Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Effective first lines — for query letters

Janet Reid just posted a whooooole bunch of first lines of queries, with a note about which ones worked and comments about how they failed. Note that these are first sentences of queries, not novels. Have that in your mind and click through — these are pretty neat to read. I would probably have written my queries differently if this blog had been available at the time, though I have to say, I don’t really remember exactly how I did write them.

Anyway —

Most interesting failure mode: The querier presented a logline — a summary of the story or at least of the initial setup of the novel — as the first sentence. Those are so hard to write! Many were quite good, including this one:

Richelle Elberg 

A pile of dead coyotes rotting in the desert is shocking, but it’s the discovery of two bloated human bodies–hidden amidst the carnage–that really gives Detective Em Thayer a jolt.

That’s a fine one-sentence summary to set up a detective novel, don’t you think? I don’t think the dashes are necessary, and I say that as a card-carrying member of the dashes-are-great club. But if I saw this description of a detective novel, I would read the rest of the back cover and the first page.

At least for Janet, however, that is not the best kind of first sentence when writing a query letter to an agent. She wants to see the character and the problem in the first sentence.

Some of these are indeed very enticing. For example:

Kate 

In twelve months, the supercomputer grafted to eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah’s brain will kill her.

and

Jenn Griffin 

Batty Betty finds an abandoned young boy in her woods and takes him home–for keeps.

and

Luralee

Being on display in a spiked iron cage on the hottest day of the year is painful and humiliating, but not as serious as his other problem.

I would absolutely use the character’s NAME in this sentence. Almost never works to reserve the character’s name, imo. But other than that, I really like this! Would could possibly resist reading the rest of the query?

Here’s another:

E.M. Goldsmith 

Phaedra damned herself by chasing her murderer straight into Hell.

Good heavens, yes, that is a great opening for a query! Also a great description of the set up. This would make a great tagline to put on the front cover of the book.

Kate Higgins 

This time she was absolutely, positively going to win, this time she was going to cheat the right way.

Even better! Despite the comma splice, I love this. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think this is mine.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Showing rape in SFF

Here’s a good post from Marie Brennan at Swan Tower: Thoughts on the Depiction of Rape in Fiction

Brennan has an archive of good essays at her website, many about the craft of writing. This one demonstrates that. Here’s a sample from near the beginning:

There are a lot of reasons you might have one of your characters be raped. Some of them are better than others; all of them are things you should think about.

1. I need to show that my villain is evil.

. . . okay. But why rape? Why is that your go-to method for showing he’s evil?

It’s one thing if you’re writing a mystery about a detective hunting down a serial rapist. In a story like that, the bad guy raping people is the entire point. But if your villain is a genocidal tyrant? Then I kind of give the side-eye to the notion that you need rape to convince me he’s bad. If that’s true, you haven’t done a very good job writing the “genocidal tyrant” part.

This is a serious topic, obviously, but I did chuckle at the last sentence of the excerpt above. That’s definitely true.

The broad category of “worst things I’ve seen in fantasy novels” doesn’t include many instances of rape — I know other readers say their experience differs in that regard, but I think the books I’m reading must not overlap much with the ones they’re reading.

The “worst things” category does include Gedder, in Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin, who burns down a city after blocking the gates so that no one can get out. There is a genocidal tyrant, even though Gedder is not really a tyrant, at least not at the time, as he doesn’t have that much power.

Enough to burn down a city with the population locked inside, though.

It is not necessary to show Gedder doing anything cruel, in person, to an individual. In fact, showing him being cruel on an individual level would make him less awful. A villain who glories in being vicious is probably not as utterly horrifying as a villain who sort of stumbles weakly into mass murder, then justifies the act afterward.

Ugh.

This moment, and this character, are not the only reason I never went on to the second book in that series. But they contributed to that reluctance.

A good example of epic fantasy with a gritty edge and many villains, some quite complex and some simpler, is The Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler. I will note that in that series, Wexler shows attempted rape. But he never shows successful rape on screen.

Off screen, in a character’s backstory, yes. Marie Brennan has something to say about that too:

2. I need to motivate one of my characters.

. . . okay. But why rape? Why is that your go-to motivation? …

… time and time again, we have female characters being motivated by rape, and male characters being motivated by the rape and murder of their wives/sisters/daughters.


Try harder. Think about the emotional impact of everything else this character has experienced, and what else you can use if the current material isn’t enough. Ask yourself why rape is the best answer to this question, when it’s about as fresh as having a Dark Lord with Armies of Monstrous Minions as your villain. 

In Wexler’s case, there is in fact a reason why rape is one motivator for Jane (not the only or probably the most central motivation, I’ll add). This is the case because being sold into slavery/marriage was the whole point of that home for girls where she and Winter were both held for part of their childhood. It wasn’t incidental. That institution set up everything about Winter’s backstory as well as Janes.

Being sold to that brute was not only a motivator — again, not the only one — for Jane; having Jane sold that way, and failing to save her, was a central motivator for Winter. So in this case, that element of the backstory ticks both boxes for the “time and time again” comment Marie Brennan makes.

Why it works: Lots of reasons, I think. It’s in the backstory; it’s not only non-explicit, it’s not shown and barely referred to; the rapist is killed because of his act; the victim is the ones who kill her attacker; Jane’s primary motivation comes from other issues that have only a tenuous relationship to that aspect of her backstory.

And most of all because of the complicated way the whole situation feeds into Winter’s backstory and into the relationship between Winter and Jane. The primary problem for Winter was that Jane asked her to murder the man for her and Winter couldn’t bring herself to even make a serious attempt to do that. Not only did that motivate Winter’s escape from the home, it became for her the central defining failure of her life. Then later, well, Winter’s and Jane’s shared background has a ton of ramifications and in fact the relationship between those two characters is arguably the central pillar of the whole series.

So, Brennan’s essay is definitely a good one and well worth reading. And Wexler’s series is definitely one I’d pick over Game of Thrones, not only because of treatment of rape in the respective series, but just because as far as I’m concerned The Shadow Campaigns is just a better epic fantasy.

In fact, it would be great to see it turned into a TV series. If we were voting on next epic fantasy series to be picked up for TV, I’d vote for it. I’d even actually watch it.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Killing your characters

Can you kill important characters? Sure. Happens all the time.

Should you? When does that work and when does it fail, or perhaps go over the top? Let’s take a look at various examples of SFF novels featuring the deaths of important secondary characters and/or the deaths of protagonists, and consider why those do or don’t work.

As it happens, I’m not personally too keen on authors who slaughter characters left and right for no good reason. I’m thinking here of Game of Thrones. It was one thing when Martin set the reader up to think Ned Stark was going to be an important protagonist and then killed the character early in the series. That was a way to break important assumptions for how the story was going to unfold. It increased tension in a good way, for a good reason — who else might seem too crucial to die, while actually headed for an early grave?

But besides that, as I recall, from time to time Martin also introduces a new pov character and then kills that character at the end of the chapter. I mean, what is even the point?

On a related note, personally, except in murder mysteries, I detest the trick where the author kills the pov character with whom he opens the book. When that happens with a new-to-me author, it’s probably going to be a DNF moment.

Even more annoying than that are authors who set out to manipulate you by introducing a very likable character specifically in order to kill her. (It’s always a “her.”) If this manipulation is too blatant, it’s a real turnoff. I’m thinking of all of Steven King’s recent books, here, where very likable characters are obviously present solely to function as tearjerkers upon their gratuitous deaths, which is why I eventually stopped reading King’s books.

However, it’s not like I’m opposed to character death per se. The pathos created by a sympathetic character’s death can be very useful when it’s done well and for a good reason. In a recent WIP, I deliberately killed a particular secondary character after going to some trouble to make the reader like him. Even though his death wasn’t at all important to the plot, it wasn’t gratuitous either; on the contrary, it was essential. I had to do it because without the death of that character, the deaths of a couple hundred other people would have passed without a blip on the reader’s emotional radar. They weren’t known, they were just a faceless mass. The death of the one character served as a proxy for all those deaths, giving that whole scene emotional heft it had completely lacked before.

I’ve killed other characters, of course, and I’m sure I’ll kill more in the future. Sometimes it’s necessary to get the plot to work and sometimes it’s necessary to add emotional weight and sometimes for some other reason — you know, there’s an infographic for this — here:

I think this is a very good infographic! Best touch: having “removes an extraneous character” on both sides of the graphic.

Perhaps somewhat iffy: while the death of a secondary character may be motivating to your primary protagonist, the modern author may wish to avoid having all the female characters exist solely to motivate the male protagonist through their abuse and/or death.

I will also just note, considering the above infographic, that if I’d known how The Great Escape ended, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. I prefer less realism and more survival in my WWII fictionalized novels and movies.

But, though I really like the above infographic, I believe that the whole thing can be boiled down to this: two things are always, always bad when killing a character —

a) The reader can see the strings you’re pulling. You should indeed do things for a reason, but your manipulation should not be nearly that visible.

and

b) Killing a dog. Sorry. Other sympathetic characters may have to die, but the dog should live happily ever after.

Incidentally, T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones, which I’m about a quarter of the way through now, features a Very Good Dog. The dog is an important character AND important to the plot AND really well done, because Ursula Vernon / T. Kingfisher knows her dogs.

And right up near the beginning, the author makes it clear that the dog lives by throwing in a casual line: “… but because he’s a coonhound and all nose, we both survived.” or something like that. I bet that is not a chance occurrence. I bet she deliberately chose to let the reader know this up front, to avoid alienating those readers who won’t touch a book until they can be sure the dog lives.

I really like the story so far, by the way! Getting creepy, but without overt gore or anything of the kind. It reminds me just a bit of Sunshine by McKinley, even though it’s very different.

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The magic of creativity

From Maggie Stiefvater, over at tor.com: Five Books About Artists and the Magic of Creativity

As a fantasy reader, I cut my teeth on stories of fairies stealing away ordinary musicians and returning them as troubled geniuses, weavers knotting the future into mystical tapestries, men climbing mountains and returning as poets with fraught and mystical tongues. 

Ooh, ooh, I have one! (Or several). But first let’s see what Maggie Stiefvater has picked:

Fire and Hemlock by DWJ.

Okay, well, I know that quite a few people pick this one out as their favorite story by Jones. I have to admit, it isn’t one that I go back to very often. I admire its structure, but I like nearly every other book of hers better than this one. Unlike Steifvater, who says, “High myth and dreary reality blend seamlessly on the ordinary streets of ‘80s Britain in this novel; music and magic are inseparable in it. Jones … has written many novels, but this is the one I return to the most. With its dreamy, tongue-in-cheek style, it feels more like a memory than a novel.”

Yes, well, I’ve read it a couple of times, but my favorites are Dogsbody and some of the Chrestomanci stories. And Derkholm. For the dreamy tone, I actually prefer The Spellcoats to Fire and Hemlock.

Anyway, after DWJ, Stiefvater picks out a couple of books I’ve heard of but haven’t read. Then this one:

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

It has been so long since I read this series that I have honestly forgotten a lot about it. One of the things I’ve forgotten, apparently, is anything about music or making. Let me see … Stiefvater says: “When I first read this one as a child, I found it the most dull—why did I have to read about Taran apprenticing with various craftsmen and artists while sulking that he was probably unworthy for a princess? When I reread it as a teen, I loved it the best of all of them. Taran takes away a lesson from every artist and artisan and warrior he meets, and the hero he is in book five is because of the student he was in book four.”

Oh, yes, that brings it back. I actually liked this one from the beginning. I have always liked stories about learning to do stuff. When I hit a training montage kind of thing — a “time has passed, he learned all the stuff” transition in a novel — I feel a bit cheated. Or sometimes more than a bit. I like the learning part. I won’t say it can’t be drawn out over-long, but I will say that for my taste that seldom happens, even when the training part of the book takes up most of the story, as in CJC’s The Paladin. Or the entire story in Sherwood Smith’s A Stranger to Command.

I didn’t mean to pick out just stories where someone is learning the arts of war. That was just a coincidence. I loved the Harper Hall stories best when first read all the Pern books, and in large part that was probably because of Menolly learning to be a harper.

Okay, and the last of the ones Stiefvater picks — click through to see all five — is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

I liked that one a lot. Here we’re talking about actors rather than musicians. Stiefvater says, “The end of the world has come and gone, illness ravaging the population, and what is left in its wake? In St. John Mandel’s vision of the end of the world: artists. Actors, to be precise. We have ever so many apocalypse stories that show us the ugly side of humanity, but Station Eleven stands out for highlighting the opposite. Yes, there are survivalists with shotguns and ugly truths in this version of the end of the world, but there’s also art, creativity, synthesis, the making of a new culture. …”

Of course we do see a lot of the end of the world too, as this story moves back and forth through time and shows the apocalypse as well as the post-apocalypse.

Okay! As always with a five-part list, I feel that a lot of good choices for this theme were left on the table. I don’t think it will be at all difficult to add five more, thus creating the proper ten-part list.

Given that last choice, I now have actors on the brain. I can immediately think of three SFF novels where actors are very important. None of them really meld magic and artistry, but neither does Station Eleven, so that’s fine.

6) The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham, starting with The Dragon’s Path.

Several things about this novel put me off the series, though from time to time I think of going on with it. This latter impulse is due mainly to Master Kit, the leader of a troop of actors. The actors are a great component of the story and Master Kit is by far my favorite character in the story so far.

7) The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch.

The link goes to a post of mine about the book, so click through if you wish, but rest assured, acting and actors are at the heart of the story. In a couple different ways, actually, considering the overall plot.

8) Not the same as the apprenticeship volume of Taran Wanderer, but I instantly thought of Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell. Fabulous and unusual story, where the protagonist is by himself, fixing up a ruined castle, for quite a long time.

9) Melding music and magic? Come on! Obviously the very best example ever is Song for the Basilisk! Remember that dreamlike journey into Fairie and out again? Not to mention the opera that’s being planned, and trying to teach Damiet to sing on key, and, and, and … no comparison for pouring music and magic together into fantasy. Except maybe for The Bards of Bone Plain, and honestly I just never liked that one as well as Song.

10) Music … magic … let me see … I know I have another one on the tip of my tongue … oh, right:

Bardic magic! Dragon harps! Horns that sound when a stranger steps through your door! And so on.

Who’s got another choice for melding artistry into fantasy? Drop it in the comments.

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Alien intelligences

The elephant as a person

…  the search space for nonhuman language use should rely on two general criteria. First, we need behavioural evidence for flexible, intelligent hypersociality that could make language development a viable investment for natural selection. Second, we need evidence of information exchange, using signals that have enough acoustic variation to make it physically possible that they could encode syntax. Dogs meet the first criterion but not the second; many songbirds meet the second criterion but not the first. There is a loose consensus among comparative psychologists that the zone of possibility for both criteria currently boils down to the following animals: parrots, corvids (crows, ravens, jays), toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises, sperm whales, orcas) – and elephants.

Elephants use multiple channels for signalling to and with one another. One channel, generating vibrations in the ground, is used for long-distance transmission. Soft, low-frequency vibrations in the air, emanating from both the trunk and the gut, seem to be the main medium at close quarters. (The familiar trumpeting might not involve enough acoustic variation to be useful for anything other than broadcasting urgent emotions such as fear and anger – but it’s clearly used to communicate warnings.) In addition, elephants have a range of standard trunk and head gestures that carry mutually understood signals. Finally, they clearly communicate information by touching one another in specific ways and places. They have receptors for processing information from this tactile probing – which, given their precision control and highly labile trunk lips, supports fine discriminations.

A database of elephant recordings is now starting to accumulate in the research community. It attempts to capture acoustic, visual and tactile signals, matched to behavioural observations. But the problem of interpreting these data is vastly more formidable than decoding encrypted human text or vocal messages. If elephant communication has syntax, and if this syntax relies on cross-channel modulation, we shouldn’t expect the rules of elephant grammar to map on to the syntactic categories of any human language. Elephants inhabit deeply different lifeworlds from humans, have different hierarchies of motivation, and make different perceptual discriminations. And, except in the crudest terms, we don’t know much about what elephants might want to say to one another.

Much, much more at the very long article linked at the top of this post.

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Somehow not too excited

This caught my eye:

Eye Drops Shown to Temporarily Reverse Far-Sightedness in Adults Could Replace Reading Glasses

How temporarily, you might wonder, as I did. Very temporarily, it turns out:

Kedar told Forbes that the drops, which are made out of chemicals that are already found in common eye medications, were shown to immediately reverse farsightedness for a number of hours.

Wow, a number of hours. The article also says:

“CSF-1 can potentially alleviate the burden of reading glasses and offer a meaningful solution for billions of people living with age-related farsightedness worldwide.”

Speaking as someone who just got reading glasses less than a year ago, and is not thrilled about it … I cannot imagine voluntarily putting eyedrops into my eyes multiple times a day, when I could just pick up reading glasses multiple times a day.

Obvious problems with the eyedrops:

–You can take off reading glasses at a moment’s notice. Once the eyedrops are in, you are stuck with their effects for hours.

–You have to, I guess, carry them with you, as the effect is so temporary.

–You have to put them in your eyes.

Now, I fully realize that some people put eyedrops into their eyes all the time. But I could hardly tolerate eyedrops that one day last winter when I was at the ophthalmologist’s, having my eyes checked.

It seems to me we already have a meaningful solution for billions of people — that is probably an overstatement, since I assume that not every single person over fifty needs reading glasses — but anyway we have a solution for people living with age-related farsightedness. This solution is called “reading glasses.”

Get back to me when you have eyedrops that offer a permanent fix for age-related farsightedness. Until then, no thanks.

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Coming to TV

Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Books Are Coming to TV

At least, maybe. According to the linked post, the books have been optioned. While that’s nice, it’s not definitive. Lots of books get optioned but never go anywhere — The Floating Islands was one of the horde of those books.

But still, though I came to Tamora Pierce’s work late, I’m fond of them. They might work quite well as a TV series.

There’s no word yet on which of the Tortall books will be making it into the series, and whether the different storylines will be combined into one massive plot, or if each season will follow a different character. Since all of the series (minus Provost’s Dog) build off one another, fill in their gaps, and share characters, we’re going to assume the former. If so, we hope they give the individual storylines the space and thought they deserve, as each of the different series are very much rooted in their main characters.

My favorite set was the Protector of the Small series.

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11 Scary Books

From Book Riot: 11 Scary Books So Terrifying, Readers Wish They Never Read Them

Pretty sure I will not be reading any of these, but since it’s Halloween, here you go: books that are too scary, at least for these readers. Let’s see what’s on the list:

Oh, here’s Pet Semetery. Actually, that is one Stephen King novel I never read, even though I’ve read most of his earlier novels. Even Cujo (which I didn’t like at all, but that’s a different rant). Basically, we all know that nothing good ever comes of bringing pets back from the dead, right? Right.

I haven’t read any of the others, though a few — Heart-Shaped Box — have been on my radar.

But the horror novel I’ve actually purchased for Halloween is this one:

Did you know T. Kingfisher had written a horror novel? Quite a step from Nine Goblins and so on.

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

I do read horror now and then, especially if I’m fairly sure my favorite characters will come out all right at the end. This one, I’m trying because T. Kingfisher wrote it. I don’t think it will be so horrific I wish I hadn’t read it. We’ll see!

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Sale!

Via Book Bub, I see that the Sunwolf and Starhawk trilogy by Barbara Hambly is on sale right now — $2.99 for all three books.

First book:

An excellent fantasy. When the men of a town are enslaved, the ladies of the town decide they’ll do whatever it takes. Including making a mercenary an offer he can’t refuse, to train them to fight.

Second book:

Possibly even better than the first book. Mysterious murders, curses and demons, and especially well-drawn secondary characters.

Third book:

Not my favorite of the three, but a decent conclusion to the trilogy.

Well worth $2.99. If you don’t already have the trilogy, grab it quick while it’s available at this price.

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Socially awkward or autistic?

So, when I recently read Marie Brennan’s Turning Darkness into Light, I found a minor secondary character, Cora Fitzarthur, the most interesting character by a mile.

This books isn’t, probably, considered YA, but it could be. Certainly the protagonist, Audrey Camherst, has the typical virtues and faults of any generic female YA protagonist: good-hearted, brave, loyal, intelligent, insecure, impulsive, we could all probably write out a standard list. That’s all perfectly fine, but I don’t think she stood out particularly from the vast horde of young, kind, plucky, impulsive female protagonists.

Cora is a lot more interesting. Socially awkward, Cora handles ordinary social interactions very much as though she were an anthropologist taking notes on a foreign people. The four letters she wrote to an acquaintance, presented to the reader in the middle of the book, give her awkwardness true poignancy. Now, the milieu of this series is Regency-esque, so a young woman can certainly be raised apart from all society and wind up awkward for that reason, but Cora also shows (a) high intelligence, particularly (b) high degree of focus and (c) acute grasp of patterns. Is she autistic in some manner? I think she is.

This judgment is complicated by the insanely unhelpful decision to jam all kinds of obviously disparate syndromes and conditions under the “autism” umbrella and treat them as though they are related, when they plainly are not. Also by the concurrent tendency to force a grab-bag of things that aren’t any form of autism, such as lead poisoning, into the “autism” category because everything in creation is being jammed in that bag right now.

Nevertheless, I would say that Cora Fitzarthur shows the characteristics of one type of autism. This is handled subtly enough that it’s hard to be sure. But she is definitely interesting. She is the most intriguing and also the most sympathetic character in the story, and personally I would really like to see her brought front-and-center in a future novel of this series.

I have no intention of trying to compile a list of all the autistic and possibly autistic characters in SFF, because that’s a huge job and it’s not I’ve read widely enough to manage anything like a complete list. Probably someone else has already done this anyway. But I’d like to set Cora on a spectrum.

1) Socially awkward and/or extremely shy. I recall one review that pegged Kes, in Lord of the Changing Winds, as autistic.

I don’t think so. Kes is really shy and somewhat socially awkward, but I don’t believe she’s autistic. It’s okay with me if readers perceive her that way, but I don’t. Out of curiosity, did you? Let me know in the comments whether you did or didn’t perceive Kes as “on the spectrum.”

It actually strikes me as problematic and potentially quite harmful to define shyness, awkwardness, inexperience, and/or introversion as autistic traits or related to autism. Let us pause here to note that the child used to define the type for Ausburger’s syndrome turned out to be perfectly normal when he grew up and moved to a community to which he felt he belonged. He did not “have” anything. He was not “on the spectrum” of anything. Possibly this might provide a cautionary tale for anyone who is inclined to rush to define any shy, awkward, or introverted child as “on the spectrum.”

Moving on:

2) Appears to show genuinely autistic traits. Cora Fitzarthur is this kind of character.

Traits that go beyond shyness or social awkwardness: Being extraordinarily literal. Being extremely blunt in social contexts where that is not normal. Showing a real lack of understanding of social norms. High degree of focus and persistence. Extraordinary pattern recognition.

3) Definitely autistic, but “high-functioning.” Michael in Michelle Sagara’s Queen of the Dead trilogy is this kind of character.

 Lying to Michael was different. She could tell Allison – or Eric – that she had headaches all the time and they would pretend to believe her. Michael would call her on it and if she argued it would upset him because what he knew was true and what she was claiming as true weren’t the same. Michael is actually less socially awkward than Cora because his parents and friends help him cope. But he’s got the bluntness, the literalness, the lack of understanding of social norms – such as white lies and broken minor promises – all of that.

The difference between the Queen of the Dead series and a story with a Regency-esque setting like Turning Darkness into Light is that the former is contemporary and thus the term “autism” is available, along with its overgeneralized definition of characteristics. In the latter, no such term or concept is available, so no one around Cora is ever going to say “Oh yes, she’s autistic.” It’s up to the author to handle the character in a way consistent with a type of autism and to the reader to make the call. If you’ve read Turning Darkness into Light, do you agree or disagree with my assessment of Cora Fitzarthur?

I don’t want to move on from this category without mentioning Elizabeth Moon’s extraordinary Speed of Dark. If you haven’t read that, you should, full stop.

4) Definitely autistic, “low functioning.” There are very few characters of this kind in SFF. Probably more than one, but I can only think of one: Odelia in Sharon Shinn’s Elemental Blessings series.

You may recall that Mally was often swapped out for Princess Odelia, supposedly because of fear of assassination attempts; then it was discovered that Odelia was never seen in public; and finally it was revealed that Odelia could never be in the line of succession. She is absorbed in her internal world, she does not engage much with the external world or respond much to other people, she shows plenty of repetitious behaviors, she doesn’t speak – it’s altogether a classic presentation of profound autism, this time completely unmistakable even though there’s no such term or concept in the secondary world.

If you can think of a particularly well-drawn autistic character, or for that matter an ambiguous character like Cora, drop the title of the book in the comments, please.

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