Completed 1/8/2021, Reviewed 1/8/2021
This is only my second book by Elizabeth Moon, and once again, I found it to be incredible. This book is very different from Remnant Population. It concerns an autistic man in the near future where the disability has been eradicated in utero and in very young children. He is of the last generation of adults with autism. The author has a child with autism and did lots of research on it to get the perspective right. This book is mostly told in first person by the man with only the occasional third person omniscient narration for continuity’s sake. This book made me feel the struggles the man faces in the story, about as much as Temple Grandin did in her book. This book has been compared to “Flowers for Algernon” which I read in high school and again in college, but it is vastly different. I thought it was equally as powerful, and much more complex. It won the Nebula Award in 2003 and was nominated for several others.
Lou works at a giant corporation doing complex computer programming and/or analysis. (I wasn’t quite clear on that point). It involves his strength, identifying and manipulating patterns. He works in a department with quite a few other equally brilliant autistic people in a department called Section 2A. He is an avid fencer and has feelings for a fellow fencer named Marjorie. The department gets a new boss who threatens Section 2A with their jobs if they don’t “volunteer” for an experimental treatment that promises to cure their autism.
Much of the book is about Lou dealing with the conflict of being forced into this treatment. It also gives us a lot of detail about the daily life of Lou, including time at the resource center for persons with disabilities, as well as the sport of fencing and the friends he has there. Lou’s perspective is remarkably detailed. The writing is brilliant. It is not simplistic as you might expect from someone with verbal communication issues. In fact, it’s incredibly rich, giving insight into what goes on in the mind of Lou as he navigates through daily life as well as the conflicts with which he is confronted. Because of this, the characterization is tremendous. I felt like I was in Lou’s head the whole time.
The other characters are well done as well, including his “normal” friends from fencing, his autistic friends from work, his immediate supervisor, and the bad boss who is doing the threatening. Tom is the fencing coach who is perhaps Lou’s best friend. He’s a great guy with endless empathy for Lou. Danny is a cop who lives in the same apartment complex with Lou. He is also great as he helps Lou when his tires are slashed. There are quite a few other good characters, in fact too many to name. But they are all three dimensional, even the bad boss.
There is another plotline where someone is vandalizing his car. The vandalization progresses and the mystery is who is doing it. While it’s not the central plot, this subplot along with the main plot gives interesting and terrible insight into the minds of people who are threatened by people who are different.
I give this book five stars out of five because one, it is excellent and two, because it moved me to near tears through the last forty pages or so. My eyes actually watered as the story wrapped up. Elizabeth Moon is batting a thousand for me so far. She is one of the authors who got her start with Andre Norton, much like Mercedes Lackey, another author I really like. I definitely have to read more of Moon. Perhaps reading her Paksennarion series will be my challenge for next year.