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Poem: "Zee" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Zee"
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lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: January 5th, 2012 06:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Am I weird for disliking the "disabilities into superpowers" trope? Maybe I'm too fond of the reverse, turning superpowers into liabilities...

I do more fantasy than sci-fi, and I don't feel like I'm GREAT at using disability, but yeesh, at least I use it. I've got a deaf sexton with a mute golem (they use sign language with each other), a horse-man thing that's under a geas not to use any form of linguistic communication (verbal OR sign) so has to communicate purely symbolically, a stone guy with peripheral neuropathy that combined with supernatural strength makes him into walking property damage. And there are a fair few folks with mental issues--the guy who has communication and sensory processing issues, the massively dyslexic.

Huh. Guess I have a few. I'm just not used to classifying it as "disability" so much as "thing that causes problems but can be adapated to," in the same ballpark as, "has an incompetent vampire randomly wrangling to control her mind at times" or, "allergic to magic." I mean, in spec fic, there's so many ways to toy with what it means to have a disability... are vampires disabled because they explode in sunlight?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)

No...

>>Am I weird for disliking the "disabilities into superpowers" trope?<<

Based on my observation of this topic, dislike is the prevailing opinion. I'm in the minority for liking that trope. As long as you're polite about it like this, I'm cool with that; people are entitled to have different tastes. I just get annoyed when people are snarky about it, and that's very common with these issues.

>> Maybe I'm too fond of the reverse, turning superpowers into liabilities...<<

I really like that one too.

I like both, because they speak to different aspects of my own experiences and my observations of other people's experiences with abilities that are above or below average. Sometimes a limitation in one area pushes you to develop something else a lot more than usual. Sometimes a gift comes with a very costly drawback. To me, those are interesting stories.

I very frequently do this with gaming characters, and I will never understand why gaming companies always give in and nerf the super-powered races because dumb game masters don't understand the built-in drawbacks well enough to compensate for the advantages. I love playing, or GMing, characters with very strong strength and weakness peaks. It's just more exciting.

Thing is, when you're dealing with a topic like this, you have to know what you're doing. If you screw up the practical details, people will justifiably complain. If you trivialize the gravity of the situation, people will justifiably complain. Sometimes writers flub this stuff awfully, and I don't like that at all. But I wish that people would not assume it's always going to be a botch-up in some way.

I believe that a good story about a handicapped hero is one where the flaw matters -- you can see how it affects the character's worldview, actions, other people's behavior, etc. -- yet that isn't necessarily the only thing going on in the plot, there is also some other concern.

Some of the stories I write are 'about' disability, and how people deal with it, like "Clouds in the Morning," where Rai struggles with a visual handicap in a school system that makes no accommodations for it. Others are just stories about people going about their lives, and it happens that they have a disability; "These Teeth, Like Stars" is about Marai celebrating Raiser Day, and how she experiences it as a deaf woman. I developed both of those Torn World characters, and for each of them I did research on what their handicap is and how people with that handicap function. Marai is actually an adoptable character, shared by contributors, and several other folks have also done research on deaf people so her stories are really good at conveying that experience. Now it happens that Rai has an ability he doesn't know about yet, but I as an author do: he can see the Others. That's not exactly a superpower, but could be construed as such in the South, although it's the norm for Northerners. Marai on the other hand is pretty ordinary. Then if you look at the daughter of Monster House, she is blind, just barely able to distinguish stark constrasts. But she's got a seeing-eye gremlin, and later on, the Eye of Fate. There are things she can see and things she can't, which affects how she moves through the world and how she interacts with people. She's never all one thing or all the other, always in-between. And her poems often focus on her perceptions of the world, especially the difference between eyesight and visionary awareness. Those are just a few examples of exploring different aspects of ability and disability, worldviews, how other people react, etc.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 05:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts


>>I do more fantasy than sci-fi, and I don't feel like I'm GREAT at using disability, but yeesh, at least I use it.<<

You know, that's another reason why I dislike it when people attack stories or writers. It discourages writers from trying -- and the only way to get good at something is to go do it, sometimes over and over again before you get it right.

Your characters sound relatively awesome to me.

>>And there are a fair few folks with mental issues--the guy who has communication and sensory processing issues, the massively dyslexic.<<

One of the Torn World ethnic groups is prone to dyslexia, which is a SERIOUS handicap in the Empire because the whole culture basically runs on paperwork. So they developed a profession of people who fill out licenses and do other paperwork for the folks who can't or just want to hire an expert.

>>I'm just not used to classifying it as "disability" so much as "thing that causes problems but can be adapated to," in the same ballpark as, "has an incompetent vampire randomly wrangling to control her mind at times" or, "allergic to magic." <<

There are a lot of different ways to count it, including these useful options:

1) A disability is a limitation. It prevents the character from doing things, or requires them to do things, that cause challenges in everyday life. A character who is very big will encounter certain problems, like bumping into low-hanging objects or breaking thing, even if perfectly healthy.

2) A disability is a significant drop below what is average for a given species. So the expectations are set by what is common physically or mentally within that species -- which can change over time. Human-normal hearing would be nearly deaf for a canine species.

3) A disability is a significant variation from what is socially expected. Dyslexia is a great example, because it's trivial or irrelevant in a nonliterate society, but a moderate to devastating problem in a literate society depending on how much emphasis they put on reading and writing. In the Empire, the Unlettered are shut out of much of the society.

>>I mean, in spec fic, there's so many ways to toy with what it means to have a disability... are vampires disabled because they explode in sunlight?<<

Oh hell yes. I have that one. I don't explode, but in full summer sun I start to turn pink after 5 minutes, with sunscreen; though with some cloud cover or low angle I'll last longer. I just never go out in full sun if I can avoid it, I stay in the shade. And I have had people throw an absolute fit over that. Dietary restrictions also count.

Note that in almost all vampire fiction, the vampires and the humans are separate in some way, not fully integrated. It just takes different forms in different worlds. That is heavily influenced by the differences between humans and vampires. Seriously, try concentrating on "catching fire in sunlight is a disability, being a liquivore is a disability" ... and then reread some vampire stories, watching for discrimination. It pops right out. For a really awesome look at some decent vampires trying to learn how to live with humans, despite a largely segregated and hostile history, see the Donor House series by kajones_writing.
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