"The Garden Where No One Ever Goes" in "The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction," Some Thoughts About Disability and Science Fiction, &c
The Garden Where No One Ever Goes in a “Best of” Anthology
The Garden Where No One Ever Goes, my tragedy of intercommunal romance in (fantasy) Medieval Sicily, is going to be in Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021. I’m very happy about this! I really love Garden—it’s become my go-to story for readings—and I’m going to take the chance to make some very minor textual changes as well, so this version will be the definitive one.
(Please no one tell him that the story was actually published in 2020.)
Hugo Nominations Close Today
If you’re a member of WorldCon, here’s a reminder to get your Hugo nominations in. I’ve already done all my award promotion a few months ago, so I won’t belabor that, but I just wanted to make a couple of Hugo-related recommendations.
Varsha Dinesh (The Demon-Sage’s Daughter) is also excellent and Astounding eligible.
Wizards vs. Lesbians, a great review/criticism podcast which I sometimes guest on, is eligible for “Best Fancast.”
Nebula Final Voting Opens
If you’re a SFWA member; Nebula final voting opens today! I have a story eligible, but there are many great stories nominated and I’m sure you will choose excellent ones.
Some Thoughts About Disability in SFF Secondary Worlds
I wrote about this a while back on twitter, but I thought I’d revisit those thoughts now.
A lot of times, people talk about how it’s hard to write disabilities in fantasy or science fiction settings because “they’d just be fixed by [technology or magic].” I can understand how authors feel this way! But it’s important to understand that disability is not a fixed category of medical impairments. Certain impairments are disabled by society, which people with those impairments are denied access needs, denied personal autonomy, or otherwise discrinated against. Other impairments are not disabled, which means that they are considered part of normal human variation and not subject to the above restrictions.
This changes over time! For instance, left-handedness was, in Anglo-American culture, disabled for a very long time. Left-handed children were beaten, forced to use their right hands, and generally discriminated against. Then, as the cultural biases and approaches shifted, that vanished.
In the case of left-handedness, the change was cultural and not technological, but technological development can spur which impairments are considered disabilities and which ones are considered benign variations. In a pre-literate society, or a society where literacy is skill limited to certain professions, dyslexia is simply not a big deal. In our society, where literacy is considered necessary to be a functional adult, dyslexia is a serious disability. In a future society where accommodations for dyslexia are easily available (either due to new technology, due to cultural shifts, or something else altogether), it may well go back to being considered benign variation.
When inventing a secondary world, whether science fiction or fantasy, don’t simply consider categories that are considered “disabled” by our current society. Consider also what new disabilities might be present in the setting.
The easiest way to do this is to simply consider the people who do not have access to the central features of your secondary world. For example: In a world where “everyone” can use magic, what happens to people whose ability to use magic is constrained or problematic? Or, in a world with persistent virtual reality, what about people (like me!) who get horribly seasick from VR environments? In a galaxy-spanning space empire, what about people who have an allergy to the chemicals used for faster-than-light travel?
A secondary approach is to simply pick some fairly benign human variation, similar left-handedness, and have the society apply various justified-but-ultimately-irrational stigmas about it. Disabilities aren’t always tied to meaningful impairments! Sometimes they’re just there.
It’s important to note that prejudices about disabilities are not always rationally related to their impairments. In a VR-heavy world, for instance, it’s possible that people would argue that people without access to VR cannot meaningfully sign contracts or otherwise give consent, because they lack access to the ancillary information necessary to inform their decisions. To us, this looks obviously wrong, but to someone who is used to using that information, it might seem quite reasonable (and similar arguments are used, today, to deny legal agency to adults with learning or developmental disabilities.)
Another thing is that disabilities don’t have to be a big deal in your story to be included in your story. If you’re doing this world-building work, which I encourage you to do if it fits your process, you don’t need to have a disabled protagonists (although more disabled protagonists, including by non-disabled authors, are always welcome.) You can simply have it be part of the texture of the world, present in conversations, social norms, secondary and tertiary characters, etc.
Anyway, that’s just a few scattered thoughts on developing disabilities for your secondary worlds. I hope it’s useful to some of you!