Elizabeth Moon

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon‘s The Speed of Dark [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] was a hard book for me to read, and an equally hard one to figure out how to review.

Moon has an autistic son, which clearly informed her writing of this book. The Speed of Dark tells the story of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man living in a near future very similar to our own time. The back of the book blurb focuses on:

…an experimental “cure” for his condition. Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that may change the way he views the world–and the very essence of who he is.

But the book is so much more. This isn’t an action or adventure novel, and the treatments and potential cure for autism is pretty much the only real SF element in the story.

The most powerful thing, to me, is the way Moon brings you into Lou’s perspective:

It is hard to drive safely in the hot afternoon, with the wrong music in my head. Light flashed off windshields, bumpers, trim; there are too many flashing lights. By the time I get home, my head hurts and I’m shaking. I take the pillows off my couch into the bedroom, closing all the shades tightly and then the door. I lie down, piling the pillow on top of me, then turn off the light.

This is something else I never tell Dr. Fornum about. She would make notes in my record about this…

As the father of a boy on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, I spent a fair amount of time reminding myself that Lou’s experiences aren’t meant to be a universal representation of autism. Lou works with other autistics, doing pattern-analysis for a large corporation, and Moon does a very good job of showing Lou and the other characters as individuals. Autism is a significant part of who they are, but it doesn’t define them.

Moon shows many of the challenges Lou faces, both the internal and the external. A new supervisor wants to eliminate the “special accommodations” Lou and his unit receive at work. A man from Lou’s fencing group blames Lou for his problems, accusing people like him of stealing jobs from “normal” people. (Sound familiar? Much of this book could be set in today’s world.)

And then there’s the potential cure, the chance for Lou to be normal, whatever that means. Moon does a decent job of exploring the moral messiness and complexities of “curing” autism, though I would have liked to see more of this part. Should we cure someone who’s able to function? What about someone we define as low-functioning? How many of the challenges autistic people face are inherent to the condition, and how many of those challenges are externally created?

The Speed of Dark is a book that makes you think. Lou is a wonderful, sympathetic, beautiful protagonist. This isn’t a plot-oriented, action-packed book, but it’s one I definitely recommend reading.

For those of you who’ve read it already, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Moon v. Wiscon Follow-up

I’m still sorting through my feelings on Wiscon rescinding Elizabeth Moon’s Guest of Honor invitation.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened.  William Sanders’ GoH invitation to ICFA in 2008 was rescinded after his “sheet head” rejection letter, for example.  (Thanks to Nick Mamatas for that historical pointer.)

Basically, I think the situation sucks.  There’s been a great deal of conflict among the Wiscon decision-makers, among those who attend and love the con, among SF/F fandom in general, and among the wankers who aren’t involved/informed in any way but still want to wave their opinions about.

As far as I’ve seen, the only public follow-up Moon has given since her initial post was in this 10/23 piece for a Texas newspaper: Texas Author Uninvited as Convention Guest of Honor Over Remarks on Islam.

I don’t believe Moon is the devil incarnate.  I do believe she screwed up, and based on the follow-up, I don’t get the sense that she understands why people were upset by her words.

Was this the right call on Wiscon’s part?  There was going to be backlash either way, and no answer would make everyone happy.  In my opinion, their obligation was not to try to make everyone happy, but to first and foremost do what was best for Wiscon and its mission.

Some people I greatly respect have expressed their discomfort and disagreement with Wiscon’s decision.  Others I greatly respect have expressed approval.  I’m trying to weigh both as I refine my own conclusions.

But as I continue to read responses to Wiscon’s decision, I’ve given myself permission to ignore certain voices.  Specifically…

  • If you use any of the following terms, I’m not going to bother reading further: feminazi, PC Police, FAIL Fandom, fascist, jihadist, thought police.  (I reserve the right to add to this list.)
  • If you describe a decision which came after roughly six weeks of intense internal and external debate as “knee jerk,” I’m not going to bother reading further.
  • If you dismiss everyone who disagreed with Moon’s post as mean old PC bullies/cowards, I’m not going to bother reading further.
  • If you equate the decision to rescind an invitation to be Guest of Honor with burning Moon’s books/burning Moon in effigy, I’m not going to bother reading further.
  • If you label everyone who questions Wiscon’s decision “disgusting bigots,” I’m not going to bother reading further.

It’s not about tone.  It’s because those responses tell me you’re not interested in participating in a discussion, or even in understanding the discussion.  It’s because, like Saladin Ahmed said, not every conversation is worth having.  And it’s because there just aren’t enough sporks.

Open Letter to Elizabeth Moon

Ms. Moon,

I’ve been torn about writing this.  In part because “An open letter to _____” just sounds pretentious to me.  And partly because I know there have already been twenty-four gazillion responses to your 9/11 blog post, Citizenship.

I’ve recommended your blog on multiple occasions, for your thoughtfulness and perspective.  I disagree with much of what you say in your 9/11 post, but that doesn’t change my appreciation for other things you’ve written.

That said, I strongly disagree with what you wrote about citizenship and the obligations of the Muslim community with regard to the Mosque at Ground Zero (which is, in fact, neither a Mosque nor at Ground Zero.)

I do agree with much of what you say about citizenship, and about people’s obligation and responsibility to their nation.  I would even expand that obligation to the need to contribute to the betterment of self, of family, of nation, and of the world.  (And beyond, for that matter … we are SF/F authors, after all.)

But I’m troubled by your comments on assimilation.  You say, “Groups that self-isolate, that determinedly distinguish themselves by location, by language, by dress, will not be accepted as readily as those that plunge into the mainstream.”  This conflates identity with isolation, and presumes that isolation, when it occurs, is entirely self-imposed.  But I agree with you that often groups which appear “different” are not as readily accepted.

I don’t see that as a failure of those who choose not to “assimilate.”  I see that as a failure of the rest of us to accept those who are not like us.

With regard to the community center, you said, “When an Islamic group decided to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack, they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people.”

I suspect most Muslims in this country recognize that building a mosque (or an Islamic community center) will upset people.  Of course, most Muslims also recognize that a vocal minority of our country is upset simply by the fact that Muslims exist.  Should Muslims allow intolerance, ignorance, and hatred to dictate their actions?

What troubles me most is your commentary on citizenship, and the implication as to who is and is not deserving of such.  You use Muslim and immigrant interchangeably, as though the only Muslims in this nation are newcomers to our shores, ignoring those who have lived here and fought for this country in times of war for generations.  And then you talk about how we “let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship.”

I would love to know what these forbidden beliefs are, and how you feel they unfit someone for citizenship.

Last week I defended the right of a U. S. citizen to spread a message I despise.  Because that’s what this country is supposed to be.  Not a land of the like-minded.  Not a land where thoughts and beliefs, religious or otherwise, disqualify one for citizenship.  But a land of disagreement.  A land that doesn’t fear difference, but celebrates it.  A land that draws strength from diversity.

We don’t always live up to those ideals.  When it comes to immigration and assimilation, we fail often.  We mock those who are different.  We pressure them to give up their history and their heritage.  We drive a wedge between children of immigrants and their families.  That is our failure, and it is unforgivable.

You mentioned the “responsibilities of citizenship in a non-Muslim country.”  But this is a Muslim country.  It is also a Jewish country.  It is an atheist country.  It is a country of Quakers and a country of Mormons, a country of Catholics and a country of Baptists.  (Even, I have no doubt, a country of Jedi.)

I believe terrorists who would attack this country should be hunted down and stopped.  I believe those whose beliefs lead them to violate the law should be punished.  But I do not believe in punishing or restricting the rights of the many for the acts of a few.  There are an estimated 600,000 Muslims living in New York City alone.  They are as American as you or I.  Not because they have been assimilated, but because this country welcomed them … even if sometimes its people do not.

You close by commenting on the responsibilities of citizenship.  I believe one of those responsibilities is to defend the principles this country stands for … even when those principles make us uncomfortable.

I don’t mean to lecture, and it’s not my intention to talk down to you or attack you, but this is (obviously) something I feel very passionately about.

You remarked in your newsgroup, “Saying anything someone doesn’t like greatly reduces their ability to read what was written.”  I suspect you will not like what I’ve written here.  I hope, when you’ve gotten a little distance from the anger and pain your post triggered, that you’ll read it anyway.  I don’t expect you to agree with everything I’ve said, but I hope you’ll consider why so many people have expressed feeling angry and hurt by your words.

Yours,
Jim C. Hines

Friend Promo

I’m very fortunate. I’ve got a lot of very nifty friends and acquaintances, both the real-world and the online variety, and sometimes I’ve just got to show them off.

To that end, I’m declaring this an open “Promote Your Friends” thread.  Please feel free to post whatever cool projects or accomplishments your own friends have been up to lately.  (If you’re on my jimchines.com blog and your comment doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll rescue it from moderation.)

Let the promo begin!

  • My daughter Clara was promoted from purple belt to third brown in Sanchin-Ryu on Monday.
  • Seanan McGuireis currently in Australia at Worldcon, where she’s a finalist for the Campbell Award for best new writer.  Between her Toby Daye books and the success of her zombie thriller Feed, I think she’s got a good shot at bringing home the tiara.
  • Lynne Thomas, editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords (and my archivist!), has a new project: Whedonistas: A celebration of the worlds of Joss Whedon by the women who love them.
  • My friend Steven Saus has a story online called The Burning Servant, part of a chain story project founded by Mike Stackpole.  (Stackpole sounds like he’s doing a lot of interesting stuff … I need to check that out!)
  • Elizabeth Moon is a well-known SF writer, but she’s also a very good blogger.  She wrote a great post about gender bias in publishing last week.
  • John Kovalic provides a very nice, pointed comment on race and gaming in this Dork Tower strip.  (Check out the follow-up strip, too.)[1. I’ve never met Kovalic or talked to him much online, but we swapped a few e-mails and he provided a great blurb for Goblin Quest, and I figure that’s good enough to include him here!]

Finally, my author friends have some new books out.

Your turn.  What nifty things have your friends been doing?

Jim C. Hines