This section covers what we might broadly call 'physical diversity', although the works listed here fall into three groups:
Unlike the section on racial and ethnic diversity, we are not concentrating here on authors who themselves fit into one of these categories, although we do encourage you to explore writing on the topic from authors such as Jessica White. Rather, these works focus explicitly on the physical, neurological, and sensate diversity of the characters.
Many of these works featured on the original blog post, published on the 31st of March 2015, and still available here. However, more have come to light since and have been added to the list.
The works are divided into general sections, to make the lists easier to navigate. Click on a tile to open up the list. For the purposes of this list, a series is three works or more, so works that include a book and its sequel will appear under other categories.
Note: The links take you to the AustLit record for the works.
Seth La Marque, a blind paleontologist, provides one of the catalysts by which protagonist Anna can begin to untangle the events that have left her feeling drained, empty, and in stasis.
We generally avoided works that touched on transhumanism when we compiled this list, but Claire Corbett's novel is all about the extents of the human body–Corbett's haves and have nots are divided not only by wealth and poverty, but by the physical alterations that wealth offers.
One of three novels by Courtier (very much a crime writer by trade) that straddle crime and science fiction, Into the Silence involves a traumatic hearing loss. Like crime writer Patricia Carlon, a profoundly deaf writer whose novels frequently turn on the inability to express oneself or be understood, Courtier's late focus on sensory loss in his fiction is often tied by critics to his own circumstances: a devastating stroke late in life caused disruptions of speech and loss of movement.
We are, perhaps, stretching the definition of 'science fiction' a little with this book, but it is mostly definitely 'science' fiction. Much like Patty Jansen's novel, Eleanor Dark's work depicts a woman both trapped by her own biology and longed to explore what that biology is capable of, as she depicts the prelude to the birth of the titular Christopher.
We'll be honest, here–we know very little about this book, barring that it is a 'lost civilisations' fantasy and that one of its key subjects is 'blindness & vision impairment'. We can't locate a contemporary review or even a cover image. So we've added it to the list in the hopes that someone will read it and tell us all about it.
Paul Ikin's self-published novel is set partly in our world and partly in the realm of Mare-Marie: the two are connected through protagonist Evelin, whose anxieties are manifest in Mare-Marie as a devastating black liquid, choking the Veelin River on which the kingdom depends and providing power to an ambitious necromancer.
Izramith Ezmi is a veteran in a highly feared all-female platoon–but she is also socially and emotionally isolated as the carrier of a gene that causes malicious madness. Unable to bear her own children, to accept her sister's abandonment of her own newborn son, or to locate the uncle who has lived with the gene's madness, she is trapped by her own biology.
Deep underground is a city, in which every inhabitant is blind. Every inhabitant, that is, except for Thurii Brook.
As the epigraph asks, 'In the land of the blind is the sighted man king?'
Part of what makes this work intriguing is the emphasis on the social workings of a sightless society: next time you reach out and touch something at a distance, think of a sightless city in which such an action is at best an arrogant party trick and at worst a socially embarrassing gaffe.
The sixth in Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters series, Flame of Sevenwaters focuses on Maeve, the young daughter of Sevenwaters. Maeve has a special skill in gentling skittish animals, but she also has an acquired physical disability, in hands that were badly damaged in a fire long ago.
In a similar vein to Claire Corbett's novel above, Keith Miller constructs a world in which the winged and the wingless are forbidden to love, sending his protagonist off on a desperate journey in search of flight.
Gillian Polack's novel is actually included on this list in conjunction with her essay 'Not Turning into Cellophane: Fighting Marginalisation'. Published in Shattering Ableist Narratives, 'Not Turning into Cellophane' reveals a fascinating reading of Polack's novel. When one of Polack's students in a mental-health unit, a woman struggling with her own serious depression, reads the novel, she turns what Polack had conceived as a story of socio-emotional isolation into a differently transgressive narrative.
Dr Jack Bradshaw has made a breakthrough: using QNA to grow non-human bio-enhancements on people, including superhuman senses, claws, and even, wings. What will this mean to Charley Rowdon, who lost her husband and her arm in a devastating accident?
What could be more Australian summer than that cover? But the public swimming pool at New Lourdes, Victoria, is not the haven it was: the water is no longer level, and people claim it has curative powers. So when Wolfgang Mulqueen, taking a summer job at the pool, meets a blind girl who claims to be nocturnal, tragic events are set in motion.
When the gargoyles fell from the roof of St. Giles Old Priory School, Olivia Stone was badly injured, injuries that have lingered. But that doesn't stop her taking her place in the front line of the coming battle with the trixies.
The magic mirror is central to fairy-tale lore. But Ella's magic mirror doesn't support her self-esteem, as it did for Snow White's wicked stepmother. Instead, it reinforces a body dysmorphia initiated by Ella's stepsisters. In this reading of Cinderella, transformation is tied to adolescent self-image, bulimia, and the beauty myth.
Chloe wakes to find herself strapped to a basement table, looking up at herself. Or is she looking down at herself? How far does memory go towards erasing difference?
A novel centred on robotic replicas stretches the boundaries of this list a little, but we couldn't overlook the author's idea of an identity that rests strongly on the sanctity, security, and 'normal' processing of the human brain.
Ben is newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when an alien lands in his back garden. The alien doesn't understand the norms of Earth behaviour and Ben has his own idiosyncrasies: how will the two work together?
Like a number of children, Kialessa experiences bullying at school. But in her case, it's because she has horns and a tail, and she doesn't burn, which, as causes of bullying go, is somewhat outside the experience of most schoolchildren. Perhaps even all schoolchildren.
Published by Queensland-based small press Wombat Books, The Tae'anaryn is a useful introduction to younger children of the ways in which speculative fiction can be used to explore diversity.
Tim Ellison is only looking for a cheap room to rent when he comes across Fairview. But his new landlady is cripplingly agoraphobic–and that's only the beginning of the mysteries about Fairview.
We haven't included every work on the database that explores phobias, but in Sweet Damage, the fear amounts to a severe impairment, so thoroughly does it constrain Anna's life.
You can't discuss Australian speculative fiction without discussing Victor Kelleher. (Technically, you can. But you shouldn't.) And this one, whose cover terrified many a young reader, follows Derin's attempts to find his missing father, captured by enemy soldiers. But Derin has an acquired physical disability, and his quest is hampered by his need to use a crutch to overcome his lameness.*
It would probably be hard to track down this novel now, over thirty years after it was released: based on an episode of the Australian Children's Television Foundation's groundbreaking series Winners, this was a gentle and beautiful tale of the magic in difference.
Hector's underground community has been isolated for over half a century, while Diana lives above ground with her mother and her crippled father. Even faced with one another, they struggle to reconcile their two very different understandings of history.
Merimba and Pirry are identical, but live in different worlds–quite literally. Pirry is an acrobatic dancer in the land of Rargon; Merimba is a quadriplegic whose family is shattering around her. When Merimba flees her body, she finds herself in Pirry's, instead.
A storekeeper's family becomes involved with a menacing presence from outer space. The novel includes a character and, much like the novels of Patricia Carlon (herself profoundly deaf), use the absence of a major sense as a means of increasing disorientation and isolation as the menace grows.
Frankenstein is often cited (rightly or wrongly) as the beginning of science fiction, and Frankenstein's monster is perhaps the genre's most prevalent image of the ways in which difference triggers social and emotional isolation. Now young readers can start with a picture book before working their way up to Shelley's masterpiece.
Written by Australian authors, The Irregulars is a graphic novel series set immediately after World War I: a set of people traumatised by the war and by institutionalisation, and with various steampunk-inspired prosthetics to aid with physical disabilities, set themselves up as superheroes.
Kai lives on the streets. When his little brother (twelve years old and autistic) comes looking for him one night, the two end up dead. Now Kai has to search for his brother through a Hades shaped by the myths told to him by his Greek grandmother.
A girl born with blue skin has to find ways to negotiate such visible difference.
Khoa Do (brother of Anh Do) should perhaps appear on our list of authors from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, but speculative fiction is not a form in which he frequently writes, so we felt it better to highlight his one foray into fantasy here.
This short story follows a schizophrenic woman (former military, formerly homeless) through a post-apocalyptic world, where she is haunted by her own voices and unable to source medication to silence them.
This collection by Australian publishing company Twelfth Planet features a number of international authors, as well as Australian writers. So diverse is the diversity in this collection that we could have included it in any of our lists, but we wanted to emphasise its inclusion of works dealing with physical and neurological diversity.
Alison Venugoban makes another appearance on our Sexual and Gender Diversity list, but here she presents a story told through the eyes of one of the last non-autistic men on the planet.
Ame comes to the small town of Union Falls seemingly out of nowhere, and applies for the position of keyboard player in the local pub. The pub owner is worried about how the town and the band will react to a keyboard player without arms, but Ame has her own skills.
Author Maddison Stoff describes themselves as autistic and non-binary, and in this story, posits a world in which the highly conservative 'Humans First' party has been elected in Australia, threatening the protagonists, an autistic man who has refused to take the available cure and their defacto partner, an android with an unfortunate past.
Technically, we suppose that only the first volume of Cecilia Dart-Thornton's trilogy meets the criteria for this list: it is only in volume one, The Ill-made Mute, that Imrhien suffers the twin effects of paradox-ivy poisoning: severe facial scarring and mutism. By book two, both scarring and mutism have been reversed (though Imrhien is still amnesiac), but perhaps the consequences of that period linger a little longer.
In a frozen land, an ancient machine generates a power the locals call 'icefire'. Only the so-called Imperfects, always born with physical disabilities, can bend icefire to their will, but they have been subject to fifty years of culling, to contain the power of the royal family, who used icefire to control their subjects.
On a post-apocalyptic future Earth, all births are twins: one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. For the Alphas to rule, the Omegas must be branded and ostracised. But as long as the twins remain linked, such a society cannot stay stable.
Mira has spent most of her life in orphanages and institutions, most recently in the Serenity Centre, a sanctuary for adults with disabilities. Mira can see the past but not the present, but that's not her only concern: she's also a carrier of Fragile-X gene. Part of what is fascinating about this series (Mira is the protagonist in three books, so far) is how Mira deals with having been institutionalised for almost her entire life.
Published in 2013, Firenight is the first (and so far only published) instalment in the planned Firenight Saga.
It makes this list because its protagonist, Sara, is struggling not only against diabolical plots, murders, and disappearances, but also against her own dark depression.
Jo Spurrier's trilogy makes this list because of Isidro, foster-brother of the fugitive Prince Cammarian. When we meet the brothers, Isidro is struggling with the physical limitations imposed by the crippling torture he suffered in the dungeons of snow-covered Riclan. Spurrier's novel delves not only into how Isidro copes with these acquired disabilities, but how they affect the behaviour of people around him–especially their behaviour towards him.
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