simpler ones that are broken off from these larger ones, like budded semi-fractal offspring; they are new, mobile, and like to hang around with us. Well, some of us. Then there are the ancient ones with a “fixed domain”–they inhabit specific places and are bound to them, like an epic haunting. All élans are shaped by the electromagnetic frequencies of where they are, including ours. The élan vital inhabiting Red City is one of these fixed domain élans–and she’s been there much longer than humans have. One summons an élan vital by generating frequencies it resonates with. Hence the practicality of magick.

The other bit of backstory on the élan vitals is this: I’ve a huge pet peeve about aliens that are just like us. Star Trek is terrible about this–it’s like oh, you took a non-modern-American culture and called it alien and pretended like no one would notice? (I do like Star Trek, I just need to view the aliens as allegories not as aliens.) I thought Farscape did a better job, presenting aliens that at least went by radically non-human social norms. Anyway, I wanted my aliens to be really alien, although not to the point of complete inability to interact with humans (which is done very well in many places, for example, Peter Watts’ Blindsight). What does it mean to exist eternally, outside of mortality, without a body–but with an acute sensitivity, susceptibility to change? What does fear then mean, what does self-preservation become?

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Science in the Fiction: Nonlinear Dynamics and Memes

My doctorate is in systems science. I study general ways to make sense of things that are too complex for the usual analytical approach of “let’s take it apart and see what makes it tick.” And by “complex” I mean non-linear. And by “nonlinear” I mean many things affect each other simultaneously, so instead of getting a behavior that makes a straight line–like if you made a graph of how much you turn the faucet on vs. how much water comes out–you get behavior that makes curves–like the progress of infection in an epidemic over time as it rises exponentially, comes to a peak, and curves down again as it runs out of hosts. In nonlinear systems, wholes are different from the sums of their parts. I study how to study things like weather systems, stock markets, social negotiations, and flocking birds. So chaos theory, game theory, system dynamics (and dynamical systems), systems thinking, and a slew of other shiny systems-y things end up in the sciences underlying my fictions.

I created the alien élan vitals in part out of desire to geek out on nonlinear dynamics and feedback in ecosystems in an entertaining way. Humans influence aliens, as aliens influence humans, and changes in the structure of the relationship between the two can vastly change the behavior of them both and their behavior as a whole. Sometimes this is to the benefit of both parties; other times, not so much. Kind of like the delicate balance between two large predatory species co-inhabiting the same forest.

The other part of why I created the élan vitals was out of long-standing fascination with zeitgeists, and the way that ideas can move large groups of people to action. What gives a meme legs? How can an idea move social consciousness? These questions have become increasingly urgent in today’s informational climate, where we can spread ideas at an instant to millions. So what if ideas were creatures, with ideas of their own, and they could be talked to? What if we were ideas to them, too, ideas they resonate with? What happens as we resonate with, and amplify, each other?

The élan vitals provided me with a means to explore with readers both nonlinear relationships in ecosystems generally, and feedback loops in the ecosystem of society and information. Which, to a systems geek like me, is super-rad!

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

A Walk through Red City

Red City, in my novel Hoshi and the Red City Circuit (among other tales), takes its diversity and streetwise from New York, its green-space-urban-planning from left-coast Portland, and its waterfront docks from “the Other Portland.” Five-hundred-ish years from now (assuming we make it that long), I figure we’ve learned a few things about how to make a giant city livable, especially if environmental and social concerns serve as a check on greed–albeit as the price the corporations feel they must pay for continued dynastic control.

Red City is divided into nine districts. Walking through the districts, in order of founding:

1. Landing is where the colony ship landed, and where the first settlement was built. Originally of historical interest, all the interesting bits were destroyed during later city development. It’s now a mix of businesses and residences, pining a little for its lost past.

2. Shirring Point is where the settlement first expanded. The peninsula developed rapidly around the fishing industry, then collapsed under its own weight as the settlement grew and moved west into Pier. While Shirring retains much of historical interest, and has a storied history, it is “the bad part of town,” abandoned by law enforcement and left to its own. It still hauls in the best fish.

3. Pier District replaced Shirring as the main fishing area, and was well-planned from the start. This is the area of most interest to tourists, and contains a combination of residences, entertainments, points of historical and natural interest, as well as some venerable businesses and institutions such as the Red City Reporter.

4. & 5. Husson and Hill Districts grew up around the same time along with the Cassiopiean red rye agricultural industry (what Red City gets its name from). They are primarily residential/industrial and carry much of the daily business of the city. Husson has a slightly artier and younger edge. Hill has better views.

6. Central developed as a link between the waterfront and the agricultural industry, and the government and key corporations made their home there. Lan Qui Park was cut along with Central to keep the city “breathing.” Red City has a unique–and uniquely strong–local, elected government, with representatives from each of the nine districts responsible for policy, and overseen by a mayor and their chosen legal council.

7. & 8. West of Central (WoC, to locals) and East of Central filled themselves in on their own as the city expanded. The space port, which handles only citizen transport (Big Island IEX handles commercial/industrial import-export), was once part of Husson. After it was rezoned into WoC, and that area took on a more industrial tone, particularly toward the south and west. Both districts serve as transitional zones between the more heavily corporate Landing, Central, and Pier districts, and the more residential Husson and Hill districts.

9. Diamond was the last district to form, and it was rezoned from Pier and WoC through lobbying from the very wealthy corporate executives who resided there. Diamond doesn’t just house the very wealthy, it also houses Red City’s upper-crust arts, entertainment, and shopping areas, and is a significant tourist destination. Broadway Beach–the cove that Diamond was zoned in particular to swallow up, is one of the most beautiful natural places in an urban environment in all the inhabited worlds.

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Cassiopeia Prime, Eden with a Price

Hoshi and the Red City Circuit is set on the exoplanet Cassiopeia-Prime. The Mem’s Public Pedia has the following facts to present about it:

Star System – Cadmus

Natural Satellites – Cepheus, Phoenix

Major Settlements –

  • Red City (pop. 18M, Main continental plate)
  • Big Island Interstellar Exchange (pop. 50K, Atlantis undersea plate)
  • Phoenix Station (pop. 3M, Phoenix satellite, orbital)
  • United Farming Territories 1 – 7 (pop. 250K, Main continental plate)

GNP – Corporate exchange (30%); Tourism (25%); Cassiopiean red rye (15%); fish (15%); whiskey (5%); gems and minerals (%5); misc. arts, crafts, and other industries (%5)

History and Culture – Discovered in 2243 and colonized in 2316, Cassiopeia Prime is considered both the most ideal and the most frustrating orbital in all of inhabited space. An “Eden World,” Cass-Prime has Earth-norm conditions with a temperate, stable, level 3 ecosystem and a superior equilibrium which causes even the weather to be predictable. However, only three percent of Cass-Prime’s crust is above sea level and only seven percent of that mass can be developed without risk to the planet’s ecosystem. Although Cass-Prime has always been a part of the New Organization of Federal Banking Worlds, its unique role as a crossroads for commerce, as well as its mix of urban centers and agricultural industries, has given it a greater cultural-political autonomy than most NOFBW bodies, as well as a liberal sensibility and a reputation as a center for the arts.

Red City – Early settlement planning zoned the Main continent’s north-west peninsula for the bulk of human habitation, with a carrying capacity of no greater than 18.6M. Architected in a combined style of Neo-Feng-Shui and Eco-Industrial, and run more-so by its own City Council system than by its assigned NOFBW Controllers, Red City is considered the most livable of all large urban centers.

Red City consists of nine districts, in order of founding: Landing, Shirring Point, Pier, Husson, Hill, Central, West of Central, East of Central, Diamond. NOTE: Due to modern strategies for containing crime, tourists are strongly advised to avoid the Shirring Point area in its entirety.

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Nemeses, Frenemies, and Kinda Creepy Social Workers: the Antagonists of Daily Life

When I have frustrations I can’t resolve, and don’t know what to do with, I put them into story. In story they can be fixed, or at least examined in a cathartic way. I suspect that’s true of many story-tellers.

The antagonists in Hoshi and the Red City Circuit are less epic evils and more the irritants of daily life, which somehow feel more epic when they are happening to us. Martin Ho, Hoshi’s ex-co-worker “nemesis,” is a composite of a number of co-workers I’ve had. I feel a little bad about that, because some of Martin’s antagonistic traits come from otherwise awesome people I really liked–but my guess is that if I were to appear in their books I, too, might be a bit of an antagonist. I do try to make it up to them by the end.

As far as Luzzie Vai, the best I can guess is that my love and need for antiheroes needed somewhere to go, and since Hoshi, despite her grit, is not an antihero, Luzzie sprang up as her equal and her opposite. I’ve had plenty of frenemies, people I don’t want to like because I don’t trust them, or they are simply awful, but I still have to deal with them. So I find something I can respect about them in order to accomplish what needs to be done–and make sure I’ve got a plan for when that knife lands in the small of my back.

Luzzie and Martin, like Hoshi, are Operators, and they represent choices about disability identity that don’t sit well with me. Luzzie encourages people to hide their disability, to avoid disclosure, which often comes at great cost in health and wellbeing. The drug he pedals is my fictional metaphor for “passing.” Martin is an elitist, the one who feels his difference makes him superior, and he should be given gifts for simply existing. His sense of entitlement is something few us can afford, and can harm our fight for civil rights.

Mai Chandra though–Mai is a direct consequence of my awful experiences with the vocational rehabilitation system in the US, including with an abusive rehabilitation counselor. Fiction can call out reality in ways that reality won’t allow, particularly from disempowered voices. I wish Mai didn’t exist. But she does; some antagonists of daily life can become life-threatening to those of us in vulnerable positions.

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Power, Allies, and Friendship in Hoshi and the Red City Circuit

Protagonists are defined as much by their interactions with other characters as they are by their own actions. Work-shopping the rough “draft zero” of Hoshi and the Red City Circuit through my writing group, a first-chapter comment went: “That Hoshi chooses to work for a police department that once owned her makes her relationship with Inspector Sorreno really complicated.”

Yes, it does. They are friends, and there is mutual respect. But Sorreno is ever in a position of power as both Police Inspector and normal, and the chasm of lived experience has Hoshi ever-cautious of the distance between them–distance which Sorreno, due to her privilege, is oblivious to. Interacting with allies is often like this in the real world–equals in some ways, but in other ways there will always be a chasm more visible to one side than the other.

About a third of the way through draft zero, my writing group had a new comment: “We’ve seen Hoshi interact with people who have more power than her, and with people who have less power than her, but we haven’t seen her interact much with anyone who is a peer, a friend on even footing. What’s that like? What’s would that reveal about her?”

Kelvin always appeared in the second chapter. Thinking about the peer comment though, I ended up including him throughout the story. Kelvin isn’t an Operator, but he’s not entirely a normal either. He’s like my neurodivergent-but-not-autistic friends, or my friends who would be considered an “autistic cousin” as they are closer to my end of the spectrum. He’s an amalgam of a bunch of people I like, and was named after the only person at my baby sitter who was ever a friend to me. His engineering whimsy delights me. He has been marginalized for his occupation, and for his borderline Operator-ness, and for where he chooses to place his loyalties. The chasm of lived experience doesn’t divide them, although they are maligned (and revered) for different reasons; Kelvin is a fiercely wise choice of a friend.

Paperback and ebook available from autpress.com; free ebook with paperback purchase! Also available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com, from Powell’s City of Books, or ask at your local bookstore.

Reading at Another Read Through 9/20/2018: Neurodivergent Queer Heroes

Join me at Another Read Through for a reading from my science fiction mystery novel Hoshi and the Red City Circuit, as well as conversation about my neurodivergent, disabled, and queer heroes; cool tech; systems science; and cantankerous detectives. I’ll have books available to sign and buy.

Date: 9/20/2018
Time: 7:00 PM
Place: Another Read Through, 3932 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR

Here are links to the venue’s FaceBook event and event calendar.

Stop by and support a lovely local bookstore!

Theme: Overlay by Kaira 2020 Dora M Raymaker
Portland, Oregon