Jan. 27th, 2017

conuly: (Default)
Everybody wants to write about it, but nobody wants to do it well. (Especially Ann M. Martin.)

The ones that do it best rarely give the autistic character a formal diagnosis in the book, which isn't exactly representation. The ones which bother to spell out autism (or at least do the best they can if the setting really doesn't allow for a diagnosis) usually leave me thinking "This could be much better...."

So I was actually pretty surprised to see a sci-fi series, Earthforce Rising, which is explicitly about autistic characters (well, the protagonist is quite possibly ADHD, but the same genes are associated with both conditions), while really being about space training, a la Ender's Game, except the ethical issues are handled much better.

The premise is depressing, but reasonably plausible in a sci-fi setting - humanity decided en masse to eliminate problematic genes from the gene pool, including those for autism (and ADHD.) Why they would do that when those same genes are also associated with high intelligence, I don't know, but presumably they found some way around that. (Well, I said "humanity decided", but it eventually becomes clear that Earth's environment is so severely degraded that humanity is in a few clusters on the planet under a single, somewhat repressive world government.) And then they found out (somehow....) that those same genes, whoops, were necessary for running spaceflight without incurring a huge risk of killing people.

So they set up a breeding program to bring those genes back, and then inducted all those kids into the military, which is where our story starts and turns into basic Boarding School IN SPACE - you've got the bullies, and the midnight hijinks, and the more-or-less magical tech that they can use easily because they're super special, and of course the uncovering of a secret plot (in this case, the somewhat repressive world government turns out to be the instigators in a severely immoral secret war) and there's nothing much in the plot that hasn't been done, but I like the characterization.

The author clearly worked to make each character realistically neurodiverse (and uses that word in the text, thank you) with an emphasis on diversity rather than a single stereotype. The effect manages to come off as though she's basing them off of real people rather than that she read a few articles and the DSM - either she did a lot of work, or she's on the spectrum, or she knows several people who are. She also plainly tried to show that non-NT traits might be useful in actual, real-world situations rather than just when using magical phlebotonium, though I'm not sure how successful she was at that. It might have worked better if we'd had some NT classmates to compare them to.

I did find it annoying that the one named non-verbal character turns out to be the very specialest of all and the best at doing the magic techy sciencey stuff. This may not be an actual autism stereotype, but it's a really frustrating disability trope, and boy, it was hammered in. Also, there's telepathy. I'm pretty sure if autism = telepathy, we'd all know it by now. And it did not escape my notice at all that the main character, while clearly disabled by his attention issues, is clearly one of the two most "normal" characters in his team.

But honestly, compared to some of the other stuff we see written (seriously, don't read any books by Ann M. Martin where autism is a plot point), this is minor. We have a realistic character with a disability as a viewpoint character, and while the story IS all about the disability, it's actually not at all.

I'm going to read the second one, and if I like that one too I'll put this on my list of "kidlit with autistic characters that I don't mind recommending to people". It's a very short list. Depending on how I feel about The Lemonade War (is the sister autistic or not? I can never decide), it's... um... possibly as many as three books long. Four if I'm feeling kindly disposed towards Emma-Jane Lazarus today.

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conuly

May 2017

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