Friday has exactly 30 days to get this book finished and turned in.
- Zoos post animal reviews.
- Baby elephant wants snuggles, decides to be a lap elephant.
- Stretchy cats.
“I’m not invisible in science fiction, just insulted by being a symbol of inadequacy. I have no wish to glorify my physical or mental problems. They cause me constant pain and if I could get rid of them I would do so in a heartbeat. But that doesn’t mean I can only exist as a symbol of a society’s failure to fix me.”
Three other essays from Invisible 3 are available to read online:
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind folks that the collection is eligible for the Hugo Award in the Best Related Work category…
In Which We Prepare for Launch
In the past year I’ve struggled with managing increasingly serious symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia, as well as other symptoms of Noonan Syndrome. These issues affect my daily life and make me question my identity. Does having the kinds of problems I have mean I’m disabled? Lately I’ve settled on my own word to describe myself: ‘messy’. I do not intend it as pejorative term. Many wonderful things are messy – babies, Jackson Pollock paintings, glitter, and my house, for example. I chose the term because I tend not to fit neatly into a category, I look unusual, and my problems defy simple solutions.
With my new favorite word in mind, I decided to take a tour through a few of the fictional universes I love to see where my messiness might fit in. In science fiction, we explore the notion that technology will cure all or most conditions which are perceived as detrimental. This sets up a treatment of ‘messy’ conditions as one in which the presence of mess is a sign that a planet or society is poor and otherwise backward.
This is why I am most likely to be represented in franchises such as Star Wars and Firefly, which show a clear line between the planets that are part of the establishment and planets that remain outside the establishment. It also means my appearance in those franchises would be derogatory. My uncorrected droopy eye and my limp signal, “This planet is poor.” My existence signals that a society is failing to care for its own. However, it might also be a sign that a society is willing to tolerate difference – a positive trait that is undercut by keeping messy people in the background instead of allowing them to shine as main characters.
In Which We Visit the Star Wars Universe
The Star Wars Universe can be split into two types of settings: tidy and messy. I’d never be found in the more prosperous cities of the Empire, or the Empire’s ships and stations. The Empire’s look is polished and perfect, unlike the more rough, dirty, used look of the Rebel Alliance. Even Darth Vader, who is profoundly disabled, has an exterior façade of physical strength and health, thanks in part to Vader’s glossy suit. By presenting a perfect, clean, shiny world, The Empire positions itself as an institution of order versus chaos. In the Empire, everything is under control – in many senses of the term.
The iconography of the Empire conveys power but also conformity. It echoes Nazi propaganda, with high-necked uniforms for officers and faceless, elite soldiers called “stormtroopers.” Troops stand in formation to hear speeches set against the backdrop of red flags. It seems highly unlikely that anyone messy would be tolerated in the Empire’s most militaristic strongholds. Someone with my odd gait and appearance would be an embarrassment – a blot on an otherwise perfect presentation of physical power.
The less developed a planet is, the more likely it is to be friendly towards the Rebel Alliance. Like most frontier lands, the inhabitants of these planets dislike rules and like most frontier lands they seem to be much more hardscrabble than the Empire – these are places where perfectly polished steel is replaced by rusty spare parts. For example, in A New Hope, Tatooine is clearly under the Empire’s dominion, and yet people speak quite openly of joining the Rebellion.
These planets are impoverished, yet they are also havens of non-conformity. Look at the residents of the rougher neighborhoods of Tatooine or Jakku, and you could easily find me limping down the street. My very “messiness” would serve as a sign that this planet is Not Up To Par. It would be a sign that The Empire does not serve all planets equally as well as a sign that the Rebellion is not doing well. We know from Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader that incredible medical technology exists. It seems likely, however, that the Rebellion-friendly planets don’t have access to it.
On the plus side, while the outer planets may not have the ability to fix problems, they do seem to be willing to tolerate every possible level of appearance and behavior. It’s even possible that my odd appearance would not block me from becoming one of the central actors in a Star Wars franchise film. After all, Yoda is even shorter than I am, and unlike me, he’s green. However, The Star Wars main cast spends a lot of time running and fighting hand-to-hand. Unless I develop an affinity for The Force, there will be no trips in the Millennium Falcon for me. I’ve been trying to use The Force on things since I was six and nothing has happened yet, but maybe I’m a late bloomer! Till then, I would be relegated strictly to the alleys of some dusty town, evidence that no one has the resources to fix me but also that no one has an interest in eliminating me.
In Which We Survey The ’Verse (Firefly and Serenity)
Here’s another example of the link between disability and class. Someone like me could easily be located in the ports of the relatively impoverished Rim planets. The Rim Planets and their inhabitants are allowed to be ‘messy,’ but the prosperous cities (the Core worlds) are not. The Core worlds, dominated more closely by the Alliance, rely on a very similar aesthetic as the cities dominated by the Empire in Star Wars, for the same reasons. An optimistic soul might say that the medical technology on Core worlds is so advanced that physical impairments are easily cured. A more cynical soul might say that those who can’t be cured are ‘encouraged’ to seek life out of sight of others.
It’s theoretically possible that I could be part of the main Firefly cast if I had a special skill to offer that did not rely on physical strength. For instance, Wash, Simon and Kaylee are all physically fit, but their use to the crew is due to their skill sets (pilot, surgeon and mechanic, respectively), not their physical fitness (I realize many people with disabilities are extremely physically fit, but I am not). Additionally, there’s the fact that anyone can be a passenger if they have enough funds – presumably even short arthritic women.
Unfortunately, given my slow walking speed and non-existent running speed, it’s doubtful I would survive the events of the movie (Serenity). The other barrier to my being part of the Firefly crew is that the crew is, as Mal might put it, “So very pretty.” Indeed, an abundance of good looks is possibly the only common denominator of the ship’s passengers and crew. I have many lovely qualities, but a Hollywood standard of “pretty” is not one of them.
In Which We Transport Ourselves to Star Trek
Star Trek has been quite ambitious in trying to portray people with disabilities in a positive light. In the Original Series, Miranda Jones is blind (“Is There in Truth No Beauty”). In the Next Generation, Picard has an artificial heart, Geordi is blind, and several individual episodes deal with disabilities.
However, there is still no place for messy in Star Trek. Disabled characters have a single issue (blindness, for instance). This issue is dealt with in a way that does not impair the attractiveness of the actor (although Geordi’s visor does conceal actor LeVar Burton’s eyes) and it gives the characters an advantage – both Geordie and Miranda Jones are able to sense things that others cannot, although in very different ways and through different means. On other occasions, a disability can be cured or treated by a single, though risky, operation or drug, one which patients undergo rather than stay disabled (“Ethics” and “Too Short a Season”).
The one character who might be truly viewed as ‘messy’ is Commander Pike of The Original Series. Pike was injured in an accident and became scarred, paralyzed, and unable to speak (the idea that The Federation can’t come up with a better way to help him communicate is the most implausible part of the episode). In “The Menagerie,” he is returned to the remote planet Talos IV, where he can live with an illusion of being his younger, pre-accident self.
Over and over again, Star Trek says one thing but shows another. When Worf demands that Riker kill him after Worf is paralyzed, everyone tries to talk him out of it. Geordie is a vital member of the crew with or without his visor. No one supports Admiral Johnson in “Too Short a Season” in his attempts to de-age by popping alien space pills.
Star Trek SAYS people with disabilities have value. But Star Trek SHOWS a society in which only tidy forms of disability are allowed. There are no captains in wheelchairs. Characters who are not cured or fixed or blessed with extra useful technology disappear. While Star Trek SAYS that people with disabilities can still contribute to society, in practice characters choose to risk their lives lest they become disabled and therefore “useless.” The exception is Troi, who realizes that she can still be useful after she loses her empathic powers, but she gets them back, tidily, at the end of 45 minutes.
If I could be found anywhere in Star Trek, it would be on Deep Space Nine, that frontier outpost no one wants to be assigned to. Here. class distinction strikes again. The characters in this show are experienced with dealing with mess in terms of assisting travelers and the survivors of war. Deep Space Nine also has a wheelchair user named Melora who refuses to be ‘fixed’ and who insists, correctly, that she can be a useful, adventurous, active person despite her inability to walk in “normal” gravity (“Melora”).
Alas, Melora leaves the station after only one episode, and once again we are left with a cast that is either non-human or human/human-like and very pretty and athletic. If I were on Deep Space Nine, I would be a mess for the crew to deal with, a “Very Special Episode.” There’s still no allotment for messy among the crew.
A Quick Read in the Spaceport: The Vorkosigan Saga
FINALLY! Miles Vorkosigan, of the beloved book series by Lois McMaster Bujold is the essence of messy! He’s short (we are the same height!) and oddly proportioned! He has brittle bones, which means his physical abilities and pain levels change constantly as various parts of him break and heal. He has scars. He struggles with mood disorders. None of this stops him from living a life of adventure and daring, and he has a happy romance.
This book series has a huge and loyal fan base, many stories and sub-plots, an abundance of world-building and fascinating characters, and yet it has never been adapted to screen. Could it be that it’s simply too messy for Hollywood to contemplate? For the sake of brevity (I know, too late) I’ve confined our trip to stories that made it to the screen. This book series is a hint of how much diverse representation is possible if Hollywood were more daring.
Reflections from Home
After such an exhausting trip, I need a nap. But first, my conclusion: the world of television and film, especially large franchises and series, likes things to be tidy. The problem is not that there are no disabled people in science fiction. The problem is that disabled people are so often relegated to a Very Special Episode and/or a guest character role, and they are made so tidy that they do not resemble the messy reality that many of us experience.
Frankly, I’d be thrilled if my conditions could be cured. But that doesn’t mean that our fictional worlds should be without mess. Mess is part of life. People who have complicated physical and mental issues are part of life, and they are vibrant and capable. Why couldn’t I be an interplanetary historian for the Enterprise, or a Rebel Alliance pilot in Star Wars, or a traveling storyteller in Firefly? Why should I hide in some smoky corner of a Cantina when I could be at the Council table plotting the rebellion?
When storytellers banish people like me to the Cantinas and the alleys of backwater planets, they are telling us, “You are undesirable. You are a sign that things have gone wrong. You are not nice to look at and you can’t get shit done.” Yet I know any number of messy people who get shit done all the time. If they worked on the crew of The Firefly, they’d make the protein packs taste good and the jobs run smoothly and in their spare time they’d knit everyone blankets. That’s the kind of universe I really want to visit.
I’m not invisible in science fiction, just insulted by being a symbol of inadequacy. I have no wish to glorify my physical or mental problems. They cause me constant pain and if I could get rid of them I would do so in a heartbeat. But that doesn’t mean I can only exist as a symbol of a society’s failure to fix me. I can also be a symbol of determination and resilience and resolve and the kind of beauty that is only noticeable when one is paying close attention. Perhaps on my next tour, I’ll find someone like me standing for better things than failure.
Carrie Sessarego is the resident “geek reviewer” for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, where she wrangles science fiction, fantasy romance, comics, movies, and non-fiction. Her first book, PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND POPCORN: TV AND FILM ADAPTATIONS OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, AND JANE EYRE, was released in 2014. Her work has been published in SEARCH Magazine, Interfictions Online, After the Avengers, The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 9, Google Play Editorial, and Speculative Fiction 2013: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays And Commentary. When not reading and writing, you can find Carrie speaking at conventions, volunteering for the Sacramento Public Library, and getting into trouble with her mad scientist husband, Potterhead daughter, mysterious cats, and neurotic dog.
Lots of folks doing cool/interesting/nifty stuff lately. I figured I’d put some of them together into a convenient blog post.
1. Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent have been coediting an anthology called THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY. If you sign up for the newsletter, you can be entered to win one of fifty advance review e-copies. Authors include Laura Anne Gilman, Jenny Moss, Cassandra Khaw, Patrick Samphire, Y. S. Lee, and more.
2. Kristen Britain is doing a Kickstarter for the Green Rider Book Soundtrack. This is part of the 20th anniversary celebration for the book, and it looks like she’s close to hitting her goal. The music is composed by Kristina A. Bishoff.
3. Robert V. S. Redick wrote a blog post about the creation of his new epic fantasy, Master Assassins, which just came out. He talks in part about how feminism influenced the writing, including this line: “Being a feminist means always asking myself what those demons are up to. We all like to be ‘woke,’ but a white man can get away with nodding off any time.”
Feel free to boost your own friends and their awesome projects in the comments! No self-boosting, though. At the very least, make a friend come over and do that for you 😉
After several months of back-and-forth with the insurance company, medical supply company, and my doctor’s office, last week I went in to get set up on a new Minimed 670G insulin pump. The thing I’ve been really excited about is that this pump links to a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
For the past 20 years, I’ve checked my blood sugar by pricking my finger about six times/day and putting a drop of blood onto a test strip. The CGM checks every five minutes, and gives me something close to a real-time graph showing my blood sugar levels and how those levels are changing.
I still need to do the finger-pricks, since the CGM isn’t quite as accurate, and needs to be calibrated. But this means I get much quicker warnings if my sugar starts to go high or low. It also gives me a lot more data to better refine how I take insulin to keep things under control.
Ironically, this came up as I was working on this blog post. I think there was an issue with the site where I plugged the pump into my body, which was causing me to not absorb insulin as well as I should. As a result, my sugar was high. It’s currently 255, to be exact.
Thanks to the CGM, I’d been alerted that it was going high, and had been able to monitor the rise and decide to change the set. Without it, I’d have waited until my next finger-prick.
You can see I’ve already come down a little bit from the peak when I changed my site. Theoretically, that line should keep coming down until it gets into the green-shaded area between the two horizontal red lines.
The only problem so far is that I tend to overreact. It takes time for the body to process insulin or digest and process food. If I take insulin now, I won’t see an immediate effect. Likewise if I eat, say, a chocolate bar, it could be 15 minutes or more before my sugar starts to rise. So if I’m high, I might take a correction dose of insulin. Ten minutes later, I’m still high! What the heck? So the temptation is to take another dose. Unfortunately, “stacking” insulin like this can result in an overcorrection, and suddenly my sugar is too low.
But I’m getting used to it, and I haven’t had any severe problems.
The other inconvenience is I now have not one but two things plugged into my abdomen: the insulin pump site, and the CGM sensor.
Warning: pale belly pics behind the cut.
This is a repost and slight expansion of a Twitter thread from a few days ago.
For the record, I have a mental illness, and have never committed a mass shooting.
Research shows that “the overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent crimes is only about 3%. When these crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to involve firearms.”
If you’re looking for a more telling correlation, consider this finding from an FBI study of 160 active shooter events between 2000 and 2013: “Only 6 (3.8%) of the 160 cases involved a female perpetrator.” (p. 85)
I mean, please, PLEASE, do improve mental health care in this country! But don’t expect it to have any impact on mass shootings.
One argument points to a Mother Jones article claiming mental illness is frequently a factor in these shootings. So I downloaded their data set.
Factors they listed in the mental illness column include:
They also listed some actual mental illness diagnoses. But counting those diagnoses right alongside things like “stalked and harassed a colleague” completely undermines their research and conclusions.
One individual was upset I argued against blaming mass shootings on the mentally ill, then turned around and pointed out that almost all mass shooters are male. I mean, I guess I’m sorry he felt upset or attacked or whatever, but the facts are pretty straightforward:
Yeah, we know most men aren’t mass murderers. But since mass shootings are committed almost exclusively by men, don’t you think maybe it’s worth asking why? (Don’t #NotAllMen me, bro!)
We could also look into the significant correlation between mass shootings and domestic violence.
I’m not the first to point any of this out. There’s plenty of research out there, and people have been challenging the “mass shootings are a mental health problem” refrain for years.
At this point, if you’re still beating the “mental illness” drum as a response to mass shootings in the USA, I have to assume it’s because you’re uninterested in addressing the real problems.
TL;DR – I’m mentally ill. Please stop blaming this epidemic on us. Thanks.
Graphic Audio has just released the audio book of my short collection Goblin Tales, which includes five goblin-related short stories as well as “Mightier than the Sword,” the short story (with Smudge!) that eventually became the Magic ex Libris series.
If you order today (2/26), you’ll be automatically entered to win a Prize Pack featuring a GraphicAudio beanie, keychain and a Smudge plush!
To celebrate, they’re also offering 30% off the Goblin Trilogy set if you use code GOBLIN30
Happy goblin day, everybody!
We saw Black Panther on Monday. The final panther fight was a little too CGI for me, but that’s a minor flaw in an overall amazing movie.
Rather than talk about it myself, I wanted to link to some reaction pieces.
There’s so much more great discussion out there. Feel free to share links in the comments.
And then, of course, there’s this…