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A lot of this for me is also that my primary social circle for well over a decade has been a specific subset of the autistic self-advocacy community. And there's so much that's unfortunately relevant here -- dehumanization, the effects of long-term compliance training, the periodic fear-mongering that we're likely to snap and kill people (at least in the US after every mass shooting), diagnosis-hiding, people who say "you can't be" if you don't fit utterly nonsensical definitions of autism, the way professionals often try to convince autistic people with no connections to other autistic people to assume a position as 'role models' for the rest of us.
That last one is the main reason I react so strongly to Margolotta's "no culture" thing. A lot of 'experts' insist that "autistic community" and "autistic culture" are a contradiction in terms, so impossible it's not even worth arguing. And it's not just one community, and I'm not going to pretend the dynamics aren't an utter mess at times, but it is there. As frustrating as it can be, they're not going to be able to fix the issues in something they can't admit exists.
I doubt all of this is intentional, but the book just hits on so much that's familiar to me.
The reason I like UA so much is that while the autistic-coding seems pretty clear, it's all a bit messy and ambiguous. It's hard to tell what might be meant to reflect innate autistic traits vs. social inexperience vs. trauma. And that's a lot more relatable characterization to me than autism-onna-stick coding. (It's... complicated for me, because I also have a rare genetic disorder that makes people think I have a contagious illness all the time. I can't tell what's autism and what's having had weird social experiences because of that.) Unfortunately, characters with autistic communication patterns who actually care about people and are sincerely interested in how people work (and are sometimes even socially perceptive!) are... rare in fiction. (Abed from Community is the main exception I know of.) So I really like how Nutt's autistic-coding is done.
I see this scene as all about reclaiming power and agency. It means more to me with Margolotta taking offense than it would had she apologized. I think there are strong hints that Nutt’s desperation and lack of confidence weren’t entirely accidental side effects, but in part ways to maintain control so he would be more useful for her purposes. There are parallels with how emotional abusers try to keep their victims dependent.
It means so much that Nutt is now in a position to redefine the terms of their relationship. I think “Do I have worth?” and “Have I become?” have different significance here. I don’t read them as about validation, exactly — there’s a noticeable absence of emotion in the exchange. Narratively, these questions need closure. By asking them, Nutt cuts off Margolotta’s chance to pass judgment on her terms. (And of course she was going to say 'yes,' but her not saying "Mister Nutt" after his request is also significant here.) And then he continues countering her framing throughout the conversation and leaves on his terms, not having thanked her for what she gave him. (That omission doesn’t seem accidental.)
“Is it they who should be sorry?” feels very pointed to me. How complicit was Margolotta with the Empire? “Many bad things were done” in the passive voice? More generally, why is it the descendants of the group with the least choice that categorically need redemption? Is that real progress, or does it reinforce the stories that leave out the men with whips? There’s also a question of whether we’re meant to accept that people who truly have “no history,” “no culture,” and are surrounded by enemies could hide unnoticed for centuries, rather than very quickly forgetting the need to stay hidden and wandering into populated areas. I think it’s possible that when truly "left to themselves," the orcs do have the capacity to find themselves together.
The text definitely doesn’t explicitly contradict Margolotta. But I’m not sure we’re meant to take her entirely at her word. She only tells Vetinari that the orcs were made from humans, which makes her intended ‘history’ a little suspect. I’m not convinced that this is a special case where it’s somehow good for a cultural outsider to ‘civilize the savages’ and give them a ‘history’ written entirely by groups that perpetrated and condoned slavery and genocide. “Who would you send to teach the humans?” has some very serious implications beneath the humor.
I like that for Nutt, a crucial part of finding himself was leaving Ladyship’s castle and making friends with three working class people. There were lessons he needed to learn from seeing devalued, underprivileged people help each other and intentionally resist cultural expectations. I also like that, for all that other characters try to put him on a pedestal as the exceptional orc, he never seems to quite go along with it. It’s not just that he knows he matters by the end of the book. He knows they all matter.
“Wrubinu jnf envfrq jvgu rirelguvat, nyy cuvybfbcuref, nyy bhe ynathntrf, rdhny npprff gb nyy gur pbagenqvpgbel guvaxvat bs bhe Uvirf naq bs gur cnfg, fb gur znal oryvrsf naavuvyngrq bar nabgure, yrnivat gur pnainf oynax naq ernql.” Gubhtu sbeghangryl Ahgg qvqa'g pbzr njnl jvgu gur pbapyhfvba gung ur'f nabgure havirefr'f Tbq. :-D
"Znetb nyfb gnhtug Ahgg n ybg; jung yrffbaf jvyy UR xrrc be qvfpneq va yngre lrnef?"
Be rira ol gur raq bs gur arkg qnl...
"Terry Pratchett is deceptively easy to interview. He was a journalist for many years and knows the ropes. It will sneak over the interviewer, after a while, that they’re talking about what Terry wants to talk about and have departed from the carefully thought-out questions. He is also skilled at deflecting personal enquiries, keeping Terry Pratchett the ebullient author carefully separated from Terry Pratchett the rather private person."
- Stephen Briggs, “Terry Pratchett: The Definitive Interview”
(Found at https://noirandchocolate.tumblr.com/post/17568419...