In high school, I remember very clearly when my boyfriend gave me a book that would change the way I felt about my favorite genre.
I love science fiction, and fantasy – and I always have. But I always searched for role models, people I could identify with in the fiction that I loved. There were no people with disabilities to be found – and when they were, they were frequently cured with a spell or with future technology that could change their bodies.
Can you guess what books my boyfriend gave me?
He gave me the first book in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. And I fell in love with Miles instantly.
10 years later, and I am finally re-reading the series on my nook, and I find myself delighted by Miles once again. It is a pleasure to read about a disabled character in space, and one who cannot be fixed by his planets technology. Sure, he gets treatment, sure, he is strengthened by the technology – but there is no cure for the brittle bones within Miles. There is no cure for the body he is given – and the planet to which he is given? Not exactly a fan of “mutants”.
What makes Miles my favorite disabled character in fiction is that he is sexual, he is feisty, and he has adventures that I could only dream of. He’s an absolute madman, of course, but he’s MY madman.
The Miles Vorkosigan books are the ones I read when I need to remember that I can do crazy things too, it reminds me that there are characters to whom I can look and see not an inspiring cripple, but someone who takes the world by storm. (Universe, in Miles’ case.)
What is particularly appreciated is that Miles does face consequences for his actions, just because he is the protagonist doesn’t mean that he cannot get hurt, it does not mean that he will not get damaged, or be threatened with death.
I wish there were more characters like Miles for us to look to for gleeful disabled fun. I wish that because I want more genres to embrace characters who live with their disabilities, and don’t just need to be cured. I want to see more cripples in space, more time travelling blind men and women, more of everything. I want more warriors with disabilities. Why? Because I want to be able to envision myself facing the same sorts of crazy bullshit that these characters do, and I want to do it without having to imagine the pity. I want to envision myself as the heroine, and I want to do it without having to brace myself for the inevitable ableism which comes from able bodied people writing disabled characters – and Lois McMaster Bujold succeeded in giving me a character to whom I can turn.