Friday, September 14, 2018

What Is Light Sensitivity Like for One Autistic?

10mm Lightning
Photo © Jasper Nance | Flickr / Creative Commons
[image: Photo of lightning exploding in a purple night sky above silhouetted conifer trees.]
M. Kelter

I've had a life-long aversion to lights. I wanted to share what this means in terms of the subjective experience, and how this sensitivity generally seems to operate. The concept of a sensory aversion is probably self-explanatory, but it can include more subtle effects that may not be as apparent. I've noticed two primary factors that can cause my eyes to feel pain (no surprises here): brightness levels, and sudden changes in lighting.

What are the types of "pain" involved, specifically? This can vary. Certainly an intensely bright light can cause a sharp pain, but that's probably true for many people. Let's define "intensely bright" as something akin to a camera flash. That can cause a sharp, stabbing pain, and that pain can persist for minutes or hours. It's worse in the moment of the flash, and slowly fades.

Sharp pain isn't the most common eye discomfort I experience, though. The kinds of lights that I come across most frequently—lighting in a room, for example, or overhead lights in public spaces like a grocery store—tend to create a dull, persistent ache. The pain is like a warm burn that hurts in a lasting, nagging way. The pain isn't as intense, but it is draining. That seems to be the biggest negative impact of my light sensitivity, even more than pain: the more my eyes experience a lasting ache, the more my energy level and mood plummets.

In settings where I'm unable to control the lighting, I'm basically on a timer. At some point, I'm no longer going to be able to think clearly, or have the energy left to complete tasks and function. Almost every action I might take in the course of a normal day involves mentally calculating what the lighting will be like, and how long I will be able to tolerate it. Trips to the store, social events, driving during the day and so on: any activity requires forethought regarding lights and the inevitable energy/mood crash. Again, the pain is uncomfortable, but it's the impact on my energy level that creates the biggest hurdle to daily functioning.

The other factor at play with this sensitivity is sudden changes in lighting. Even in locations where the lighting is not too bright, sudden changes in lighting will create pain and a few minutes of blurred vision. This can happen when lights are suddenly turned off, or on or when I'm walking between rooms that have different levels of brightness.

If one room has comfortable lighting and I walk into another room that also has comfortable, but different, lighting, the change alone is enough to trigger pain. It's more in the category of "dull ache," but it's an unwelcome pain and usually results in at least a few minutes of impaired vision. This also takes a chunk out of my already-in-short-supply energy level.

Also, the visual disorientation can often lead to physical mishaps. It basically looks like clumsiness, but it's more specifically about the change in brightness level and blurred vision. Tripping over unseen objects, knocking over lamps, stumbling into walls—I have a long standing habit of exiting a dark theater into the brighter lobby and plowing directly into a crowd of people: this is all a reliably embarrassing byproduct of the issue with abrupt lighting changes. (For better or worse, I've learned to pretend-laugh and feign nonchalance when these things happen, since people rarely understand what's really happening and think it's funny.)

At any given time, I have to pause and give serious consideration as to whether or not turning a light on or off, or walking to a different room, will be worth the discomfort. I think for most people, this can seem like a minor thing, but in the course of a day, even minimal differences with lights can add up to a substantial impact.

One side note: in addition to pain, lighting discomfort is usually accompanied by a visual effect, a imprint of the light that can hover in my vision for several minutes, sometimes hours. Visible bulbs for example, or rays of light from windows or other sources, can imprint a visual "memory" of that light in my vision, and it can take some time for that imprint to fade. I'm sure there is a more scientific way to describe this, but subjectively, it's like a bright little ghost that stings my eyes for as long as the impression lasts. It's not uncommon to go to bed each night, close my eyes, and spend 20 to 30 minutes waiting for the day's accumulation of light imprints to fade. Lights can both make me tired, and make it hard to sleep.

What helps manage sensory pain like this? Honestly, not a lot, but there are some measures that provide a degree of comfort. Pretty much all of them are what you would expect.

Wearing sun glasses doesn't eliminate the pain, but it does function as a kind of dimmer. It turns the discomfort down a notch or two, which can make a meaningful difference when it comes to energy levels and mood. I wear prescription transition lenses that darken in response to sun light. That helps. A little. (I wish I had less obvious things to say here.)

This second strategy is not recommended, because it involves a major shift in life style—but I personally decided to work overnight jobs as much as possible. For the first 15 years of my adult life, I exclusively worked graveyard shifts that allowed me to sleep during the day and be more active during darker, more comfortable hours. Again, this is not recommended and is not always an option, but I just decided that it was necessary in my case. The change was beneficial in terms of light issues, but it didn't do great things for my social life. There were other downsides; sensory aversions involve a lot of lifestyle choices and cost/benefit analyses.

There are more shades of discomfort and pain-triggers than I can go into here, as this is just a brief overview of light sensitivity, from a subjective angle. It goes without saying: other people with this issue may very well experience it in a different way. I can only speak for myself and hope that sharing this information is in some way useful to those wanting to know more about the day-to-day impact of sensory issues.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

I Might Be You / Neurodiversity: A Review of Two Books

[image: Cover of the book "I Might Be You,"
showing two seating white women facing
and engaging with each other.]
Maxfield Sparrow

I Might Be You: An Exploration of Autism and Connection (2012) By Barb Rentenbach and Lois Prislovsky; Audio version (2013) read by Lois Prislovsky PhD and Ariane Zurcher

Neurodiversity: A Humorous and Practical Guide to Living with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Dyslexia, The Gays, and Everyone Else (2016) By Barb Rentenbach and Lois Prislovsky; Audio version (2016) read by Chad Dougatz, Lois Prislovsky PhD, Carol Riggs Holloway, John Bond, and Jery Yarber

I read “I Might Be You” in 2014 and loved it, but never thought to review it back then. When I discovered that Barb Rentenbach and Lois Prislovsky had a second book out, I got it in an Audible version and, on a whim, decided to get the Audible version of “I Might Be You” as well, and re-read it before reading “Neurodiversity.” I am so glad I did, because the Audible versions of both these books really shine.

Barb Rentenbach is an autistic woman with unreliable speech who types to communicate. Lois Prislovsky is Barb’s therapist and friend. The two alternate chapters in “I Might Be You,” talking about autism from Barb’s lived experience and Lois’ experience as a professional and friend. While Barb chose Ariane Zurcher to be her voice in the Audible book, Barb’s own voice comes through the words loud and clear. Barb is brilliant and playful, simultaneously jokingly boastful (after all, if you have such fabulous hair wouldn’t the world want to know about it?) and humble, refusing to take herself too seriously—and advising readers to do the same.

Anyone who might be afraid that Lois would talk over Barb need only read or listen to a short excerpt to realize that Barb has a dynamic, funny, larger-than-life personality that can’t be pressed down or spoken over. The hours I spent with Barb’s voice, as rendered by Zurcher in the first book and Chad Dougatz in the second were a joyful encounter with a woman I came to admire and love. Side note: given Barb’s playful comment in the first book about not having spent time as a boy… yet…I was delighted that she chose a masculine voice to read her words in the second book.

As far as I know, Barb is not trans. But she describes the ways she is not entirely tethered to her body, not the way so many typical people report. It is clear to me that Barb can—and probably does—“visit” being masculine in ways I can only envy. Barb knows she is connected to the “marshmallow” body, as she laughingly describes her zaftig frame, butt she also speaks lucidly of mystic transport to realms that are beyond words and beyond physicality. She calls it “going inside her autism,” and though it is hard to wrap words around a state of being that is beyond words, she does a great job of introducing us to the splendor of her world.

But Barb doesn’t give a one-sided view of autism. She doesn’t mince words when she describes herself as having “autism: the hard kind.” And she doesn’t hide her struggles. Barb writes openly about biting herself, biting her beloved Lois, screaming, breaking things, and even smearing shit. She knows how she comes across, even though she can’t help coming across that way. Barb describes herself as being “disguised as a poor thinker.” While she claims that she’s done trying to convince the people who say that her facilitated communication is some kind of puppet show that she is really “in there,” these books are a testament to just how in there Barb is.

I know I keep going on about Barb and saying nearly nothing about Lois. I suspect Barb would find that amusing as she’s always conducting a bit of a stand-up routine using Lois as her straight man / fall guy. Barb would probably laughingly say that I’m focusing mostly on her because Lois is sadly just not as interesting. I assure you that Lois is plenty interesting and gives a lot of great tips for other teachers and therapists, but let’s not try to kid anyone: Barb is the undisputed star of these books.

There are some repeated passages from the first book in the second book. Barb explains the two-fold reasoning: repetition aids learning and she and Lois really want you to learn that autistic people who don’t speak or are “disguised as poor thinkers” deserve a presumption of competence. You could assume someone is “in there” just as easily as you could assume they’re not, but the more respectful and human choice to make is to presume competence at all times.

The other reason for the repeated passages is that Barb types so slowly that some chapters took many months to write. The first book took ten years to write and the second took “only” four. Barb types with one finger. She’s aiming toward fully independent typing (which should hopefully shut up the remaining naysayers) but it’s really hard, and takes a lot of energy to focus. Over the years, Barb’s work with facilitated typing has improved her skills to the point where she just needs a hand pressed against her back to get her body-machine moving and typing. It seems a small thing—a hand on the back—but it makes all the difference when it comes to Barb’s struggle against apraxia.

Barb types only a few words per minute, and points out that when writing is so slow and difficult it makes sense to recycle some of the words. I agree and I felt that the amount of repetition from one book to the next was not too much for me. The second book was very much worth getting, with enough new material and re-contexting of old material to make me feel satisfied that I’d gotten a new book with its own theme and purpose.

The first book, “I Might Be You,” is more of an introduction to autism, while the second book, “Neurodiversity” tells more comic stories and has more advice for all sorts of neurodivergent people. Since Lois has ADHD and dyslexia and is a lesbian, Barb jokes that Lois has more to say in the second book, having more neurodivergent traits than Barb (who laughs that she gets to be the normal one for a change).

People sensitive to language might struggle in some points during both these books. For example, Barb doesn’t do anything to soften the R-word. I wondered if she’d gotten criticized for that because the second book opens with a mention of political correctness and a warning that the book would NOT be politically correct.

I can’t speak for anyone else, of course, but I have no quibble with Barb’s and Lois’ choice to be blunt with word choice. Were there things that would be “politically sensitive” in some circles? Oh, yes. Was there any disrespect toward any human being? Well, other than the slightly mocking response Barb wrote to the man who claimed she couldn’t have “the hard kind” of autism because she wouldn’t be able to read, write, or think (she decided the best pseudonym for him was a tittering “Dick”), I spotted no disrespect toward anyone. In fact, Barb expresses a spiritual love for all humanity (“God cares about us all through us all”) and a love of the gifts autism has brought her (“Autism is my prism, not my prison”).

Speaking of spiritual matters, I would love for Barb to write a book entirely about spiritual matters. I’ve already mentioned that she has a mystic’s vision. Barb also has a theologian’s academic knowledge of religion. I found her discussions of spirituality some of the more fascinating passages.

I heartily recommend these two books as well as the “Loud Mute Radio” show Barb and Lois host. You can learn more about Barb and Lois and listen to Loud Mute Radio at Barb and Lois’ website:

Friday, September 7, 2018

Off the Rails: A Documentary About Darius McCollum: A Review

Maxfield Sparrow

“I have spent more than half my adult life in prison.” -Darius McCollum.

Darius McCollum, a Black Autistic man now in his early fifties, was first arrested for “stealing” trains in 1980 when he was 15 years old. Documentarian Adam Irving discovered McCollum on Wikipedia, was fascinated, and tracked down McCollum while he was in Rikers Island Prison. The two exchanged letters and phone calls for six months, and finally met while McCollum was still incarcerated. After McCollum’s release, the two spent three years filming the documentary. 

I put the word stealing in quotes—even though that’s a word I’ve seen McCollum use for what he does—because that’s not what his actions look like to me. He’s not “hijacking” or “stealing” transit vehicles so much as illicitly operating them… and even then with careful consideration for human safety. McCollum’s deep interest in transportation was encouraged by New York City transportation workers who thought he was a cute kid, and sort of adopted him without thinking about the long-term repercussions of breaking the rules with him. As workers got more and more lax about the lines they were crossing, McCollum’s fate got woven tighter and tighter into the net he’s trapped in today.

I was eager to watch Off the Rails because I have been following Darius McCollum’s story for decades. I had also never heard McCollum speak before watching this film, and was immediately surprised by how well-spoken he is. I hate to admit my bias, but I didn’t expect someone who has spent half his adult life in prison to be such an open-hearted person, and such a clear and compelling communicator. We all have our preconceived notions to get past, and I’m grateful McCollum helped me see one of mine.

Reflecting on my reaction and its larger implications, I realized that this is how deep the vulnerability of being a Black Autistic man goes: so far down that being a kind and personable human being and a compelling communicator could not save him from getting boxed in by life’s circumstances and getting arrested and imprisoned more than thirty times, instead of getting the help he’d requested for years.

When I stop to think about how law enforcement and the criminal justice system tend to deal with Black Autistic men, I realize Darius McCollum is lucky to still be alive.

Off the Rails is beautifully shot, and sensitively arranged. Darius McCollum comes across as genuine, likable—and very aware of his compulsions. I liked his matter-of-fact, deeply honest take on his transit activities: He knows what he does is illegal but somehow he doesn’t come across as a scofflaw. He cares about the passengers on the vehicles he drives, and he thinks about how to brighten their day and help them understand they’re not just on a train ride but an adventure. Off the Rails made me care about Darius McCollum’s fate on a deeper level than I had before. Anyone who cares about the fate of Autistics in the justice system in general or Darius McCollum’s case specifically should watch this film.

Through the course of the film, I slowly began to get a feel for McCollum’s soul-deep connection to the transit system. He memorized the subway when he was eight years old, and in many ways considers the subway his home. He even says he’s married to MTA. Other people who got to know him describe his dedication to providing quality service for passengers as something benevolent and committed. People from all walks of life spoke of Darius McCollum as being extremely likable, affable, gregarious, and just a nice guy—despite a lifetime of being mistreated and misunderstood.

When McCollum was twelve or thirteen, his parents had him committed for nine months. (This was following a traumatic event at school.) Despite his young age, he was given electroshock therapy while in the hospital. After he was released, he felt he couldn’t trust anyone at school, and instead just wanted to be where he felt safe and valued: the subway. Transit workers took a liking to Darius and had him run errands and do chores for them. He was friendly and eager to make everyone happy.

When a transit worker let Darius drive the train for the first time, the feelings of acceptance and self-worth he felt were so powerful they determined the course of the rest of his life. Darius would do anything to get another taste of that feeling: the feeling of being exactly where he was meant to be, doing what he was born to do: drive trains.

Sadly for Darius McCollum, the city of New York held a different view. McCollum applied to work for the MTA when he was 17 and again when he was 18. Both times he was turned down. The documentary didn’t explicitly say so, but Darius assumes (and I agree) that the MTA didn’t want him after he had been arrested at age 15 for driving a train. Darius McCollum’s arrest generated a level of publicity that was hard for MTA to live down. The only thing Darius wanted was to work for MTA—and that was the last thing MTA wanted.

His life then turned into a revolving door between driving and jail. McCollum had lockers in the subway and slept at stations or in train yards. He drove buses and trains nearly every day, but he’d only drive a few months at most before he’d get caught and sent back to jail yet again. He never stopped pursuing his dream of working in transit, whether he had a transit job or not. Thirty years of devotion to his passion is not a phase or a whim: every fiber of McCollum’s being yearns to serve the public as a transit driver.
“He sacrificed his freedom and he sacrificed half his life for this. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.” -Ray Sanchez, Transportation Reporter, Newsday
McCollum’s story was perennially interesting to the New York Post and other media outlets, and when he brought his Asperger’s diagnosis into the courtroom—trying to get the treatment he needed as a disabled person who needed help with his impulses to drive buses and trains—the media exploded all over again. The disclosure backfired when McCollum ended up with a deadbeat lawyer he was not able to fire. The judge said that his Asperger’s diagnosis meant McCollum was not fit to manage his own affairs, and not of sound enough judgment to fire his lawyer and try to get one who would actually fight for him. As if that weren’t bad enough, the next judge McCollum got did a Google search on Asperger’s and decided in her own (very non-expert) opinion that Darius McCollum couldn’t possibly have Asperger’s or any compulsion out of his control and ruled harshly against him.
“The best outcome for Darius would be for him to be hired by the MTA.” -Marcia Scheiner, Autism Employment Specialist
That, of course, is never going to happen. The MTA has made it clear: Darius McCollum is not to be trusted. That leaves McCollum outside his proverbial gates of paradise, banished into the wilderness forever.

He did eventually get rid of the deadbeat lawyer, replacing him with Sally Butler, a lawyer who was initially skeptical of McCollum's case but grew to become one of this greatest supporters. His parents also deeply love and support Darius but were forced to do so from a distance: they moved to North Carolina, hoping to get their son from the trains, only to have the justice system restrict McCollum to New York as terms of his parole—effectively leaving him trapped with the objects of his compulsions, the trains, and stripped of the supportive presence of his parents.

The documentary tries to end on a positive note, with Darius McCollum finally out of prison, finally not on parole or probation, and finally able to move to North Carolina to be with his mother. He’s uncomfortable but adjusting and decides he’s 50 years old and it’s time to be done with trains … but then three months later … Darius McCollum is arrested yet again, this time for driving off in a Greyhound bus. The documentary closes, saying he’s currently on trial and facing fifteen years.

That was November of 2015. What has happened in the two years since the close of the documentary?

Because McCollum had three felonies already for illegally driving trains and buses, he actually faced 25 years to life in prison for stealing the Greyhound bus. A year after he took the bus, his lawyer turned down a plea that would have offered three and a half to seven years in prison. Prosecutors pitched the same deal two more times, then switched to a 5-10 year deal that would have required McCollum to plead guilty to second-degree larceny. That deal was turned down as well.

McCollum sat for two years in Rikers Island during these offers. Near the end of 2017, McCollum and his lawyer were offered an insanity plea that would result in McCollum being locked indefinitely in a prison for the criminally insane. This plea, too, was initially refused. Prosecutors were not pleased that McCollum was pushing proceedings toward trial instead of negotiating.

But just before trial started, McCollum finally accepted the insanity plea in January, 2018, and was sent to Kirby Psychiatric Hospital on Ward Island while awaiting a special trial. McCollum would be examined at that trial by doctors who would determine the course of his incarceration. If McCollum were judged to be dangerous, it would affect his commitment. If he were deemed dangerous, he might spend the rest of his life in a maximum security facility. If he were not considered a danger, he could go to a lower security hospital and get the treatment he’d been asking for. His mother could visit him, and he would be in an environment aimed toward his rehabilitation.

That special hearing began in May, 2018. McCollum took the stand and when asked how many times he had commandeered trains and busses he responded that he estimated he’d driven about 5,000 trips illegally. Meanwhile, Hollywood is planning a movie about Darius McCollum, called Train Man. Julia Roberts may even play McCollum’s lawyer, Sally Butler.

MTA has filed suit against McCollum, citing law that says a criminal may not profit from his crime. MTA is filing as the wronged victim and demanding McCollum’s cut of any proceeds from the Hollywood venture. On May 30th, McCollum’s lawyer posted on Twitter: “Prosecutors questioned Darius today about a pillow fight with his roommate at the psychiatric hospital, and tried to use that to suggest he was dangerous. Really, a pillow fight?”

The special hearing continued into June. McCollum’s lawyer quit updating the Twitter feed. No news stories have been published. I am unsure where Darius McCollum currently is, or what his fate might be. I worry about him. He doesn’t belong in prison or in a rough criminal psychiatric hospital. At one point his lawyer asked to have him moved back to Rikers Island because it was safer than the hospital, where Darius had already been attacked. Kirby Hospital is notorious for housing the most violent criminals.

The justice system failed Darius McCollum. He never got the therapy he needed, and repeatedly asked for. Everyone, right down to Darius himself, agreed that he needed treatment for his irresistible compulsions, but instead he just got locked up repeatedly. After the 9/11 attacks, McCollum helped Homeland Security and MTA authorities discover and seal the weak places in the transit system that were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Then the city “rewarded” McCollum for his compliance by denying his freedom on the grounds that he was too eager to help Homeland Security and would be just as eager to help a terrorist.

After over three decades of notoriety and even a bit of celebrity, Darius McCollum has vanished from view. May he be well and may we never forget the lessons he has taught us at such high cost to himself.


Off the Rails is a 2016 American documentary film about Darius McCollum
Written, directed, and produced by Adam Irving
Zipper Bros Films, 1 hour 30 minutes
Available through Amazon

For further information about Darius McCollum and his case:

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hoshi and the Red City Circuit: An Excellent Debut by a Neurodivergent Author About Neurodivergent Protagonists

[image: Illustrated cover of the book Hoshi and the
Red City Circuit, by Dora M Raymaker,
featuring a person in silhouette sitting
on the ground fending off rays of power from
a pitchfork-wielding person silhouetted in red.]
Kelly Israel


Hoshi and the Red City Circuit, the debut work by Dora Raymaker, is first and foremost an excellent page-turning detective story about private investigator Hoshi Archer’s race to discover who murdered three Operators. Operators are a caste of people with disabilities. They are also the only people who have the ability to run the multi-layered, complex technology of the future. It is next a story about Hoshi herself and the many friends, allies, acquaintances, enemies, and lovers she has known and cared for on her way to becoming the person that she is.

Hoshi is also a story that grapples with the intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) community’s ghosts and collective past. It attempts through showing—rather than telling—to explain how it is that an individual person with I/DD can live in a world that alternatively hates and pities them, loves and loathes them, supports and exploits them.

This is important because we are a community with a painful history. Many autistic people and others with I/DD have experienced terrible ableism as well as both emotional and physical abuse, often at the hands of the very people who were supposed to help us. Hoshi echoes this sordid history in many of its plot threads, and thereby explains it via fiction to those who do not have it burned into their flesh and bone. Above all else, it is a complex and interesting read.

The Positives

One of the primary characters of the book besides Hoshi (both literally and metaphorically!) is the place where Hoshi lives—The Red City. (I won’t spoil for you how the Red City becomes a literal main character.) The Red City exists in a human civilization of the extremely distant future, on a non-Earth planet with its own intricate politics, social constructs, crime syndicates, and religions.

Dora Raymaker made me love the Red City. It is to the author's credit that The Red City has a clear and unrelenting sense of place. I never once was given the impression that it was an artificial or simplified construct. The history of Red City began long before the reader got there, and it will continue long after the reader has left. It has its own slang, look, and feel to its culture. The people of the Red City are take-no-shit-from-anyone hardworking police officers, exhausted dock workers trying to make a living, arrogant no-nothing jerks, criminals and crime lords, and esoteric mystics who commune with very real aliens that live on a different plane of existence from us. Hoshi Archer’s own description of how Red City looks from her window describes it best:
"Outside my cathedral window, the jagged skyline of Red City reached for crimson clouds. I traced the graceful spiral of the Arts and Culture Building, the triple towers of the 100 Worlds Trade Union joined by their series of sky-bridges, the prickly quills of the Red City Reporter, the dip of Lan Qui Park all the way down to Landing and Marcie Bay. I loved Red City. Loved every street corner and sky-lift, every tree in every park, every rumbling tube beneath her crust." -Hoshi and the Red City Circuit, Ch. 1
It’s worth pointing out that Hoshi repeats something similar to this description many times. She, at any and all opportunities, describes her read on the history of each quarter of the city that her investigation takes her to. Beholding her favorite buildings in the city is both satisfying, and likely a form of stimming. It’s fun and exciting to listen to her and find out what she knows. Raymaker could not have picked a better special interest for their protagonist.

Dr. Raymaker makes no attempt to hide that, although the Operators have a fictional developmental disability known as K-Syndrome, they are very much intended to be similar to autistic people and others with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Only a few years ago, all Operators were slaves forced to do nothing but program and operate the future-tech machines and linked Internet-like space called the Mem that keeps Red City running. They were feared for their fine-tuned control of this space, and yet were absolutely necessary for its functioning. Their connection to it was deliberately limited by oppressive rules and regulations that bear a probably intentional similarity to those that govern institutions in the United States. In the present, due to a law known as Integration Law, Operators like Hoshi can work non-Operator jobs. It is an uneasy compromise, with both Operators and non-Operators alike having a variety of different opinions on the rightness of the law and whether it achieves its goals.

Hoshi Archer is an attractive, interesting, lovable neurodivergent protagonist. She is a brilliant detective, able to piece together disparate pieces of information nearly faster than the reader can. She has a powerful coffee addiction that reminds me more than a little of myself. She is incredibly brave yet deeply afraid of becoming a slave again, to the point where her fear can cloud her understanding of who is her friend and who is her enemy. She can be rigid and obsessive in her pursuit of justice, and has difficulty comprehending the more obtuse social and metaphorical aspects of life and society, such as religion.

One of my favorite passages occurs just after the Red City police officer Hoshi works closely with, Sorreno, forces Hoshi to take a weapon even though Hoshi despises being armed. The passage conveys in a way that I cannot what it is like to be a person with I/DD traumatized by a past in which people have forced specific choices upon you:
"I sulked in front of my window, watching the tiny people on the streets twelve stories down, weaving through their hours. If I squinted, the colors of their clothing melted them into long rivers of pattern. 
"None of them were forced to carry a shocker. Or to report in to the IO. Or to be under constant threat of being displaced from everything they loved and thrown into a supervised livestock pen in a job they hate but will be imprisoned or even killed for not doing with no hope of anything better if—forbid!—they end up accidentally missing a meal two weeks in a row. 
"I hit my fist hard against the hard glass. 
"The pain giving me something namable, tangible, blamable to justify my anger. 
"The bitterness of my life up until two years ago broke over the surface of my consciousness and I scratched at the synthskin covering the unhealed scars." -Hoshi and the Red City Circuit, Ch. 12
That Operators themselves do not uniformly agree on Integration Law one way or the other is a testament to the sheer variety of neurodivergent people Raymaker describes. The hero, the hero’s extremely slimy sometimes-ally, sometimes-enemy drug lord acquaintance Luzzie Vai (who happens to be one of my favorite characters in the book), the hero’s anti-Integration yet emotionally beautiful murdered lover, the nearly incomprehensible and mysterious priest Gno, and the cowardly and irritating Martin Ho are all neurodivergent. Each of these characters is given three-dimensional characterization. The book’s characterization is one of the strongest elements of its writing. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with almost everyone in it.

Equal to the book’s characters is the book’s central unsolved murder. I won’t spoil a single thing about it, and that’s because it’s something the reader should enjoy for themselves! Hoshi must race against time to determine who killed the three Operators, how, and why before the serial killer claims their next victim. I found myself obsessively devouring chapters to try and follow Hoshi to the next clue, eager to learn more about how the book’s impossible crime was committed. Hoshi must travel all throughout Red City to solve the murder, from the centrally located Cleopatra Square to the Integration Office to the grim, vaguely brutalist Operator housing where her lover Claudia once lived. The mystery has the heft and complications of the best detective novels, and ultimately places the protagonist’s inner conflict at its center, as its beating heart.

The Negatives

While I did love the book, I do have a few sustained criticisms. The first is that the book is slow to explain itself. While a reader of fantasy or science fiction would be quite used to the full-immersion manner in which Raymaker introduces us to the slang and terminology of their world, a reader of detective novels may be quite confused for the first thirty or forty pages. The book can take longer than it should to make the meanings of these words clear to an uninitiated reader.

Additionally, the book can be a bit clumsy in its treatment of some issues. For instance, a real-world religion (or an interpretation of the form that religion would take in the future) plays a prominent role in the book. While I do not know enough myself to say whether Raymaker consulted spiritual leaders or adherents for the purposes of writing Hoshi (they do mention specific real world gods by name and the god’s known sphere), I feel the book could do more to make the depiction of the religion less vague and superficial.

Finally, I feel that the true main villain of the book, and the villain’s motivations, are too simple in comparison to the detailed and clear personalities of the other characters. Without giving too much away, real people similar to the villain are themselves extraordinarily complex in their desires and reasons for doing what they do. The oversimplification present in Hoshi’s depiction of one such person doesn’t quite serve the book’s story as well as it should. While there’s an argument to be made that dehumanizing the villain works well with the story’s themes, I feel that there is a difference between making someone irredeemable and making them two-dimensional. However, I recognize this is very much a your-mileage-may-vary issue.


Hoshi and the Red City Circuit is an excellent debut by a neurodivergent author about neurodivergent protagonists, set in an immediately engrossing future world. It has a lot to say about people, politics, and the complications of neurodiversity. It also acts as a great detective thriller that makes you want to keep reading. It has its problems and limitations, but the opinions of readers will vary. While the book very much has an autistic or I/DD audience in mind, I wholeheartedly recommend it to neurodivergent and neurotypical readers alike.