Special Needs in Strange Worlds | Bradley P. Beaulieu

About the Author

Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but in the way of these things, it was set aside as life intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing several novels and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, Michael Swanwick, Kij Johnson, and many more.

Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades and most anticipated lists, including two Hotties–the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice–on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo and more:

* Top Ten Book and Debut of the Year for 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Best New Voice of 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
* 2011 Gemmell Morningstar Award Nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on The Ranting Dragon’s Best of 2011
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on Mad Hatter’s Book Review Best of 2011
* Honorable Mention for The Winds of Khalakovo on LEC Reviews Best of 2011
* Top Five Book for 2012 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Straits of Galahesh
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on Staffer’s Book Review
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on The Ranting Dragon
* 2013 Most Anticipated for The Flames of Shadam Khoreh on The Ranting Dragon

In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.

Brad continues to work on his next projects, including an Arabian Nights epic fantasy and a Norse-inspired middle grade series. He also runs the highly successful science fiction and fantasy podcast, Speculate, which can be found at speculatesf.com.

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When I was in my teens, I was a huge comic book fan. I loved X-Men, Doctor Strange, Thor, and plenty more, but my all-time favorite was Daredevil, aka Matt Murdock. I was captured by his particular set of limitations and abilities. His powers manifested when he was struck by (what else?) radioactive sludge. He was blinded but all of his other senses were heightened to superhuman levels. He’s a very interesting mix is Matt Murdock. He dedicates himself to avenging his father’s death, but also works long days to earn a law degree and later to become a successful lawyer. He is limited physically by lack of sight (well, to a degree, anyway, because let’s face it, his radar vision is pretty close to normal sight) but has other wondrous abilities in place of it. He’s a lawyer, fighting to work things through the system, and yet he deals out vigilante justice after punching out from the day job.

Matt comes across as straight-laced and nerdy while walking the halls of justice, but a dynamic ass-kicker once he’s donned his devil-horned mask. It was a great mix, and his storyline—particularly Frank Miller’s sequences—were fascinating to me.

That my have been the seed that led me to the Matri when I first began writing my debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo. I’m very conscious of not making magic too powerful. I’m a strong believer that there need to be checks and balances. And so, when I first started envisioning the power of the Grand Duchy’s aristocracy, I knew that I wanted them to be able to communicate from long distances. The islands they live upon are spread far apart and are difficult to travel between, so having something like telepathic communication would have increased their ability to retain control over the islands against their enemies. In fact, it became crucial, because their enemies had control over elemental spirits. They needed a counterbalance to their enemy’s strength.

But I didn’t like the notion that they could do such things easily. I wanted there to be restrictions around it. I wanted there to be ritual. And cost. And here is where Daredevil’s influence may have crept in.

Atiana, one of the main characters of the novels, is a princess of one of the nine duchies who has the ability to “take the dark,” to enter the strange world of the aether and communicate with other Matri. The Matri do this by submerging themselves in drowning basins—essentially stone baths filled with ice cold water—in order to enter a trancelike state in which they can project themselves incorporeally. They can communicate from hundreds of leagues away and they can also watch over their islands for threats from elemental sorcerers, which they can easily detect while in this state.

But there is a cost.

The aether is a difficult environment at first. The frigid water is not something everyone can endure. But for those who can, they quickly acclimate, and then begin to yearn for the dark. They stay in those waters for hours at a time, sometimes days, reveling in the feelings of expansiveness and otherworldliness that they pine for once they’ve returned to the mundane world. Over the years and decades their bodies begin to atrophy to the point that they can hardly use them. Some become unable to walk. Special wheeled chairs are built for them to enable some free movement, but they live in ancient palaces that weren’t built with such things in mind.

Just like Matt Murdock, the dual lives these women lead were compelling to me. It was interesting to see how they fear taking the dark at first but eventually come to love it for the freedoms and powers it grants them, even while it costs them their health.

I’ll admit that I didn’t set out to write about special needs, per se, but I’m glad for this particular manifestation of it, because it expanded my own awareness while I was writing. It forced me to think more widely about what this world would be like for women like Atiana. And also, it lent more reality to the tale, which writing could use more of. I’m quickly turned off by prototypical heroes who are so godlike they hardly resemble humans. Much more interesting to me are characters like Thomas Covenant, a flawed hero who suffers from leprosy, or the Watchmen’s Rorschach, a paranoid who can see nothing but black and white, or Tetsuo from Akira, a quiet boy with burgeoning powers who desperately wants to prove himself to the other members of his gang.

I’ve been lucky in life. I have my health. So does my family. Those around me have generally been long-lived with few serious problems. So I’m insulated in many ways from special needs. But that doesn’t mean I don’t embrace it in fiction, because it is in that playground that we can go beyond our lives, and perhaps bring an experience, and awareness, to others.

And that, in my opinion, is one of the most important things stories can do: to bring a glimmer of understanding where previously there was none.

Brad

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