Book Review: Hoshi and the Red City Circuit (Dora M. Raymaker)

Reviewed by Michael Northen

Hoshi and the Red City Circuit is Dora Raymaker's first novel, a cyberpunk mystery set on the world of Cassiopeia Prime, where Red City is the only land mass. The population of Red City is divided between a dominant class and an underclass of Operators of which Hoshi, the novel's protagonist and narrator, is one. While certain Operators like Hoshi have exceptional ability in non-verbal information processing, memory and communication that are valuable to society, they lack the ability to cope with the physical (or fleshly) world and the barrage of input from all of the senses that assault them, as the rest of the population does. As a result, Operators are kept in a kind of servitude in where their presence in society is permitted as long they are tightly monitored. Hoshi is employed as a private investigator who is assigned to assist in solving the recent murders of three Operators. This is made particularly difficult because society is in the midst of a wave of anti-Operator bigotry in which those around her look for any excuse to take away her rights and remove her from participating society. The novel traces Hoshi's attempt to solve this crime, a circuitous adventure during the course of which she herself becomes a hunted suspect.

It has become commonplace to assert that reading is a relationship between a reader and its text, and that any knowledge of the author – particularly author intentionality – is irrelevant to the process. Hoshi and the Red City Circuit argues against this. Certainly, one can get carried away by the story and understand its relevance for our current wave of anti-immigrant policies with no knowledge about Raymaker. However, a reader is forced to switch lenses, or at the very least, sharpen their focus, when they understand that the author herself has autism and that the perspective of the world the reader is given through Hoshi's eyes is in many ways Raymaker's own.

In his recent book See It Feelingly, where Ralph Savarese held discussions with readers on the autism scale about reading classic novels, Raymaker was interviewed extensively. Reading Raymaker's comments, one is struck by just how much of what she says about herself informs the protagonist of Hoshi and the Red City Circuit. Raymaker prefers to use augmentative communication devices to oral speech. As Savarese relays it:

"I have difficulty with the motor planning involved in producing speech," she explained. "I also don't access words and put them together the way others do." She thought "in visual spatial landscapes and need[ed] to consciously translate [her] thinking into language."

Raymaker says that because of the amount of effort that it takes to handle some of the incoming sensory information "Sometimes I turn off speech to conserve resources so I don't fully crash outů Sometimes I turn off speech because it makes navigating the world easier, either by giving me more resources to manage other things, or because it plays into people's stereotypes of disability and enables them to accommodate me properly without a ton of explanation and hassle."

The book's first chapter sets up the surface story; three Operators have been killed. An Operator herself, Hoshi is called in to help solve the crime because she may have insights into the situation that non-Operators lack. Raymaker establishes the future and other-worldly setting of the novel. She also makes the political/cultural context clear. Red City is a society in which Operators are discriminated against and barely tolerated; there is even a fellow Operator within the Red City Police Department (RCPD) that is covertly plotting Hoshi's downfall. All of this hooks the reader into the story's narrative. Woven between these narrative details are also descriptions of the way that Hoshi herself functions differently from the non-Operators around her. These are necessary to the understanding of Hoshi's predicament, but Raymaker holds off until the second chapter to unload her real purpose in the book.

I am going to quote a section from the second chapter length at length because it is critical to understanding the novel's subtext.

All Worlds Medical Association has the following to say about me and my people:

     K-Syndrome is the result of defects in multiple areas of the "K-Region" of the human genome, as indentified early 22nd. cen. but Dr. Wilton Karl. Due to the epistatic relationships between affected genes and the rest of the genome, multiple pathologies result.

     1) Verbal-sequential IQ at least three standard deviations below visual-associative IQ (Parenti Scale)

     2) Abnormal sensory processing, including perceived intensity, attentional capacity, and integration of sensory stimuli.

     3) Impairments in motor sequencing required to carry out complex tasks such as speech

     Additional pathologies may occur.

     Due to the complexity of the epistatic interactions between defective and helath genes, the possibility of cure is excluded. However, symptoms are generally relieved by early intervention and socialization training coupled with life-long medication/assistive technology.

But what the official medical description doesn't include are these additional facts:

     1) Our visual-associative IQs are by definition at least a standard deviation higher than a non-Operator's.

     2) Our sensory processing gives us preternatural capacity for detailed observation.

     3) Our "assistive technology" is really the most powerful machine ever created. And, not despite but because of our "defects," only we can use it.

It takes little imagination to see that when the elements of science fiction are subtracted from these characteristics what they describe are people classified as autistic. All that Raymaker has done to turn on the engine of allegory is to posit the a condition in which it is only those who fall under this description that have the ability to operate societies most sophisticated technologies.

Hoshi informs the reader in the first chapter that, as a criminal investigator, she is the first Operator in history to be allowed to have a job that is not connected with computer programming, so much depends upon her being able to succeed. She is essentially a pilot project. It was only recently that laws were passed allowing Operators to work at all because, as Hoshi says, most people consider them too stupid. Many have been essentially institutionalized. All Operators have had to take socialization classes and are fitted with electronic prompts when confused about the appropriate social response in a conversation or situation. Under the pretext that Operators are taking jobs that should go to non-Operators and that allowing them into society will make the crime rate go up, anti-Operator protestors are trying to get the laws revoked. Sound familiar?

Perhaps in no area of disability studies has the cry "Nothing about us without us" been more frustrated than that of autism. With authors like Raymaker, this is slowly beginning to change. In Hoshi and the Red City Circuit the author does not simply create a protagonist with autistic characteristics and clarify social inequities surrounding autism, she does something more. By telling the story from an autist's point of view, Raymaker is able to invert the usual situation in which the main stream point of view is in the driver's seat. Merely by identifying herself – the story teller – as the Operator, and those who do not share a similar experience of embodiment, as non-Operators, she manages to the put the reader who usually identifies as main stream into the margins. Hoshi makes no secret of what can only at times be seen as a kind of contempt for non-Operators. Because they have to communicate through words, even their thinking processes are slower. Because the communication of what is essentially data has to be processed through the niceties of social ritual, it is inefficient. What Raymaker does here is to give most of those who would be reading her book a taste of what it is like to feel that their natural means of functioning is somehow inferior. While the story ends with intimations of hope for the future, this is accomplished only after Hoshi has struggled to put aside some of her own battle-earned biases.

Hoshi and the Red City Circuit is a multi-layered novel and not merely the sort of cloak and dagger thriller that the unfortunate gloss on the back of the book might lead one to believe. Luckily, Savarese's description just above on the back cover as a "neurodivergent allegory" is more accurate. Because of that, the novel may not totally satisfy some hard sci-fi fans. There is a mysterious elan vital force acting on the city that can only be summoned by shamans and, for that matter, the city itself is a living character. Despite their unlikely appearance, these elements are necessary to the underlying issues being sorted out in attitudes towards autism – and disability in general. Religious belief is always a factor when it comes to the oppression of one group by another, and no social problem is going to be solved solely by science or computer processing.

Science fiction has proven to be one of the most fertile genres for discussion of issues that affect the disability community. Recently, disabled writers have been wresting control of these narratives by authoring work themselves. Even without this context, Hoshi and the Red City Circuit would be a good read, but in that context it is much, much more. It is an important novel that anyone interested in the growth of disability literature should be familiar with.

Title: Hoshi and the Red City Circuit
Author: Dora M. Raymaker
Publisher: Argawarga press
Publication Date: 2018


Michael Northen is the editor of Wordgathering and an editor with Jennifer Bartlett and Sheila Black of the anthology Beauty is a Verb: the New Poetry of Disability. He is also an editor of the recent anthology of disabiity short fiction, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked (Cinco Puntos Press).