Invisible 3

Lost in Space: A Messy Voyage Through Fictional Universes, by Carrie Sessarego

“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.”

Invisible 3 CoverCarrie Sessarego is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can order the collection at:

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

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…


Lost in Space: A Messy Voyage Through Fictional Universes

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.

Our Hyperdimensional Mesh of Identities, by Alliah

“There is a common poor attempt at a joke … that consists purely in stringing together a series of marginalized identities and calling attention to it … as if the mere existence of someone like that would be so absurd it could only be laughable.”

Invisible 3 CoverAlliah is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which came out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can order the collection at:

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.

As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.


Our Hyperdimensional Mesh of Identities

Growing up in the 90s and early 00s in the south-east of Brazil, all I saw in mainstream media were the same repetitive, harmful and offensive stereotypes about travestis in telenovelas and badly written comedy TV shows, and the effeminate gay men and macho lesbian women token characters whose non-conforming gender expression was grossly caricatured for cheap laughs.

As an openly queer young girl in school, I learned that I could be queer, but not too much, not too visibly. I’ve heard those laughs, and I internalized through bullying and ridicule that I should change how I presented myself to the world—which I did really fast by becoming the stock image of a non-threatening feminine girl, although I never hid my sexuality. My first awkward attempts at a masculine gender expression didn’t have time to blossom. I shoved it down some unreachable recess of my mind and avoided it for 10 years, which (along with compulsive heterosexuality and a binary cisnormative culture) is why it took me so long to understand my bisexuality and figure out my transmasculine non-binary gender identity.

Once I did, I uncovered a gender euphoria I’ve been cultivating ever since.

It took me years to understand the ways in which I inhabit my queer transmasculine genderfluid neuroatypical body, and my most powerful illumination came unexpectedly through the stories of a queer non-binary neuroatypical green witch: Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Wicked: Cover ArtI first met her in the book series The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire, where most aspects about her gender and sexuality were ambiguous or obscured between the lines, and later in fan fiction, where the depths of Elphaba’s intersectional identities (canon or not) could be explored to the fullest by writers that shared those same identities.

Despite being an avid reader of speculative fiction since childhood, it was only after these encounters with trans and non-binary characters in fan fiction during the first half of my twenties that I started researching these topics, that I found out where I belonged. I discovered a thriving community of authors from marginalized groups creating astonishing rebellious versions of every world I’ve ever dreamed of and countless others I couldn’t imagine would be paramount to my process of liberation.

I owe it mostly to the fictional characters and their creators that illuminated me—from early readings like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to the most recent fan fiction stories about a non-binary autistic Elphaba, a genderfluid bisexual Korra (from The Legend of Korra), and an agender transhumanist Root (from Person of Interest). I wish I could’ve met them sooner. Along the way to self-discovery, I had to collect all sorts of missing pieces with jagged edges and weird fractal shapes, and figure out a way to put them together myself. I was lucky to stumble upon the stories that I did and then to be able to find the communities that I needed. That’s why representation is vital. You cannot search for something you don’t even know exists.

There is a common poor attempt at a joke (that I’ve seen in both Anglophone and Brazilian online spaces), often directed at dehumanizing non-binary people and mocking activists working at the multidimensional core of intersections, that consists purely in stringing together a series of marginalized identities and calling attention to it, using the accumulation of these identities as a joke in and of itself, as if the mere existence of someone like that would be so absurd it could only be laughable.

One of the things fantasy author Jim Anotsu and I wanted to acknowledge when we wrote the Manifesto Irradiativo—our call to diversity and representation in Brazilian speculative fiction—is that our lives cannot be reduced to an isolated shelf in a bookstore or a niche market, thus we cannot be constrained to discussing the realities of our identities in those compartmentalized terms. We’re so much more than single-issue stories, than the same old one-dimensional narratives constructed to serve the gaze of the oppressor without making them examine their privileges and dismantle their systems of violence.

Those single-issue stories exist and persist for several reasons concerning the maintenance of racial, economic, and social power, amongst them because there is a fear of “too much” diversity. As if a book about a bipolar asexual bigender Afro-Brazilian person, for example, would scare away or alienate the common reader—who is always presumed to be the neurotypical cis straight white default that can handle only one unit of diversity at a time, served lukewarm, unseasoned. But as Audre Lorde said in a 1982 speech at Harvard University: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Stories matter. And we shouldn’t have the full extent of our existences cut, segregated, and dimmed in them. We deserve to live as a hyperdimensional mesh of identities when they want to flatten us, to be loud when they want to silence us, to occupy the spaces that have been negated to us, and to be wonderfully written and represented as such.


Alliah/Vic is a bisexual non-binary Brazilian writer and visual artist working in the realms of the weird and pop culture. They’re the author of Metanfetaedro and have various short stories published in themed collections and on the web. They’re currently building too many independent projects, working on their first novel, and haunting your internet cables. Find them tweeting at alliahverso and newslettering in Glitch Lung. Or buy them a coffee at ko-fi!

Mazes and Monsters: The LiveTweeting

A couple of weeks ago, I asked people to share an announcement about Invisible 3, saying that if we got at least 100 retweets, I’d do a livetweeting of the 1982 made-for-TV film Mazes and Monsters.

Mazes and Monsters movie posterThe film is based on the novel of the same name, by Rona Jaffe, and warns of the dangers of fantasy role-playing games. It’s based at least in part on rumors and legends of students sneaking into the Michigan State University steam tunnels to play Dungeons and Dragons and disappearing.

Most of this background is, as you might imagine, complete bugbear twaddle.

On the other hand, this was a chance to see Tom Hanks in his first starring role for film.

You’ve got Robbie (Hanks), a troubled kid whose brother vanished years ago. He comes to a new school after failing out of the last one for playing too much Mazes & Monsters. He tries to avoid M&M’s siren song, but because he’s “Level Nine,” Kate, Daniel, and JJ really need him to join their game.

When Robbie and Kate hook up, JJ gets depressed and talks about suicide, but instead decides to run a live-action version of M&M in the local caverns. Robbie promptly has some sort of mental break and “becomes” his character, on a quest that takes him to New York City to find the Two Towers.

All four kids seem to come from rich families (I’m not 100% sure about Kate), because the film is so much more powerful if it shows that even rich white kids can be broken and destroyed by the evils of role-playing game.

Invisible 3 CoverThere’s also a bird, a lot of hats, a mother who likes to redecorate her son’s room, and a skeleton having inappropriate relations with a flashlight.

I’m embedding the Storify of my tweets below. If any of this makes you laugh, or if you just want to show your support or sympathy, please consider checking out Invisible 3 and/or leaving a review. Thanks!

And now I’m off to try to recover some of my SAN points…



Invisible 3 Release Day

Invisible 3 CoverINVISIBLE 3, a collection of 18 essays and poems about representation in SF/F, is out today! The ebook is edited by myself and Mary Anne Mohanraj, and is available at:

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

As with the first two volumes in this series, all profits go to benefit Con or Bust.

Here’s the full table of contents:

  • Introduction by K. Tempest Bradford
  • Heroes and Monsters, by T. S. Bazelli
  • Notes from the Meat Cage, by Fran Wilde
  • What Color Are My Heroes? by Mari Kurisato
  • The Zeroth Law Of Sex in Science Fiction, by Jennifer Cross
  • Our Hyperdimensional Mesh of Identities, by Alliah
  • Erasing Athena, Effacing Hestia, by Alex Conall
  • Not So Divergent After All, by Alyssa Hillary
  • Skins, by Chelsea Alejandro
  • The Doctor and I, by Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • My Family Isn’t Built By Blood, by Jaime O. Mayer
  • Lost in Space: A Messy Voyage Through Fictional Universes, by Carrie Sessarego
  • Decolonise The Future, by Brandon O’Brien
  • Natives in Space, by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • I Would Fly With Dragons, by Sean Robinson
  • Adventures in Online Dating, by Jeremy Sim
  • Of Asian-Americans and Bellydancing Wookiees, by Dawn Xiana Moon
  • Shard of a Mirage, by MT O’Shaughnessy
  • Unseen, Unheard, by Jo Gerrard

Huge thanks to the contributors for sharing their stories and experiences. I’ve learned so much from earlier volumes in this series, and this one was no different.

And hey, if you haven’t seen the previous volumes…

INVISIBLE: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

INVISIBLE 2: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

If you’re a reviewer and would like a copy, please contact me and let me know your preferred format and where your reviews are published.

Of Asian-Americans and Bellydancing Wookiees, by Dawn Xiana Moon

“We’re so conditioned to believe that white is the default that we write ourselves out of the worlds that we create.”

Invisible 3 CoverDawn Xiana Moon is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which comes out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can preorder the collection at:

Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords | Google Play

(It will be available for Nook as well, but we don’t have that link yet.)

Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.

As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.


Of Asian-Americans and Bellydancing Wookiees, by Dawn Xiana Moon

We have always existed.

In the early days of the internet, back when we were on Prodigy or CompuServe and email addresses were long strings of numbers with a comma in between, I was answering distress calls on derelict starships. America Online (because it wasn’t yet AOL) launched an ad campaign that envisioned an internet with graphics; I dodged Borg at Warp Six. I outsmarted Q when he appeared on my bridge, launched photon torpedoes at Romulans, and flirted with fellow Starfleet officers in Ten Forward. I was thirteen. And like a good overachiever, I wondered if I could list being second-in-command of the CompuServe sim group Fleet 74 on lists of my activities and accomplishments, right next to years of piano lessons, parts in theatre productions, dancing and singing in the community show choir, and the environmental and video game clubs I’d started (and of course led as president).

My father is an aerospace engineer; by the time we moved from Singapore to the US, I was five years old and already lived in a world where discussing warp drive was normal. My AP Biology teacher was shocked when I mentioned a singularity in class one day, surprised that a high school senior would know the term (which she made me define in front of the class before she was satisfied), but I’d been raised on a steady diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and every science fiction and fantasy novel I could get my hands on—my father handed me Isaac Asimov books in elementary school and I read them, wondering why I didn’t have a robot nanny or automatic food-making gadgets. I am a native speaker of technobabble.

All that to say: I’ve always been a nerd. And proudly so. But growing up I rarely saw people that looked like me onscreen—sure, we had Sulu, but George Takei was closer to my grandparents’ age than mine. Asian characters were few and far between, and girls? Girls didn’t like Vulcans or computers. Girls especially didn’t like dancing and princesses and talking about the space-time continuum all at the same time. Or so I was told.

But I was Asian. And female. And I existed.

I was the girl who hung out at the arcade playing Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, first surprising boys who saw a girl in front of a fighting game, then shocking them when I won. I was the foreigner who walked into first grade in the middle of the school year, a Chinese kid from another country but a native speaker of English. I was the founding member of the high school forensics team who learned quickly that judges gave higher ratings to performances of minority stories by minority students than they did mainstream stories by minority students—so while the handful of black students I competed against performed passages from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, I lent dramatic flair to Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. I often won.

And now? I’m the bellydancer, firespinner, singer-songwriter, and nerd who designs and codes websites. I obsess with sparkles and sequins and makeup and then wrestle with merge conflicts in GitHub. I flirt with audiences and shimmy to Balkan brass bands and then debate backstage whether Daleks or Cylons would win in a fight. I sing 19th century French poetry layered on piano parts in 7/8 time inspired by traditional Chinese folk music, Americana, and jazz. I break stereotypes into tiny pieces and eat them like candy. I exist.


Growing up, the few Asians I saw in media invariably fell into tropes: the martial arts master, the submissive woman, the uber-nerd/scientist, the Dragon Lady seductress. None of these matched my personality. While I was able to beg my way into flute and voice lessons—in addition to piano—my father refused to let me study tae kwon do on the grounds that it would be “like handing a kid a loaded gun and telling him not to use it.” People told me I was bossy—my heroes were characters like Princess Leia and Babylon 5’s Delenn, forces of personality who were fully themselves and didn’t need rescuing. I was more Captain Kirk than Yeoman Rand. I was a geek, but I had far more interest in music and dance than I did in math or chemistry; science interested me primarily as story. And I had no idea what it would mean to be seductive—my conservative evangelical church preached “modesty,” and Bible camp banned spaghetti strap tank tops, two-piece swimsuits, and short shorts on the grounds that they would evoke lust in the boys.

I didn’t exist.

I grew up around Americans who discussed race in black and white terms, expressing couched racism with the assumed understanding that I was one of them. Those were the same Americans who complimented my English, told me my face was flat, and pontificated about how eating Chinese food was great except that you were hungry again immediately afterward. After the last election, CNN disseminated a chart of votes with breakdowns by both race and gender: Black men voted this way, black women this way, Hispanic men and women these ways. Asian-Americans didn’t appear on the chart—we were literally “Other.”

As an Asian-American theatre major, so often I was cast as that literal Other: I spent two summers performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in college. The first year, I was one of the fairies. So were most of the black students. The one who wasn’t a fairy was cast as Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. The second year, we reprised the show; I was cast as Hippolyta. All of the black students were fairies. The Greeks and lovers were uniformly white.

How often do we cast an Asian-American as the protagonist, the superhero whose origin story we follow? How often do we allow an Asian-American to lead a movie as a swashbuckling rogue, the resistance fighter who marries a princess along the way, the rockstar with thousands of screaming fans? Hollywood casts Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park in The Martian—with so few roles available to begin with, we’re often denied even characters who should look like us. We’re over 5% of the US population, but only 1.4% of the lead characters in studio films released in 2014. According to Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, the majority of media features zero named or speaking Asian characters. Zero.

Two years ago I attended a curated acoustic music showcase where every single one of the musicians was a white guy with a bushy beard. Most of them wore plaid. Producers often think of diversity in terms of instrumentation or musical style; I’ve released two albums of original music, toured 10 states, and performed hundreds of shows, but it’s rare to see another folk singer-songwriter of color. While the genre is dominated by white people, Asian-Americans are making this music. And making it well. We exist, but we’re not part of the narrative.


Living in a world where people who look like you are functionally non-existent yields odd fruit. As an ambitious elementary school kid, I wrote (what I considered then) a novel. Starring ninjas. Based heavily on the Ninja Gaiden video game. Of course I Mary Sued my way into the story. But I always envisioned my surrogate as white. And male. (Because, we’re told, the appropriate protagonist of an adventure story is white. And male.) Likewise, when I wrote other stories, every character—heroes, villains, NPCs—was white.

Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scott Pilgrim fame talks about how he never realized that he’d whitewashed himself out of his own story until seeing his comic in movie form and realizing that no one looked like him. As I’ve talked with other Asian-Americans, I’ve realized that I wasn’t the only one—many of us did the same thing. Even the excellent Ted Chiang—one of my favorite writers, and the first Asian-American I can recall encountering in science fiction—falls into this. We’re so conditioned to believe that white is the default that we write ourselves out of the worlds that we create.


I refuse to be invisible.

Faced with a culture that minimizes the existence of Asian-Americans in the arts, I’ve long created my own projects. In 2012, I founded Raks Geek, joining my love of geekdom and dance to form a nerd-themed bellydance and fire performance company that features a primarily Asian and LGBTQIA cast. While our society pigeonholes Asians as socially-awkward scientists, perpetual foreigners, and weak submissives, I’m determined to show Asians can be creative, tough, and unconventional.

“To dance is a radical act.”*

A body on a stage makes a statement. A female, POC body on a stage makes a statement. When I dance, I’m changing the narrative, the story of what an Asian-American woman is allowed to be. When I dance with Raks Geek, I’m making an audience laugh at the ridiculousness of a Wookiee shimmying, but I’m also bringing a new audience to an insular dance form, teaching them what bellydance looks like at a high level of technical and artistic proficiency, and defying a host of model minority and immigrant stereotypes.

Visibility matters. Few would conceive of an Asian-American bellydancer performing as a Wookiee. Or Mystique. Or the TARDIS. But I do, and I hope to challenge perceptions of who we are and can be every time. We exist, and we have always been here.

We exist.


* “To dance is a radical act because doing so implies that there are forms of knowing that cannot be mediated to us in words, which give words their meaning.” -Kimerer LaMothe


Dawn Xiana Moon is a lifelong geek that has worked professionally in almost every area of the arts. She the Founder and Producer/Director of Raks Geek, a nerd-themed bellydance and fire company that’s garnered acclaim from WGN-TV, MSN, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Mail, and UK Channel 4 TV. As a singer-songwriter, Dawn has performed in 10 states and released two solo albums; her latest CD, Spaces Between, fuses elements from traditional Chinese music with jazz and alt folk pop. She performs with Read My Hips tribal bellydance, spins fire with Acrobatica Infiniti circus, works as a UX designer and web developer, and has written for Uncanny Magazine, The Learned Fangirl, and RELEVANT Magazine. Though she loves Chicago, she periodically needs to flee the US; her wanderlust has brought her to 20 countries (and counting!) thus far.

Notes from the Meat Cage, by Fran Wilde

“It turns out that what I wanted wasn’t the story of a young woman coming to terms with her brace or her body … what I wanted was something to love.”

Invisible 3 CoverFran Wilde is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which comes out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can preorder the collection at:

Amazon | Kobo | Smashwords | Google Play

(It will be available for Nook and iBooks as well, but we don’t have those links yet.)

Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.

As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.

I hope you find Wilde’s essay as powerful as I did.


At twelve, I perfected the baggy clothes drape. I stood and leaned against walls rather than sitting. Leaning kept the bottom edge of the hard, white fiberglass brace from digging into my thighs and the top edge from pinching under my arms. Either or both would drag my clothes funny and ruin the effect. I was pretty careful, but one pat on the back or a joking poke at my ribs and thunk. Hip to collarbone, my identity was wrapped in a hard shell.

Other braces, before and since, were easier to hide if I wanted to hide them. Foot braces, worn at night, turned my feet in the right direction, and no one was the wiser. Their ugly cousins, the orthopedic shoes, went away by third grade. The current knee and wrist braces and all the bracing tape? Those disappear under sleeves and skirts. And they’re mostly soft, not hard.

But I’ve always identified with that thunk. Part of me has always been a brain rolling around in a cage—both the skin and bones cage that doesn’t behave, and the shells that try to help fix that.

Growing up, this sucked.

Worse, the available books I could identify with sucked too. Deenie? Once was fine, but everyone gave me Deenie as if there was nothing else. And there really wasn’t. I started leaving annotated pages of Deenie secreted around my doctors’ offices in protest.

The year before I was cast for that second brace, I found science fiction.

I realized early that I identified more with the ships I was reading about than their captains. Especially the brain ships. (I’m still incredibly partial to liveships like Farscape’s Moya, Bear & Monette’s The Lavinia Whateley (“Boojum”), and Aliette de Bodard’s mindships.)

It turns out that what I wanted wasn’t the story of a young woman coming to terms with her brace or her body (seriously it’s a fine story, but it didn’t fit me at all—or, rather, it fit me like a brace, constraining and awkward). What I wanted was something to love. I was listening for that familiar thunk on the hull; I just didn’t know it. That recognition that there was a mind inside a cage of muscle, bone, pain, fiberglass, and metal. The acknowledgement that a mind could do things—heroic things! Cool things!—even if the body rebelled.

The first time I read Anne McCaffrey’s short story “The Ship Who Sang,” I read that painful first line—”She was born a thing,” and the ensuing replacement of Helva’s body with something better, a brainship shell—and felt guilty that I had it easy in comparison, while being thrilled that the main character was female. At twelve, I didn’t quite grasp some problematic aspects of the story.* What I knew immediately was that “The Ship Who Sang” delighted me.

That delight stemmed from recognizing a part of myself in the story—a singer, an artist, a perfectionist, a twisted form, triumphant inside a hard, albeit fiberglass, shell.

I fell in love with Helva from the start, and never really let her go. She’s mine. My ship.

She was so much better than freaking Deenie.

Later, another story caught me up in similar ways, though, again, I didn’t realize why until a lot later. William Gibson’s “Winter Market” (Burning Chrome), features Max, a recording engineer, and Lise, a wunderkind artist about to go viral. Lise’s genetic disorder requires her to wear a full-body brace in order to survive, but this is faulty equipment too, so much so that the brace once trapped her starving and unable to move in a pile of garbage. Told from Max’s point of view, “Winter Market” opens with Lise’s escape to immortality: “It was like that the day her agents phoned to tell me she’d merged with the net, crossed over for good.”

In “Winter Market,” Lise creates something astoundingly beautiful and Max sees her for who she is when no one else does. I love the story. I thought I loved it because of what it said about art and dedication and rage; because of the connection between two people; because of how angry Lise was whenever anyone looked at her with anything approaching pity.

Lise is better than Deenie too.

But, as I said above, Lise is already gone by the time “Winter Market” begins, and my love for Gibson’s story has grown more complex and layered.

Lately, I’ve been arguing with Gibson in my head about Lise. (And, to a lesser extent, with McCaffrey about Helva.) Because Lise is a prop for “Winter Market.” She’s gone, and what she’s left behind and what she’s become are not Lise any more, in the narrator’s eyes especially. Because her tech cage failed her, maybe. Because her meat cage failed her too, probably. Because her mind needed to escape all that she was in order to fulfill what she was capable of.

I’m arguing about that now for a lot of reasons. First, because I can’t get out of my cage—none of us can—and second because I do not want to be gone. I want a world that lets me live, and love, and create, and be me, with whatever braces or tech I need. One that doesn’t stand in my way or expect me to disappear in one flaming act of creation. Gibson’s and McCaffrey’s stories helped me understand this, in their own ways.

So when I write characters like Djonn in Cloudbound and Horizon, or Lane in “Happenstance,” a short story coming out this summer in the FutureScapes anthology, I write them uncaged, even as I give them braces and tech to help support them. The cage I’m talking about is the story’s definition of who they are—where Lise is at one point garbage and the hole she leaves in the story, where Helva cannot be at all, unless her parents make her a ship. Djonn and Lane and others aren’t defined by their bodies and limitations; they have the tools to do their jobs and live their lives.

Sometimes people don’t notice my characters have disabilities because these characters are too busy living their lives.

I’m really very fine with that. I’m busy living my life too.

Even when the meatcage goes thunk.

*And has been beautifully explored by readers and academics including Dr. Ria Cheyne, in “She was born a Thing, Disability, The Cyborg, and the Posthuman (Journal of Mondern Literature 36.3)”


Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton- and Compton Crook Award-winning, Nebula-nominated novel UPDRAFT (Tor 2015), its sequels, CLOUDBOUND (2016) and HORIZON (2017), and the Nebula- and Hugo-nominated novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” ( Publishing 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s,, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications including The Washington Post,, Clarkesworld,, and You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at

Invisible 3 Reveal: Cover and Contributors

Work on Invisible 3 continues! At this point, we have signed contracts from all contributors, and our marvelous introduction-writer is hard at work writing the introduction.

We also have cover art, which includes our list of contributors!

Invisible 3 Cover Art

(The introduction bit is blurred out because I’m superstitious about sharing names before everything is done and signed.)

The introduction arrived in my inbox shortly after I posted this, so we can also announce now that it’s by K. Tempest Bradford!

We don’t have a firm release date yet, but it won’t be too long now.

In the meantime, thank you to:

for your amazing work. We can’t wait to share it with the world.

Invisible 3 Update

Invisible 3 is running a little behind the schedule I’d hoped to meet. It turns out that coordinating between two editors takes more time than one editor doing it all himself. Who’d have guessed?

Mary Anne and I have 13 essays and 3 poems contracted thus far. We’ve got one revision to look over, and two rewrites we’re waiting to receive. We’re also missing a few author bios I need to follow up about.

Cover art is mostly done, but I need to confirm those last few names before we can finalize that.

We’ve sent the contents off to the person who will be writing the introduction for this volume.

My hope is that when I get back from Buenos Aires and have had a day or two to recover, we’ll be able to announce a tentative release date (I’m guessing May or June, but I reserve the right to be wrong in that guess) and move forward with the cover reveal.

I’m very happy with what we have so far, and I can’t wait until we’re able to share it with you.

Invisible 3: Call for Submissions

Invisible - Cover ArtIn 2014, twelve authors and fans shared their stories about the importance of representation in science fiction/fantasy in Invisible. In 2015, seventeen more people came together for Invisible 2. Their essays are personal, powerful, and very much needed. These stories help to create understanding and connection. They expose the power of our genre both to help and to harm.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m partnering with author and editor Mary Anne Mohanraj to begin work on Invisible 3.

We’re looking for personal, first-hand stories between 400 and 1000 words talking about the impact of SF/F stories and what it’s like to see yourself misrepresented or erased, or relegated to the backgrounds. We’re also interested in the ways underrepresented and marginalized writers have worked to reclaim space in the genre.

While the primary focus is on these personal essays, we’d like to incorporate a few poems for this volume as well.

As in previous years, accepted works will first be published online, and then collected and published as part of the Invisible 3 anthology. Contributors will receive a $10 payment.

Invisible 2Once author and artist payments have been covered, all additional proceeds will go to the Con or Bust program, helping people of color to attend SFF conventions.

Here’s our proposed schedule for the anthology:

  • By December 1: Interested authors should email with your proposed topic. (For Invisible 2, I had more than three times as many proposals as I could use. This will allow Mary Anne and I to make sure we have a range of topics and contributors.)
    • ETA: I’ve had two reports of emails bouncing from that invisible address. Most submissions appear to be coming through fine, but if you have any trouble, you can use my backup email address: jchines42 -at-
  • By January 1: Mary Anne and I will contact potential contributors to let them know whether we’re able to use their suggested essays/poems.
  • By February 1: Contributors write and submit their works. Mary Anne and I will read and follow up with revision requests as needed.
  • By March 1: Final essays due.
  • March 15: Begin running the essays online.
  • By April 30: Publish Invisible 3.

Please comment or email if you have any questions or concerns.

Thank you.

Jim & Mary Anne


About the Editors:

Mary Anne Mohanraj wrote and edited Bodies in Motion, The Stars Change, and twelve other titles. BiM was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards and has been translated into six languages. TSC was a finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards. Mohanraj founded Strange Horizons, directs the Speculative Literature Foundation, and is an English professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Jim C. Hines is the author of twelve fantasy novels and more than 50 published short stories. In addition to Invisible and Invisible 2, he edited the Heroes in Training anthology for DAW Books. He’s an active blogger, and won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan

Jim C. Hines