I Evoke Brow XXII: Which would be dedicated to Joseph Heller if life was much less random

The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon

Not long ago I finally got around to reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time–I had heard about it for over a year and kept seeing it go in and out of the library. The book was lousy, just plain not good. I was surprised, maybe more than I should have been–after all, I generally roam pretty far from the bestseller lists.

The hook of Curious Incident is that it is a murder (dog murder, but still) mystery narrated from the perspective of an autistic youth. I’m not sure what interests me so about autism, but I’m fascinated by Temple Grandin’s books. Anyway, Curious Incident fails on all counts; The writing is amateurish, the mystery plot uninspiring, and the autism angle uninteresting. Worse, the autistic viewpoint just didn’t feel right. Admittedly, the author works with people with autism and so obviously is closer to the subject than I am, but the narration rang false. Maybe it’s the difference between a highly functioning individual, like Grandin, and one who is less so, like Curious Incident’s narrator. Or maybe it was just a bad book. In any case, I’m dumbfounded that Curious Incident received such accolades while The Speed of Dark went largely ignored. There are a couple of factors at work here. CI is facile, which, in this crazy mixed up world we live i, is actually a selling point for the faceless (and often brainless) masses (OK, time to try to to turn the “bile” dial down). It is small, thin, and has a cute jacket, where SoD is 300+ pages in the hardcover edition I read–not huge, but a good chunk of paper. Equally important, it’s been sucked into the scifi/technothriller vortex, from which no mass market sales can escape. This is irritating because SoD is barely Science Fiction–there are electric cars and, ok, some brain chips, but it’s set firmly in the near future. Furthermore, while the technology might drive the events in the book, the real story is something much deeper, and more human (but isn’t that the sace for all good science fiction?).

The deeper tale of SoD explores the idea of “normal people” and conformity. Parents, teachers, and doctors push (or help, or encourage, or whatever word you want to use) autistics to learn how to behave normally, with particular regard to social skills. Yet they are also told that they should be proud of what they are, regardless of their limitations. I couldn’t help but think about about how you, especially in childhood, but also as an adult, are are encouraged to be an individual and relish your uniqueness while simultaneous assaulted with social pressure to conform to the norm. And that competition, between individualism and conformity, is at the base of so many other societal conflicts: religion and atheism, liberalism and conservatism, bohemians and bourgeois, etc.

To sum up, it was an excellent, well written, thought provoking book. The only feature I would take issue with is it’s pacing–it takes a long time to get going, then the ending feels very rushed.


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