I’m taking a break from writing my science fiction novel which I’ve been spending so much time on I have to force myself to take a break, so I can recharge my story telling batteries, so to speak. I’ve decided to take this break from writing to describe to you just what science fiction means to me and how it has helped me as an autistic gain a much better understanding of human emotions and behaviour. Yeah, that’s right – I’m going to spend my break from writing by writing another six-page blog. I just can’t stop because my head is always spinning with these thoughts and ideas and if I don’t write it all down I might just go mad.
I’ve recently gone back to Gate World forums, a Stargate fan community. At first I found it overwhelming by the different way I interpreted the show to other fans. I’m very literal minded and I don’t tend to talk about the show like it’s a real thing. Maybe other people enjoy talking about it that way but me…eh. As a writer I don’t just enjoy science fiction I break apart every part of it and analyse it and through that develop ideas for my own. I’m pretty good at telling when a story could be better or when it’s just so amazing I can’t get enough of it. When the actors are bad or the dialogue is bad I struggle to keep watching, and then I try to avoid imitating that in my writing.
I like Gate World now, once I consciously told myself that the fans are doing something their way and I do things my way and I’ve tried to hold back getting into little Rodney McKay-ish disputes with them over it, and seeing how my avatar is of the good doctor and my ability for mimicking accents and personalities (I’ll explain this in more detail later) that’s a very difficult thing to overcome.
I want to start right at the beginning though, from the notion in my childhood that science fiction was the most uncool subject you could ever get into to finally allowing myself to be exposed to the epitome of all science fiction, Star Trek.
My older siblings made it quite clear that science fiction was for nerds despite the fact that my sister and I became fans of SeaQuest. What made that show so different? Was it the talking dolphin or was it the fact that we both had a crush on Jonathan Brandis? It was most obviously a science fiction show, unlike LOST which though it is science fiction doesn’t always seem like it. I call it ‘accessible science fiction’ which is all around Hollywood now. They take something that looks like a regular old movie and put in a few science fiction themes and make sure the actors are hot and in their 20’s. I sometimes call this ‘cut and paste science fiction.’ Wow, I really didn’t like Skyline, huh? And I am Number Four, eugh! I’m sorry but I love my science fiction that sounds like it’s been written by a physics professor – take all that science out and I will find it hard to pay attention.
Even though both science fiction and fantasy were considered taboos my sister and I got into a lot of fantasy. We loved Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Naturally I got way too obsessed and ‘serious’ about it. Fantasy has always done better than science fiction for reasons I can’t understand. All you need to do is put in some facts and actual science and fantasy is turned into science fiction. Is it because the world is made up mostly of empathisers than systemisers? That’s why I love Philip Pullman and his trilogy His Dark Materials. Actually, he was the very man that influenced me to learn more about science and is my primary inspiration to write science fiction.
When I was younger comprehending movies and TV shows was almost impossible. When asked to give someone the gist about what was happening in a movie I’d just tell people to read the back of the cover and then be angry or sulky when they would push me to just tell them. I never really knew what happened in movies especially when I first saw Stargate when I was eight or nine but because I loved dogs I took one look at the jackal headed Jaffa and was in love. I remember writing Anubis everywhere around the house; under the top bunk bed, under the table, my bedroom walls, etc. I started writing it backwards and renamed myself ‘Sibuna.’ I’m autistic, ok – I’m weird. I once renamed myself Barnabas. Please get that Bible away from that child.
Stargate remained a favourite movie of mine for years even if I never watched the series. Regretting that now, obviously. Once again the decision was made after hearing a remark from one of my siblings.
I should speed things along. The first science fiction TV show I got into was the new series of Doctor Who the very night after seeing Christopher Eccleston play Jesus in a movie. Doctor Who was always hard for me to watch being a child in the 90’s when special effects were just starting to get better, and we had colour for years and years since I was born, so watching something in black and white was like trying to keep me sitting still in church. I could watch Doctor Who now because of the colour, even the colour schemes and the music and maybe because it was made for my generation’s attention span (note: I didn’t say my attention span).
I didn’t get really into Doctor Who until the second series and even then I kind of lost interest. I’m not sure when it exactly hit for me that this show was amazing and I wanted to know every possible thing about it but when that finally did happen that’s exactly what I thought, and exactly what I did. I really wanted to know the complete history every time they mentioned something that happened in an old episode. So, I read a whole reference guide in a week and decided to write my own fan fiction, which is linked to this blog so if you want to witness my insanity, go right ahead.
My love of Doctor Who is mainly because of the head writer (back in those days) Russell T Davies. I literally for the first time saw the pain in a character’s face and felt saddened by it. Actually pretty damn over emotional, as I have poor control over them usually. I now relate all emotional stories in Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures to Russell T Davies or at least know he had some input in them. Oh and by the way he inspired me to become a science fiction writer, more than Philip Pullman made me want to be one. I usually describe Russell T Davies emotional style of writing as “not only does he tug at heart strings, he pulls them right out.” Maybe it’s my over emotionality that makes me see his writing that way. But he taught me how to understand human behaviour by possibly over doing the emotions – it may seem that way to people that don’t need any help at understanding emotions – I don’t know.
I was inspired by Stephen Moffat too (new head writer of Doctor Who) mainly to put in twists and then suddenly make everyone’s heads explode by introducing something completely random out of completely nowhere and still making it all fit into the story. Some of the twists do get kind of repetitive though. In the early episodes they were brilliant but I’m kind of tired of them now.
When I was writing my Doctor Who fan fiction I bought as many of the adventure books as possible and studied every word, just so I could remember the structure. Then I started to learn not all authors write the same and I had to stick with one style. I wrote it all so fast but in a lot of detail. The final book was written in twenty-one days and is twenty chapters long. Needless to say I didn’t exactly have a social life which has never really been much of a concern to me.
Then I started to get into Stargate and to help my writing, Star Trek – now I was definitely into science fiction. I was so obsessed (in autism we call it having a special interest) that I didn’t realise other people didn’t like it as much and was very confused to as why they would hate it. How could they hate it? All that information about warp cores and impulse drives and replicators – I loved it! I admit though I had to be medicated to understand some of the information early on though. These days I don’t need to be though I do need it for other such issues.
I even had a routine to watch Star Trek: the Next Generation every week night at 6:30pm on SciTV Australia. And on the weekends my Star Trek viewing started at early as 8am and because there was a channel showing shows 2 hours later, and then they showed it all again from 7:30pm. I can’t follow this routine any more and for a while I was deeply upset about it, so I replaced it with The 4400, Caprica and Stargate Universe and other science fiction shows I have easy access to.
But back to Stargate. Stargate was my whole world for six months. Now, while not as long as some people it was more about the intensity and getting stuck in that world and refusing to come out of it. I would talk about it constantly, read about it constantly, watch up to six episodes a day (thanks to Scifi TV Australia – on any given part of the day, every day except Saturdays it would be on) and think about it constantly. I started to see the Atlantis crew everywhere (imaginatively, not hallucinatory) and the first American band I saw I thought silently to myself ‘they’d make good SG officers.’ I’m Australian so I don’t get to hear many American accents in real life.
Then I began to mimic Dr. Daniel Jackson’s accent and I still find myself talking with a Canadian dialect. I made myself a Stargate army jacket and even some clothes I wear make me feel like I’m in that world. Clothing is like my own skin, essentially, and it becomes a part of my own personality, made up of characters from TV shows and movies. I went through the same thing with Doctor Who, even mimicked Doctor’s 3, 4, 6, 10 and 11. And dressed like them.
I didn’t just mimic Dr. Jackson though. I mimicked a whole bunch of characters, wasn’t fond of the Teal’c accent and got into many arguments over taking on Dr. McKay’s personality which is currently helping me write this blog. Having an accent of a character in my head helps me read and write.
I’ll give you a crash course in what I think is going on in my brain. There are these things called mirror neurons where neurotypical people (non-autistic) mirror the actions, expressions, maybe tone of voice of the people they are talking to. Autistic people who have difficulty communicating and bonding with people take on the accent and mannerisms and even dress style of their favourite characters and unconsciously use this to help them with social skills, but in some cases, it’s more intense and constant than what NT peeps go through.
We can’t for some reason communicate our true feelings effectively or show empathy (not have but show – well, it depends how severe our symptoms of theory of mind are). It may have something to do with the Intense World Theory. This crash course will take about 20 hours! But I’ll happily direct anyone interested to a technified interview my friend did with the researchers.
The world to me is a chaotic place, I’m talking a café is a chaotic place, a freaking bookshop. There is so much sensory information being experienced by me at once that a non-autistic brain can just filter out. Because of all this I see social situations just speed right past me and I never get that opportunity to detect and compute what the emotions of a person means, until much much later. I also still can’t read body language to save myself and this makes writing about facial expressions very difficult. This Star Trek book I’m reading now is kind of helping. I also can’t show empathy at that time though I have great understanding of it now. But when watching a movie or TV show with structured words, organised scenes and the main focus being on the main cast it is easier to connect to their situation. I even learned about the importance of teamwork by watching Stargate Universe.
Actually, it was Stargate Universe that affected me the most. When I watch it I’m not just watching another sci-fi show. I feel like I’m on Destiny (the ship both military and civilian personnel from Icarus base wound up on when fleeing an attack from the Lucian Alliance – the whole series is basically about them trying to survive on this ship while working out how to get home). I don’t even say “I’m going to watch SGU” I say “I’m going back to Destiny.” Even when I’m not watching it it affects how I see things. When I’m nearing the end up a bottle of water I think about how scarce water is on the ship. Since I’ve only recently moved out and live semi-independently with my sister food does feel like it is scarce so when I’m hungry but can only find little bits around the house like stale chocolate biscuits I just think they would love to be able to eat this on Destiny. When I eat fruit especially I’m reminded of being on Destiny.
I originally started to watch it a lot because I was stressed out and I used it to escape. Now I watch it to be with those characters, to experience every food shortage or alien attack or incursion by the Lucian Alliance, which is what I have to look forward to tonight. Yes, as a part of my set in stone routine I must watch SGU from 8pm to about 10pm.
It wasn’t just about feeling like I was on the ship. I felt closer to the characters as I began to unravel the mystery that is human emotions and behaviour. I felt their struggles, I eventually understood why they chose to say and do what they did, instead of being honest. I didn’t always agree with it. I used to hate watching shows where people would rather lie than be honest but I think I’ve begun to understand it. Not that I’d ever in a million years do it. Even if I wanted to lie my body language is telling the truth so there’s really no point. When I lie I feel guilty to so I try just my best not to or give very vague details. Sometimes I just wish people were more honest.
When Stargate Universe was cancelled I just stopped, I literally lay on the couch and didn’t move or think or have any type of emotion running through me. That happens a lot to me after change that I can’t control. In autism we call them shutdowns. It took weeks and weeks for me to actually realise that Stargate Universe was gone, as was Atlantis and the SG1 movie and the games. I think I was about to have a nervous breakdown when I found out the games were cancelled when they were so close to being finished.
I don’t know how it is for people without autism. I hate calling you guys NT’s. We just say it because we are so different and when it’s denied it’s like you are denying our issues, most of which you don’t experience. Anyway, I mean no disrespect.
Like I’ve said previously I don’t just enjoy science fiction I study it. Science fiction is my life, my life’s work. Seriously, in ten years I hope to have all my five books published. When life gets too tough I use it to escape. Once I was in my little I-don’t-want-to-socialise mood I escaped through watching the first science fiction movie I could find, Zathura. It was great because it had a young cast and it brought me back to a time where people wouldn’t pressure me to socialise because back then they never expected it of me. One of the reasons I write science fiction is because I want to have an adventure. I came from a small town where not a lot went on, but still, even going to concerts and clubs wasn’t enough for me. I wanted a true science fiction adventure, an ‘oh-my-God-the-Earth-is-going-be-destoryed-in-10-seconds-how-do-we-save-it?’ type of adventure. And the most important part about that is you forget about your own trivial issues or sibling rivalry when you’re fighting to survive, to save your own planet. And it’s important for me because when I get stressed out I have a meltdown or I just stop working (literally, I short circuit; I lose muscle tone, speech, emotions) and I want to know what it would be like for me if I could survive in that situation.
This is why I feel insulted when people tell me they won’t read my book because it’s science fiction. What is so wrong with science fiction? Does it make you feel inferior that you don’t understand half of the science behind it? Is such a taboo in popular circles to actually have some knowledge about the laws of nature? Why do people hate science anyway? It makes no sense to me. Science keeps me going. I suppose I’m the same way about math. I can do it on medication but it doesn’t stick with me unless I use it every day. I do kind of like the patterns in numbers but that’s it.
Oh, by the way, I have Eli Wallace in my head, helping me write.
I just wish people kept more of an open mind. Science fiction is beautiful. It takes ordinary people and puts everything we know about the human race to the test. Do human beings really have humanity? It deals with racism in a way no non-sci-fi fan would ever think possible. It deals with greed and survival which usually go hand in hand. There’s no good or evil, just different perspectives and an instinct of survival. It even deals with the more trivial matters that happen amongst friends and families and business partners, revealing that the human race will always be human, with all its flaws. Star Trek especially makes you see aliens as more than monsters hell bent on destroying Earth for no reason at all – they’re people too going through the same issues as we do. Hell, there are probably autistic aliens too which is something my series will deal with.
It was Torchwood: Miracle Day that made me see death in a whole other light. I know a lot of people were disappointed by that series but moving to the show to America was a good move. It’s full of action and so much is happening (keeps the ADHD side of me focused on it) and all the issues it deals with just made me think about it for hours later. I was never trying to get through a week so fast in anticipation for the next episode of a series since LOST. But this series was 20 times better. I still need to get it on DVD. I had this thing about needing to watch it live because when it aired in the States at the same time it aired in Australia, so if someone was watching TV at that time, and it didn’t even matter if I could record it and watch it later – I had to watch it then or I was going make a very loud and angry deal about it. My mother must be so relieved that she doesn’t have to put up with that anymore, because I have since moved.
Torchwood: Miracle Day didn’t just make me understand human emotions more but made me aware of how selfish and how despicable we can really be. I think it was John Simm as the Master (from Doctor Who) that said: “The Human race, the greatest monsters of them all.” This past year I have found out so much about how deep it goes but Miracle Day reminded me that humans are just not evil in science fiction. It was probably why I was more affected by some of the plots in Miracle Day compared to other people. I first realised it when I at first wasn’t affected by people who were being classed as dead but were still alive (people stopped dying in the series) then it just hit me and reminded me how I had to change my perceptions. Throughout history and even sometimes now the disabled are treated as less than human and those who have read Area 51 by Annie Jacobsen know all about the Roswell Hoax and what happened after. How’s that for vague? I don’t want my door kicked in. They’re were lots of shocking story lines in Miracle Day and I can’t understand how people say this series was boring or disappointing. It makes me wonder about their humanity. If you are unaffected by people being classed as category 1 and then burned alive, you definitely have a lack of empathy.
Now I have a few friends into science fiction not with as much intensity as me though and I dub my new home ‘the Sci-fi house’. There’s also a lot of jazz/art going around but for the first time I feel like I can just watch it and talk about it without making people bored or getting some smug remark about being a nerd. I know I’m a nerd; I don’t need to be reminded about it. Nerds are cool. Everything I was told in my childhood turned out to be a lie. Everything got better for me once I got into science and science fiction. The amount of knowledge I’ve acquired in just three years compared to my twenty-six years of life is, unbelievable. I have a lot more self-confidence too. And if I was to ever get really upset and lonely I’ll just put on episode 200 of Stargate: SG1. You know what I’m talking about. It’s my remedy for the blues.
OK, now it’s time for my real writing break because Caprica, The 4400 and Stargate Universe can’t watch themselves.
Here’s more about my take on Autism and Mirror Neurons:
And here is the very long and technical WrongPlanet.net interview with the creators of The Intense World Syndrome (helluvaread):