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The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Discussion: An Army of One, Autism in SF
I was hoping to get a new series out of this fishbowl, because I have very few science fiction ones, and I did.  An Army of One is unique as far as I know, because it focuses on a society of autistic people.  The story begins in the freebie poem "A Solitary Secession," inspired by Dreamwidth user Chordatesrock.  Three other poems written during the fishbowl proper have been sponsored and posted.  Four more have been written as spillover and are on the list of unsold poems.  I have notes for a few more.  Let's talk about this.

EDIT 1/13/13: Vote for a series to be featured in the mid-month fishbowl.


Here are the current poems in probable chronological order:
"A Solitary Secession"
"One Man's Army"
"Backup, Try Again"
"Jumpship"
"The Lord of Pr0n"
"The Velveteen Gloves"
"Invisible Lines"
"Language Bodies"

Very little literature has been written about neurovariant people.  Of that, most is negative, marginalizing, or crud.  Here they are the main characters, they get to be awesome, they get to be ordinary, and they get to make a big splash in galactic politics.  They matter.  Also they're attracting attention from a bunch of fans, always an encouraging sign in a new series.  Remember that in crowdfunding, you-all influence what gets made and how fast.  If you want to fill a literary gap, we can do that.

For these reasons, I'm opening discussion about this series.  Are you on the autism spectrum, do you know someone who is, or are you otherwise fluent with this topic?  If so, I'm especially interested in your input.  Have you read other portrayals of autistic characters that are great or awful?  Discussion of what works or doesn't work in literature is helpful.  Do you know of resources by autistic people about their experiences?  A few of those have already helped inspire some of this material; more would be good.  If you know folks on the autistic spectrum who might like these poems, or might like to join the discussion, please point them in this direction.

Finally, there will be a bonus fishbowl this month.  Usually I just give you a list of popular series that haven't been featured recently.  But we happen to have a new  series right before a bonus session.  That's rare -- I can only think of it happening once before, with Path of the Paladins, and that was a closed session for donors only.  This will be open to everyone.  So consider whether you'd like to make An Army of One the bonus theme, and discuss that here if you wish.  I wanted to call attention to it this way because, if I just drop a new series into a poll, it tends not to compete well against the likes of Monster House and Path of the Paladins.

Over to you ...

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18 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
msstacy13 From: msstacy13 Date: January 12th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Forgive me if I've mentioned this previously,
or if you knew it already, but
"An Army of One" is probably a trademark of the US Army.
That would only matter if you use it as a published title.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: January 12th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
... and maybe not even then, since titles and trademarks cover different areas, and IP law involving the US government is different in many ways.
msstacy13 From: msstacy13 Date: January 12th, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
haikujaguar had a problem with amazon recently;
the title of a book coincidentally contained a trademark,
so amazon wouldn't sell it,
even though it was ~not~ a trademark infringement.

So I'm just sayin' if authors avoid putting trademarks in titles,
amazon won't have an issue, and the authors won't have a problem.
From: technoshaman Date: January 12th, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
"An Army of One" has prior-work... it was used on the poster for "The Outlaw Josey Wales". Rush Limbaugh has also used it as part of a book title (2011) and it was also the name of a 1993 Dolph Lundgren B-movie.

I don't think there's going to be much of a problem.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: January 13th, 2013 02:46 am (UTC) (Link)
The US government is prohibited from owning patents or copyrights; don't know what the law is on trademarks. And you can't copyright a title in any case.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I appreciate those tips. A quick search showed that that "An Army of One" is in widespread use as a title, so I'm considering a subtitle such as "An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

Thanks for pointing this out. I discovered that "An Army of One" is in widespread use as a title, so I'm considering a subtitle such as "An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space."
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2013 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

A quick search online reveals that many people are using "An Army of One" as a title, including on things for sale, and that it predates military use. So that part probably is not a problem.

Another flaw that I didn't think about before this, however, is that searching "An Army of One" will probably not put my poetic series on the first page of search results like, say, "Kung Fu Robots" does. So it occurs to me that a subtitle might help clarify what I'm doing here, without losing the subtle implications and easy recognition of a famous phrase.

What do folks think about "An Army of One: The Autistic Secession in Space" as a series title?
msstacy13 From: msstacy13 Date: January 13th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

It's always good to check.
As I understand it,
the main reason anyone defends a trademark aggressively
is that the right to do so is lost the first time you fail to.
So, yes, if it's appearing in other titles uncontested, you're safe.

And I think the, ummm, subtitle(?) is an improvement.
You retain the original catchiness while giving some insight.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 14th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmm...

Thank you for the input!
primeideal.dreamwidth.org From: primeideal.dreamwidth.org Date: January 12th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm on the autism spectrum and greatly enjoyed this premise. Can't think of too many great/awful depictions off the top of my head but I appreciate you being forthright about the theme here.

One thing I would consider is how some autistic characters might work for separatism outside of a military model. I.E. I tend to make broader, more sweeping (some would say naive) generalizations about how to morally behave, and so since I tend to oppose killing in general, would also view the military as unconscionable. The idea of remotely hacking things and "cutting the wires" so to speak is more appealing.

If there are specific notes about my own experience that would be useful for you, please let me know. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2013 07:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>I'm on the autism spectrum and greatly enjoyed this premise.<<

Thank you for sharing! I really want this to work for folks with something in common with these characters, so that's valuable feedback.

>> Can't think of too many great/awful depictions off the top of my head but I appreciate you being forthright about the theme here. <<

Often the first prompt in a series will set part of its core themes. In this case "autistic people fight a war of secession" gave me the characters and plot, where the fishbowl theme (military SF) hinted at a setting.

Then when the series really caught on, I wanted to clarify the central ideas so that it would be easier for folks to join the conversation about it. That initial prompt set up a lot of premises and not all of them are obvious. Frex, this is a subset of autistic people as a whole because the initial characters all have to be within a stone's throw of "able" mentally and physically in order to be in the army. That matters because as new characters arrive from outside the Lacuna, they may be very different.

>>One thing I would consider is how some autistic characters might work for separatism outside of a military model.<<

When the word gets out, I think they will attract sympathizers, some who want to join them and some who just support them from afar. So that's going to influence the development of their culture.

>> I.E. I tend to make broader, more sweeping (some would say naive) generalizations about how to morally behave, and so since I tend to oppose killing in general, would also view the military as unconscionable. <<

That's really useful. Suppose you were in one of the galactic arms and heard about this group of people, with whom you had some cool things in common, but yak! they're all soldiers. How might you respond?

>> The idea of remotely hacking things and "cutting the wires" so to speak is more appealing. <<

It's a surprising twist for military SF, but I think that's going to stick. I've got enough poems so far that I can see a nascent pattern of sideways thought and diverting attacks rather than trying to kill everything that moves. I suspect that the different approach is partly because autistic people think differently, and partly because they're spies accustomed to indirect tactics.

>> If there are specific notes about my own experience that would be useful for you, please let me know. :) <<

Yes, please! I am particularly looking for insights into how problem-solving works within this kind of neurovariant mindset. Examples of how you work through a challenge and come up with a different solution than other people expected would be great. Social interactions and conflict resolution are also on my wish list. Areas where your limitations pull you up short, or you can do things that ordinary people find difficult, are helpful. But really any of the things that snag your attention as being different, or being typical of your own experience, would be welcome. I'm looking for seeds that will go into forming characters, suggesting subplots, and figuring out accurate portrayals.
primeideal.dreamwidth.org From: primeideal.dreamwidth.org Date: January 13th, 2013 04:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

I'll think more about the latter points later on. But let's say I heard about a group of military secessionists, it's possible that one of my first reactions would be to go "whoa, hold on, they don't speak for all people on the spectrum." I'm assuming a very "net" (of some sort) based setting, so perhaps one of my first instincts would be to try and find the equivalent to a website/Facebook group made up of fellow spectrum people (n.b. /not/ neurotypicals who mean well and assume they speak for us) that is saying something like "the military is not the best approach, we don't all support the use of force in this way." Whether I'd be so offended as to be pushed towards a more integration-ist approach, would depend on context.

A couple more things: in my case I had a lot of difficulties with muscle coordination, especially as a young child. (Special education for speech articulation, gross and fine motor skills.) By the age of 14 or so I didn't really need any more accommodations, but using weapons is something that would probably be extremely difficult for me. Technology can help.

How far has medical technology advanced in this timeline? There are likely many possibilities that can help people on the spectrum (every case is different, for some people it would be about language and communication, for others muscle control in general maybe). But when it starts getting to talk of a cure, that can be extremely divisive; many of us (myself included) resent the idea of being considered disabled or that we should be cured, and would phrase it as "so you want people like us to not exist"? If the secessionists were trying to create a safe haven where people wouldn't have to worry about being cured, that would help sway me in their favor. Conversely, a counterargument from well-meaning neurotypicals would be "but think of all the low-functioning people who don't deserve what they're going through, please stay part of our society so that we can use our resources to help them out."

This might be going too far afield though, I'll try and think more about problem solving like you said. It's hard to tell my how experience is or is not typical, we'll see.
From: chordatesrock Date: January 12th, 2013 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not an expert on fictional representation of autism spectrum disorders, but here are the works that come to mind:

1. Arthur, the children's cartoon on PBS, has an episode featuring a special new friend with Asperger's syndrome.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a story whose first-person narrator has autism... but which was not well-received by autistic people on the grounds that it was inaccurate.

3. The Speed of Dark by, I believe, Elizabeth Moon.

4. The earlier seasons of The Big Bang Theory are usually regarded as accurate, but still have a mixed reception within the autistic community, because apparently holding up an accurate example of an autistic person as something to laugh at doesn't sit well with them.

5. I believe Glee portrayed a character whose Asperger's manifested solely as a desire and willingness to insult people.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2013 07:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>I'm not an expert on fictional representation of autism spectrum disorders, but here are the works that come to mind:<<

Thank you!

>>1. Arthur, the children's cartoon on PBS, has an episode featuring a special new friend with Asperger's syndrome.<<

I looked that up, and wow, it seems really sweet. There are some good resources about it:
http://media-dis-n-dat.blogspot.com/2010/04/pbss-arthur-makes-friend-with-aspergers.html
http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2010/04/04/arthur/
http://specialchildren.about.com/b/2010/04/22/watch-the-arthur-aspergers-episode-online.htm

This is the kind of entertainment I really like to see. It takes bits of real life and explores them through storytelling so that people can think about them. It lets everybody have characters who are like them. That is very much the same kind of thing I hope to accomplish with this series.

>>3. The Speed of Dark by, I believe, Elizabeth Moon.<<

Added to my wishlist.

Huh, that reminds me of The Truth Machine, whose protagonist is a genius with odd coping mechanisms. I was extremely displeased that he got normalized during the story. I kind of shredded it in a review, for that and other reasons ... and that was one of two occasions when an author thanked me for that kind of feedback.

>>4. The earlier seasons of The Big Bang Theory are usually regarded as accurate, but still have a mixed reception within the autistic community, because apparently holding up an accurate example of an autistic person as something to laugh at doesn't sit well with them.<<

I can see that. From a literary perspective, it is common to introduce new or marginalized character types as comic relief first. That's listed as a stop-trope in several different identity literature canons. I think it's a cart-before-horse problem, really. People use the human tendency to joke about things that unsettle them, without stopping to think that you should establish new ideas in a neutral-to-positive manner first before fooling around with them.

>>5. I believe Glee portrayed a character whose Asperger's manifested solely as a desire and willingness to insult people.<<

*wince* Added to list of Mistakes Not To Make.

So far I've only found one character with a really fricative streak, and that's because he get pushed into new responsibilities and flakes over the lack of structure (among other things). And frankly I think even a neurotypical person would've melted down over that.
From: technoshaman Date: January 12th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
As for ASD... I'm pretty sure I was mildly Aspie... and I may still be just a wee bit, but seem to function ok now (I didn't during my early college years, and it hurt... but as the lad from Holy Grail said, I got better!)...

I haven't run across anything else that springs to mind immediately, but the way *you* write this... yeah. It feels right, and is done positively.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 13th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> As for ASD... I'm pretty sure I was mildly Aspie... and I may still be just a wee bit, but seem to function ok now (I didn't during my early college years, and it hurt... but as the lad from Holy Grail said, I got better!)... <<

That perspective is helpful too. I've got at least one character who had the benefit of childhood therapy, so managed to compensate for some things like the language limitations; but that tends to break down under stress. Different levels and types of traits, and adaptation, are good.

>>I haven't run across anything else that springs to mind immediately, but the way *you* write this... yeah. It feels right, and is done positively.<<

Yay! That's encouraging.
ilikemyhumordry From: ilikemyhumordry Date: October 6th, 2013 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
First of all, I love Army of One so very much. Thank you. I'm autistic, and science fiction books (and to a lesser extent TV shows) are my THING, so finding something like your poems is pure magic to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Here's my favorite stated fictional autistics:
Marcelo Sandoval, from the book "Marcelo in the Real World" by Francisco X. Stork. My favorite written autistic.

Gary Bell, from the TV show "Alphas". My favorite television autistic. A definite watch.

Some more ambiguously Autistic characters I like:
Abed Nadir from "Community". Community gets props from being created by Dan Harmon, who has Asperger's.
Spencer Ried, Criminal Minds. A bit of a stereotypical television aspie, but lovable and fun to watch.

Hope these are helpful. Ask and I can find more!
*edited, typos.


Edited at 2013-10-06 09:17 pm (UTC)
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