The Storify of the most recent #CripLit Twitter chat on Futurism is up. As you can see it was very busy and there were many levels of experience and expertise on offer. If you are writing or are planning to write any speculative fiction with disabled characters, you would find the conversation illuminating.
If you only want to read what I had to say on the matter, there’s a Storify of that, too.
For those who find Tweets mystifying, or are too lazy to click through, here’s a version of what I said rendered in paragraph form.
I’m Nicola Griffith, your co-host. I write fiction—novels and stories—in different genres. Only one of my published short stories so far has crip characters: “Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese,” set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is now physically impaired with the equivalent of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I’m not sure that renders them all crips, though, because I follow the social model of disability which holds that disability is about more a problem of the built environment (physical and cultural) than of impairment. I’ve just written a novella with a crip protagonist but it still needs polishing. My novel Slow River, near-future SF, has secondary crip characs, most notably a man whose four prostheses are (more or less) invisible; the main character, Lore, is very badly injured and for a while reliant on others’ help.
All my short fiction is SFF but not all my novels. SFF means I can posit one What If—post-apocalypse everyone’s a crip, or shape-changing is real—and see what happens. SFF gives great freedom to make the metaphor concrete. So I can make multiple sclerosis a literal monster. I also write historical fiction—which involves world-building and What If but your mileage may vary about whether it is speculative fiction. (I can tell you that nothing in the novel contravenes what is known to be known.)
I find horror limiting because horror, to me, is fiction without ultimate hope (it’s like noir that way). Dark fantasy is a great genre for pondering disability. You can create monsters, examine your worst fears, but still find hope. SF is particularly good because you can build a heterotopia (other place) in which BEING A CRIP DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE STORY.
In terms of worldbuilding, I start with a What If. What if MS were a monster? What if prosthetics were almost unnoticeable? Then go deeper. Whatever world I build—far- or near-future, here-and-now, the past—it obey its own rules and follow its own logic; it must be consistent.
Miles Vorkosigan is a well-rounded crip character—and problematic because he’s Special. It would be great to encounter ordinary crips in the future. I’ve just started reading SF anthology Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad. Good so far. But, oh, there are many bad disability tropes and characters in SFF! Until recently there was a LOT of eugenicist, edit-us-out-of-existence crap. So much of the imaginary future is ‘perfect’ because crips don’t exist. The message is physical perfection = utopia. All physical ills have been techno/magically cured.
Tyrion in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is a good example of how to write a crip character. But Tyrion is also a privileged straight white boy asshole, so… (But, hey, it’s nice to not see an Evil Crip or a Saintly Self-Sacrificing Maryr Crip—nice to see a crip who isn’t a Type.) One of many fantasy tropes that piss me off is that being a crip means having Special Powers. Or being crip automatically makes a character an object of pity. I want ordinary people!
Crip characters in 21st century fiction often read like queer characters in the 20th century. Being a crip should not be a signifier of anything. Being a crip should not equal being Special or having Special Powers. Crips should not automatically die tragically. Crips should not sacrifice themselves for others to be happy. A utopia should not be a place where no one is physically impaired or neurologically different. Plots should not be solved by being magically cured—by a spell or hand-wavy technology.
There’s how it crip futurism could interrogate our discourse and there’s how it actually does—or mostly doesn’t. A good SFF story or novel with brilliantly delineated characters could not only show how ableism works but how/where/when it began; it could explore not only current ableist discourse but its origins. Mostly it doesn’t. Mostly it fails.
Pro tip: people are never One Giant Trait. We all have multiple identities. These identities influence each other. Crips can be queer or straight. POC or white. Good or Evil, smart or stupid, old or young and everything in between—especially the in-between. We’re just people. That’s what people are: all different stuff mixed up together, good and bad. Let’s get rid of these fucking binaries, all this either/or.
SFF is the most versatile of genres; it can do anything. It can create heterotopias wherein we can explore how it might be to operate in a realistic world that excludes oppression based on membership of maligned groups. If we can imagine how life could be, we can work towards it happening. Tattoo this on your forehead: well-written fiction creates narrative empathy for the Other. It can norm the Other. We all need to see ourselves in story’s mirror. We need to hear our own stories, know we’re not alone. SFF with beautifully and interestingly delineated crip characters who are just ordinary people can change the world.
Technology will alter physical traits. It might also allow some of us who might have died to live. The net result is that I doubt there’ll be fewer physical impairments and/or neuro. diversity in the future. But as disability for me is about how the non-disabled treat/accommodate those of us who are impaired, what I want to change is attitude. For that, we don’t need magic or technology, we need to change people, one reader at a time. To do that we must norm the Other. To do that we have to write #ownvoices stories!