Resonance (Dora M. Raymaker)

Reviewed by Maya Larson

Resonance, Dora Raymaker’s second book, is set ten years before the events of their first book, Hoshi and the Red City Circuit. This reviewer did not do their homework, and I began reading Resonance without a clue that Hoshi even existed. Lucky for me, while the books exist in the same universe and add to one another, reading one before the other is not necessary. That being said, I do look forward to reading Hoshi now that I have been exposed to this world.

Set in the 26th century on the moons of Jupiter, Resonance details a world where people who are neurodivergent (implied to be autistic, in my reading) are intensely marginalized. Called Operations—or “nauta”—these individuals are the only ones who can manipulate quantum code, without which all life originating from Earth would likely be extinct. One of the characters, Caran, explains the situation around the nauta as “[Normals] saw nauta as unhousebroken animals with the power to obliterate humanity, held in check only by our tendency to spend our free time drooling on ourselves. Not like anyone saw much of our assigned Operator, so no one got the reality check that we’re, you know, people.” 

Because of the fear and disrespect “normals” have of them, nauta live in servitude or are on the run. The book is told through first person from an anthropologist using an “élan vital”—an intelligent alien creature that creates a telempathic link between Steven and follows four characters that he interviews who tell the story of the “Great Changes”—which refer to the operator rights movement and early contact with élan vitals.

Just through the summary, one can begin to see the comments that Raymaker makes through their novel by using scy-fy to subvert common narratives around disability in our world today. Resonance bubbles with thoughtful exploration of power, disability, and ableism. The diverse cast of characters showcase the variety of choices marginalized individuals make in order to survive.

The plot of Resonance is rich and complicated. It features lots of terms, characters, places, situations, and time periods. I admit at times I struggled to keep track of all the details and I benefited greatly from revisiting the first few chapters at one point to remind myself of all the terminology. Readers familiar with Hoshi may have an easier time adapting to the world, but for new readers I recommend taking it slow the first few chapters and having a strong grasp on the new terminology.

Resonance uses a unique narrative style that I have never been exposed to before. The book is narrated by first person present tense through Dr. Steven Kwon, a highly successful anthropologist. Using the élan vitals, Steven is able to directly experience the memories of the other characters—Caran, Jordis, Noa, and Cami. Thus, we get first person narration of past events from each of those characters in addition to Steven’s narration. I found role of anthropology particularly powerful in this text, and I appreciated seeing Raymaker’s hints on what anthropology could look like in the future and what aspects are valued in this fictional 26th century. It was also particularly interesting to see Steven navigating his professionalism as he grows closer to the characters throughout the book.

Since the story is grounded in anthropological interviews, the perspective shifts frequently. Because the narration is “first person” in the flashbacks, we get a strong sense of each character and a deep connection to their most intense feelings. This format allows the author to dig into how the characters experience trauma. I noticed in the first few chapters that the narrative felt different between different characters as Raymaker tells us about each character through their narration. For example, Caran’s narrative is more lyrical and emotional, whereas Jordis’s is straightforward, and these qualities match the characters themselves. I applaud Raymaker on their ability to convey a character so thoroughly solely through the style of writing. 

While it’s incredibly impactful to know these characters so deeply, the shifting perspectives was disorienting at times. Raymaker takes on a serious challenge by adopting this narrative style, and I commend them for the risk they took in tackling such a complex structure. I can’t even imagine the time and effort that went into writing it—but sometimes the complexity can be a little destabilizing. If you’re not paying careful attention, it can be difficult to tell when the narrative shifts from Steven to the flashback of a character because both are in present tense. 

As the story progresses, the point of view changes within the flashbacks as well. I struggled with these POV changes as I use alternative formats and screen readers. However, when I brought this concern to Raymaker, they immediately provided me with a version that more clearly conveyed these changes. This version contained tags such as “end memory” or “POV change” which helped me as a reader follow more clearly. I was immensely grateful for Raymaker’s prompt response and their dedication to helping me find an accessible version of the story. Even with these tags, I did struggle at times to keep track of narration—but ultimately, I think it depends on an individual reader and their ability to track and their preference for one versus multiple narrators. 

Resonance features a diverse cast of characters, many of whom—as mentioned previously—the reader gets to know on a deep level. I particularly appreciated how we see three nauta characters—Caran, Jordis, and Noa—all of whom navigate being nauta differently. In their interview with Wordgathering, Raymaker touches on this: “There are three Operator characters who try to work around the system in different, but equally destructive ways—one chooses to hide his disability with a drug that’s killing him, another chooses organized crime because it’s the only place that will let her be herself, and a third runs away into isolation.” 

I appreciate how throughout the book we see these unique characters interacting with systems of oppression and fighting for liberation in different ways. This is another moment where Raymaker subverts typical narratives by showcasing diverse neurodivergent characters which troubles the common narrative in popular culture of neurodivergence as only cis-het white men. Another empowering piece that Raymaker sneaks in their story is how the neurodivergent characters get to tell their own story. To nondisabled people, that may seem small, but for disabled people—in particular neurodivergent people—often our agency is stripped away and others tell our stories for us. By structuring the story with assistive technology and the élan vitals, the characters have the agency to tell their own story and be listened to as whole human beings.

Returning to narration for a moment, I also noticed how the narrative structure allowed for us to see characters reflecting on their past selves, as well as directly seeing how they have (or haven’t) changed. I found this very impactful and cool as we see the character as who they were, who they are, and who they are in the eyes of Steven and the other characters.

I don’t even know where to begin with the disability and neurodivergence conversation in this book, because no matter what I say, it will not do Resonance justice. One of my favorite things about science fiction is how it allows us to criticize our world in discreet or subtle ways. Raymaker epitomizes this as they create a world that seems like a fantastical, far-off future, but disabled readers and our allies will see the deep connections to our world today. Raymaker undeniably subverts narratives through their book.

There were also so many outstanding quotes in this book. As a disabled reader who is not neurodivergent, I found that Raymaker often put feelings that I’ve experienced into words both succinctly and eloquently. I suspect that neurodivergent readers may this experience to a stronger degree. It is obvious that Raymaker not only reflects on their own lived experiences as neurodivergent, but also draws on a wealth of knowledge from their professional research on disability and mental health.  

I think I could keep writing about Resonance for pages more, however I would never encapsulate the radical and unique 139,000-word story Raymaker tells. Raymaker tells a brilliant story, but their work also invites other disabled authors and artists to begin (or continue) to imagine how we can use science fiction to trouble contemporary narratives and explore our liberation.

If you need any more convincing to check out this illuminative text, please check out this sample, excerpted in Wordgathering.  

Title: Resonance
Author: Dora M. Raymaker
Publisher: Argawarga Press
Year: 2022

Editor’s Note: Resonance is also available in a Kindle edition.

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About the Reviewer

Maya Larson (she/her/hers) is a recent college graduate with a BA in English and French. She is currently beginning her career in disability advocacy. As a deafblind individual, she is passionate about disability literature and she enjoys writing science fiction, short stories, and about the daily lived experience of being disabled. She has published her own flash memoir with Wordgathering, as well as a review on Adrian Spratt’s Caroline.