May’s book for the Hodderscape Review Project is a Elizabeth Moon’s classic inspired by her son and his autism.
100 words: What’s it all about?
In a recognisable near-future, crucially, infants with autism can be cured, but those around thirty or older make use of training and adaptations. Lou Arrendale is an autistic computer programmer in a biotech company who has a department of programmers on the spectrum; about 85% of the book is told through his point of view. A potential cure is developed, and coercive tactics are used on the entire division to become research subjects for the new cure. The work explores the very concept of disability and what it means to be normal – a dryer setting or a set of behaviours.
100 words: On autism
Disability is complex, and Moon brings a deep understanding of the issues surrounding it as well as some raw, personal pain: she was inspired to write this book by her son, aged around 20 when it was being written. I’ve had the pleasure – and, yes, pain and challenge – of working with a variety of computer programmers on the spectrum, and an awful lot of the experience rings true. Moon works to make the invisible visible, and help the reader grapple with understanding and tolerance. Lou explores the limits he has learned of his disability, discovering that “Maybe my ideas matter”.
100 words: The style and tone
And this is what comes to the heart of the book: that “normal” is as much of a spectrum as other social definitions. Most of the book is told from Lou’s point of view, and the book meanders through the varieties of the plot – from unethical coercion through attempted murder – with the same, even pace via which Lou experiences the world. It’s worth a read if for no other reason than to experience the world through Lou’s eyes. I don’t know if she gets it right or not, but it rings true to my experience, and it’s an ambitious undertaking.
100 words: So how is it?
I was compelled by this book. Not in the “It’s lunchtime, therefore read” sense; rather “I can get another few pages in”. It’s fascinating, particularly when Lou pays attention to details the reader doesn’t think are important, but glosses over things that we feel righteous indignation about. The plot is fairly predictable – even the surprises – and I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, except for the idea that the choice Lou makes doesn’t matter as much as the fact that he chooses. I’m not sure if I liked this book, but I’m very glad to have read it.