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Mandamon

20190204 - The Five Hive Plateau - 5920 words - Sub 2

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Hello again, and once again apologies for the length on this. I of course added some words to the second half with revisions, so it's now a whopping 5900 words.

I have included the entire story in the submission, with the first section grayed out. If you scroll down to the big headline text that says READ FROM HERE, that's the starting point for the new stuff.

If anyone wants to take a look at the changes I made in the first part to address O's and the Council's motivations, and O helping in the first battle, those changes are on pages 1-4 and page 11. You definitely don't need to read this if you don't want to, but if you do have any comments I would be eternally grateful!

Same questions as last time:

-Is it enjoyable?
-Is the magic system and worldbuilding clear?
-Are the characters engaging?
-Does the story make sense?
-Anything else you think of (even down to grammar and line edits, if you want. I'm not picky.)

with the added question of:

-Is the end of the story satisfying? Are there any promises you don't think I fulfilled?

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Overall

For a short I think it works pretty well. The ending might need a bit more punch to it, since I think it won't land for anyone who hasn't read your entire back catalogue (I have learned the term is 'completionist'). Particularly, I think O's chat with the council should be a bit.... stickier? More dynamic? Show him really breaking away from them or something akin, so this launches into Tuning.

Your Questions

-Is it enjoyable?

yes!


-Is the magic system and worldbuilding clear?

yes, but I'm old hat at it now


-Are the characters engaging?

Well, more or less. I still don't get much of a sense for the Pixies as a whole. O is more O in this installment, and less doe-eyed than in the first one. I don't know if that's good or bad. I liked him naive but this feeds better into the main books.


-Does the story make sense?

yes

 

-Is the end of the story satisfying? Are there any promises you don't think I fulfilled?

As below, I think you need to really hit the nail on the head with the council. Really show how O takes the council's dismissal and how he resolves to interact with them in the future. Make it sting. That would make a nice, sharp ending.

 

As I go

- Is L autistic? Is that why O gives him the pressure and the schedule to focus on?

- he recovers pretty quickly from killing someone

- so if the offspring won't be engineers, does that mean they'll be warriors? Yes? 

- I don't understand the reveal in the 'make choices quickly' paragraph

- pg 32: The 'finally, recognition' part is VERY O.

- pg 34: so does the Hivemother use the Symphony through singing? or is that some other thing she is doing to get the soldiers to genuflect? 

- pg 36: there's a strange disjunct between calling L's items 'toys' and having him be the mother's mate. Is this meant to show the infantilization of the men?

 

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2 hours ago, kais said:

Particularly, I think O's chat with the council should be a bit.... stickier? More dynamic? Show him really breaking away from them or something akin, so this launches into Tuning.

Good thought. I'll work on this especially to mirror the first part more.

2 hours ago, kais said:

Is L autistic? Is that why O gives him the pressure and the schedule to focus on?

Yes! Hopefully it came across alright. That's the tradeoff for the males--they're all on the spectrum, but are very good at organization and scheduling tasks.

2 hours ago, kais said:

he recovers pretty quickly from killing someone

Ugh. This is actually bulked up from what I first wrote. I'll give it another go.

2 hours ago, kais said:

so if the offspring won't be engineers, does that mean they'll be warriors? Yes? 

Warriors if the other mother takes over. If the engineer mother grows a new organ it will depend on her temperament at the time. I'll see if I can highlight this a little more.

 

2 hours ago, kais said:

I don't understand the reveal in the 'make choices quickly' paragraph

The others all know exactly how much time it will take for the mother to convert the warrior to their side. I'll try to bring this out more.

2 hours ago, kais said:

so does the Hivemother use the Symphony through singing? or is that some other thing she is doing to get the soldiers to genuflect? 

She's naturally tapping into what the Symphony does, though she's not a majus. I've had this aspect floating around for a while and finally got to use it!

2 hours ago, kais said:

there's a strange disjunct between calling L's items 'toys' and having him be the mother's mate. Is this meant to show the infantilization of the men?

Yeah...not sure. This came out as I was writing and I decided to keep it since it makes the culture a little more alien. I'll see what everyone says.

Thanks @kais!

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3 hours ago, Mandamon said:

Yes! Hopefully it came across alright.

 

3 hours ago, Mandamon said:

This came out as I was writing and I decided to keep it since it makes the culture a little more alien.

I think the issue is that these two things don't play well together. You're (unintentionally) implying that autism = childlike, which is squicky. I suggest removing one or the other to avoid those Unfortunately Implications. 

A quick primer on autism as well, below, if you're unfamiliar. I think it's a bit muddled in the narrative, because it isn't really defined. Autism, itself, is not a disability so much as just a different wiring of the brain. It's the comorbids that can come with it that can create disability, such as sensory processing disorder (doesn't like loud noises, needs loud noises, doesn't like the way fabric feels, can't eat certain foods, etc.), ligamentous laxity (super loose joints--why some autistic kids walk kind of funny), speech delays, etc. 

Autism itself is really more the brain prioritizing analytics over social. I could see this working in a hive sort of situation, especially in an engineering Pixie domain, but I think it might need to be brought out a bit more... like he can't leave his blueprints because he's not done with them yet, darn it, and O keeps trying to get the guy to look at him so he knows he is listening, but the guy won't because he can hear O just fine, why does he have to turn his head and listen?

But you could also just throw some of the comorbids at him and not have the autism at all. You can definitely have Sensory Processing Disorder without autism, for instance, which might be easier to write in a short because it has such well defined parameters. 

Happy to answer any follow up questions. I'm not sure we have any autistic members on the forum anymore, (or if we do, any that want to chime in), but my kid is autistic so I'm in this world, if only tangentially. 

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8 hours ago, kais said:

You can definitely have Sensory Processing Disorder without autism, for instance, which might be easier to write in a short because it has such well defined parameters. 

Happy to answer any follow up questions. I'm not sure we have any autistic members on the forum anymore, (or if we do, any that want to chime in), but my kid is autistic so I'm in this world, if only tangentially. 

Thanks so much @kais! I was going for autistic-like tendencies (brain wired differently) more than what we would recognize in humans, so I think cutting back to Sensory Processing Disorder would work a lot better.

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The questions:

-Is it enjoyable?

Hard no, almost 100% because of L.  


-Is the magic system and worldbuilding clear?

Yes, but I have at least some background in it from reading other pieces.

 
-Are the characters engaging?

Again, no because of L. Infuriating, perplexing, took-me-two-and-a-half-days-to-get-through-it, but not particularly enjoyable at the moment. I can see where it would be, if L gets treated differently. To be clear, I don't think he needs to be reworked to be less autistic, I think the text needs to do a much better job of treating him like a fully-sentient, rational character of the same calibre as rest of the cast. 


-Does the story make sense?

More or less. Some fridge logic moments (why can't the mother use the song in the hostage situation?), and one very pedophilia-laced scene with the Mother and L (seriously, yeesh), but otherwise pretty clear. 

 

As I go:

(I read the updated sections too)

The council in the beginning seems more in line with what I know of them from elsewhere. I still think O's being a little logic-missing taking them to task for an intraplantary war, but it doesn't feel as pronounced and the rebuffing makes a lot more sense.

O's reasoning inside the pixie battle is more spelled out, and I like that the one he interacts with is at least annoyed by him now. However, I still find it a bit odd that he's basically ignored or treated like a piece of the landscape for 95% of the fight and then is suddenly chased by the attackers when he drops his shield. Right now it feels to me like the warriors are attacking the hive specifically to go after O, and that doesn't seem to jive with the way he was being ignored, or with what you've said about wanting to show him stepping in places where he doesn't belong.

"Council said he could and could not do" -- I would like to have heard more about this, at least in passing. it makes more sense for him to rebel or lash out if he's been specifically told he can't do things and has been chafing under the rules for some time. Can the council ground a mage for being annoying to Heads-of-House? ;) 

". Finally, recognition" -- again, I would have liked a bit more sense of this early on, as it doesn't seem to be supported by the rest of the text. So far, pretty much everyone from the council guards to the Council itself, to nearly every pixie he's interacted with, have recognized or treated him specially in some way. Desire for accolades is also a pretty good reason to go be a hero in a war, as well, so seeing it earlier would make some sense. 

I agree that if he's supposed to be affected by it, then the reaction to the first death could be punched up more. 

The mother singing is cool, but it kind of makes me wonder why she didn't do that with the guard holding her tail hostage....?

I feel like the end could be punched up a bit more, but I do like him being chastised for saving the day.

 

L and Hollywood Autism

I've pulled this out to it's own section because by far and away, L, his "affliction," and L's treatment by O, K and the text itself was the thing I had the most problems with. 

So, L. @kais was much nicer about it than I would have been (or am going to be), but L is just a huge collection of unfortunate implications right now. Nearly every single description of him, action performed by him, or interaction with him infantilizes a mature, fully sentient being or treats him like an actual animal incapable of rational thought. The text outright describes him as a pet at one point. He's vulnerable. He growls and mewls. He crawls.  He can't be trusted to understand basic things like recognizing pain or danger. Both K and O treat him disparagingly or condescendingly. None of that is great for a character that's supposed to be viewed as fully sentient and rational, but then there's the obvious call-out to autism layered on top of it and it just gets so much worse. L has a textbook case of Hollywood autism, which is problematic in it's own right. But infantilizing people with autism (and people with disabilities in general) is one of those pernicious stereotypes that causes real harm to real people, and even though I know that's not what you intended, that's what's coming across in big neon letters.

For K, she treats L with condescension, impatience and a lack of understanding, and says he has "mental differences." But he doesn't, does he? From a Pixie's perspective and from what you've said, isn't L's behavior normal for a male? Plus, this is described as just how the males are, so in theory at least, the Pixie civilization as a whole is one that has evolved with what's basically autism as the baseline normal for an entire gender (and I think that's a really cool idea!). Even if K had never seen a male of her species before this point (which is untrue, since it's clear K has had interactions with L before this), how is it that she is totally unequipped to deal with him? Did the Pixies just never develop any part of their culture or society to handle interactions with the opposite gender? After the scene in L's rooms, K doesn't even acknowledge L's existence until the end where she does the reveal with L's sudden heretofore unknown genius-level field surgery skills, and to me it feels less like she's appreciating a fellow rational person's abilities and more like she's showing off to O what clever pet can do. 

For O, he mostly just treats L as an infant or a pet, despite the lengthy description of him having a friend with autism as a child. That whole section of getting L out of his rooms just seems weird to me, with K unable or completely unwilling to interact with a valued member of her own species/family to the point that it's only O, the interloper, of a completely different species, that's able to see through the symptoms, reach out to him, and save the day. O is our POV character and so I take most of the textual descriptions as coming from him, and the text never misses an opportunity to reinforce how babyish and animalistic L behaves. It feels really at odds with the way the text portrays O as the one who understands L earlier. 

I really think the idea of a people for whom the neuroatypical is just normal is really really cool. But as it stands right now, all I'm seeing from the text is a lot of stereotypes and lack of thought. 

 

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12 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

I've pulled this out to it's own section because by far and away, L, his "affliction," and L's treatment by O, K and the text itself was the thing I had the most problems with.

Thanks for the comments, @industrialistDragon. That helps a lot with pinpointing what I need to change. I was definitely going for the neuroatypical being the normal for their gender but obviously missed the mark. I'll do some more research (thanks for the links) and take another stab at it.

Out of curiosity: my spouse has been watching "The Good Doctor" lately. Are you familiar with the show and do you think it has a bad or good treatment of autism? It's not where I got the idea from, but it's been on in the background while I was writing occasionally, and I think some things seeped into my brain.

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31 minutes ago, Mandamon said:

my spouse has been watching "The Good Doctor" lately

I have seen the show! I thought the did a good job of making him seem like a whole person and not some kind of alien, but there's been some pushback from the autism community (I think one of the links I had was specifically about the Good Doctor). From what I was reading of the criticism, The Good Doctor is more Hollywood autism, and the doctor basically only exists to explain autism to his neurotypical friends and/or make them feel better about themselves when they treat him with the basic level of respect. 

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@industrialistDragon, that's sort of the impression I got as well. The show has to dig into him being autistic because that's the premise, and that develops him as a person, but then when it does so, it makes him a caricature of sorts to play against the neurotypical people on the show.

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So this has me thinking about media that has good autism rep, which is hard. The saying is of course that 'if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism' because the spectrum is SO wide. The Accountant (a movie with Ben Affleck, who is clearly not autistic) was pretty decent, in my opinion, in showing a well-rounded autistic lead. He has some comorbids in there, especially Sensory Processing Disorder, so if you give it a watch know that that is a separate issue. The needing to complete things is, as far as I know, more part of the general autism package.

You might also consider reading 'Asperger's Children' which is a fairly new book but looks at why we think of autism on 'high functioning' versus 'low functioning,' which is utter hogwash, and how that kind of thinking came from Nazi Germany. It gets into the nitty gritty of how autism is defined and how we relate it to children.

The other thing to consider is sex differences. Things like ADHD and autism manifest differently in girls than in boys, and no one is quite sure why that is. For decades people literally thought girls couldn't be autistic, that it was just a boy thing. There's some neat areas of research that look at autism and the brain--looking at autism as a sort of 'masculinization' (since we equate analytics with masculine thought). The theory (and it's only a theory) is that since girls are socialized more, the masculinization of their brain simply moves them closer to a non-autistic boy brain (and in fact, brain scans show autistic girl brains looking very much like neurotypical boy brains!) and that for boys who are already socialized to be more analytical, it moves the brain into such a deep analytical plane that social skills are left behind. 

It's just one theory, but I think it helps contextualize understanding autism, and sex differences in autism, and why so many autistic people are on the queer spectrum as well. I think if you read that book and watched the (very different) movie, it might give some starting points. So I guess... happy homework?

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@kais Great information! I'll have to check those out. Of course, I've tasked myself to get this novelette out by mid February, so we'll see how far I get...

 

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-Is it enjoyable?

Somewhat. I kept cringing at how L was portrayed and treated. Curiosity about how bad O was going to fail kept my attention, except he didn't fail in the way I expected. He got his act together and actually helped. I liked learning about pixie culture and the symphony and thought the description was clear. On a sentence level, the writing was enjoyable.
-Is the magic system and worldbuilding clear?

Very.
-Are the characters engaging?

O was when he treated L like person, but then not so much was he was thinking cringy things about L. Pixies were a little flat.
-Does the story make sense?

Yes if the whole point was setting up how O ends up sort of deciding go off and live a life getting involved in everything and perpetually ignoring the council? I think it built to that okay, but the end felt a little too soft and rushed.  Because O didn't really change or learn much.

On 2/4/2019 at 5:25 PM, kais said:

As below, I think you need to really hit the nail on the head with the council. Really show how O takes the council's dismissal and how he resolves to interact with them in the future. Make it sting. That would make a nice, sharp ending.

I agree with  @kais about the end.


-Anything else you think of (even down to grammar and line edits, if you want. I'm not picky.)

As a writing tutor at a community college, I spend a lot of time working one on one with students on the spectrum. They are all very very different from each other. 

Without using the word autism, you labeled L as autistic on p. 21 with the rocking that is commonly associated with autism even though it only represents part of the spectrum and with "...who was similar in some respects to Lauka. The symptoms presented differently in..."  But it was kind of what I think of as the cliche autism portrayal, though I  guess @industrialistDragon's use of the term "Hollywood Autism" is probably better.

 

I was really confused when you mentioned toys on page 23. In the previous section, I was under the impression that this was an adult make who was making baby pixies with the Mother. The efficiency work that it is implied he does seems like adult work, but the physical description, mention of toys, and way the other pixie treat him imply child, and it is disturbing to think of a child or child-like being also functioning as a reproductive instrument. 

 

This whole paragraph @industrialistDragon wrote really sums up my thoughts in a much more articulate way than my monosyllabic notes of "yuck, ick, and cringe" in response to the infantile and animal like portrayal in certain lines. 

On 2/5/2019 at 8:26 PM, industrialistDragon said:

So, L. @kais was much nicer about it than I would have been (or am going to be), but L is just a huge collection of unfortunate implications right now. Nearly every single description of him, action performed by him, or interaction with him infantilizes a mature, fully sentient being or treats him like an actual animal incapable of rational thought. The text outright describes him as a pet at one point. He's vulnerable. He growls and mewls. He crawls.  He can't be trusted to understand basic things like recognizing pain or danger. Both K and O treat him disparagingly or condescendingly. None of that is great for a character that's supposed to be viewed as fully sentient and rational, but then there's the obvious call-out to autism layered on top of it and it just gets so much worse. L has a textbook case of Hollywood autism, which is problematic in it's own right. But infantilizing people with autism (and people with disabilities in general) is one of those pernicious stereotypes that causes real harm to real people, and even though I know that's not what you intended, that's what's coming across in big neon letters.

And this:

On 2/5/2019 at 8:26 PM, industrialistDragon said:

To be clear, I don't think he needs to be reworked to be less autistic, I think the text needs to do a much better job of treating him like a fully-sentient, rational character of the same calibre as rest of the cast.

The male pixie has a lot of potential, but it just was not handled well at all. The MC in Seeds was still treated like a person even though his anxiety, at times, was just as crippling if not more crippling than this pixies autism is in parts of this story. 

On 2/5/2019 at 0:00 AM, kais said:

But you could also just throw some of the comorbids at him and not have the autism at all. You can definitely have Sensory Processing Disorder without autism, for instance, which might be easier to write in a short because it has such well defined parameters. 

I have Sensory Processing Disorder without Autism though at times it seems kind of muddled with my anxiety, or causes half my anxiety or is just the cycle of doom in my brain that makes me wish I could live underwater. Anyway, before I go off on a not quite coherent tangent, I think @kais suggestion might actually be harder to write and not fix much. Readers would probably still assume autism. O wouldn't necessarily know what sensory input L was reacting to, and there would need to be more emphasis on the sounds, smells, --sensory details the narrative might not pay as much attention to. And still, all the childlike and animal like descriptions still need to go away. 

To me, it would make sense to just take out the demeaning stuff. L is clearly intelligent and very logical -- the other characters need to acknowledge that throughout. 

Changing from autism to just SPD really doesn't do anything except redirect a stigma. Do whatever research you have time for and let it inform L, but more importantly, change how L is treated by the characters and the narrative voice. 

Non autism related comments:

Page 26-27

Starting at "The warrior exploded in a burst of freezing blue flesh." through "He knew this scene would haunt his dreams after he returned to the Nether." 

This reaction was flat and threw me out of the story. OK, it really wasn't much of a reaction. The fact that O killed someone was really an afterthoughts, any emotion about it magically fixed by one deep breath. It was so no reactive that I didn't believe it would haunt him at all. I'm sure I've written scenes like this myself, but still...there is a lot of potential for character development here if you work on it more. 

Page 29

"like one of the other species butting into a Kirian philosophical debate. Fortunately..." I'm confused by these sentences. 

Page 32

". It wouldn't be...dignified."Cringeworthy but awesome because I think this screams O as I am getting to know him.

Page 35

"his change. even with" capitalize E

Page 38

"...hands trembled when he’s given it to..." typo

I think   there is a ton of potential in this story, but L and the way he was treated consumed my attention and made it hard to see the rest of the story. 

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10 hours ago, kais said:

You might also consider reading 'Asperger's Children' which is a fairly new book but looks at why we think of autism on 'high functioning' versus 'low functioning,' which is utter hogwash, and how that kind of thinking came from Nazi Germany. It gets into the nitty gritty of how autism is defined and how we relate it to children.

Adding this to my TBR pile as something to read and maybe share with co workers. 

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Thanks @shatteredsmooth! I did some first edits last night to show L as more of a person than a stereotype. The toys and childlike aspersions are gone, as are many of the Hollywood autism symptoms. Hopefully I'm heading in the right direction..

8 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

I think @kais suggestion might actually be harder to write and not fix much. Readers would probably still assume autism.

Good point. I think I'm going to stick with autism, as that will be easier to recognize in a shorter work--assuming I can get it right.

 

Thanks so much to you and @industrialistDragon and @kais for calling me out on this. I'm learning a lot, and if it's alright, I'd like to run the more problematic sections by you one more time to see if I've taken out all the offensive material. If it just doesn't work, I'll have to change L's character away from that.

 

8 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

This reaction was flat and threw me out of the story. OK, it really wasn't much of a reaction. The fact that O killed someone was really an afterthoughts, any emotion about it magically fixed by one deep breath.

Thanks for pinning down where the reaction was flat. I'm planning to work on this section today.

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5 hours ago, Mandamon said:

if it's alright, I'd like to run the more problematic sections by you one more time

Absolutely! :) 

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Happy to have another read through. 

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On 2/7/2019 at 8:56 AM, Mandamon said:

'm learning a lot, and if it's alright, I'd like to run the more problematic sections by you one more time to see if I've taken out all the offensive material.

Of course! 

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