Tag Archives: Isaac Asimov

Speed of Dark

Speed of Dark comes heavily recommended. It’s a title that has turned up every now and then in discussions and lists of aspie books, including my own. And in this case we can say that it’s more than aspie; it’s a full-blown autistic book.

It’s only about ten years old, but it reads rather like the science fiction by Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov that I used to love forty years ago. It has got quite a nice period feel, despite being about the future, if you know what I mean. And because the main character, Lou, is autistic, the pace is slower than you expect, because it’s all done at his level of comprehension of life and ‘normal’ people.

Not that he’s a fool. He’s anything but. Lou is highly intelligent, and in the 2040s (I’m guessing the date) most autistic people have been slightly adapted and improved, which probably makes him more capable. He’s young enough (about 40?) to have had certain things done to him, but so old that he missed the total removal of autism that younger people have had.

As you can tell, it’s a world where they like perfect people. The big question is whether that’s a good thing. Is non-autistic better? Lou thinks not. He’s happy being what he is. His is not a perfect life. There are lots of things that bother him and that he wonders about, but he is he. That’s what matters.

Lou and a group of other autistic people work for a company doing highly specialised work, making use of their special ‘features.’ Then a new manager comes along and wants to force them to take a ‘cure.’ Should they? Must they? What can Lou do about it?

We follow his rather humdrum existence, learning in detail how he does his laundry and how he buys his groceries. He goes fencing once a week. He goes to church. He has pizza with his colleagues on a Tuesday. And so on.

But how can he deal with this cure, and what about the other rather frightening things that happen to him? We learn to love Lou exactly as he is. We want him to remain autistic. Or at least, we learn to see it as an equally valid way of being.

I thought I knew how this would end. It didn’t, and I’m not sure how I feel. It didn’t go the other way, either (if you are looking for spoilers), and it left me feeling strangely sad.

But however you look at this, it’s a fantastic story about something very important.

Science-fantasy?

After I said what I said about science fiction earlier this week, I started thinking. It’s not true that nobody reads sci-fi, and maybe it’s even less true because we aren’t labelling books properly. If they have to be labelled.

We’ve become so keen on fantasy in recent years that it has become the label for anything not totally real. And we may have travelled to the moon and back, but in general space travel isn’t terribly real. That makes it fantasy. Maybe.

It was my use of the clever word dystopia when I reviewed WE by John Dickinson which really set me thinking. Is it only sci-fi when it involves travel through space? Because there’s Oisín McGann’s Small-Minded Giants, for example. Pretty dystopic, if you ask me. Future world (on Earth) where people live in a way totally alien to how we live here and now. And not in a nice futuristic way, either.

Oisín’s book reminds me very much of Julie Bertagna’s Exodus; of where the people fleeing their flooded islands end up. ‘Paradise’ to some maybe, but dystopia to others. Fantasy or sci-fi, or neither?

I always had this theory that the Retired Children’s Librarian dislikes fantasy because she equates it with sci-fi and she equates that with space travel, which to her mind is dreadful. Pippi Longstocking is fantasy, while not having much to do with rockets and interplanetary adventure. And she likes Pippi.

Terry Pratchett said how he fancies himself as a sci-fi writer for a bit, while he reckons his partner-to-be, Stephen Baxter, in their next book venture is a sci-fi writer who quite likes the idea of writing fantasy. It is very close.

So perhaps we need to re-label some fantasy? There’s more to sci-fi than Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. In fact, how much do the Asimov robots differ from J K Rowling’s characters?

The Resident IT Consultant added his question when we discussed this. Is Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking sci-fi? There are spaceships.

Time Riders

Time travel, alternate history (President Schwarzenegger, anyone?), creepy crawlie horror creatures, not quite ‘dead’ time agents, premature ageing and a ‘robot’ computer character as loveable as Isaac Asimov’s Tony. That’s what you get in Alex Scarrow’s Time Riders.

I would have read it hanging on to the edge of my seat, except this was uncomfortable and I ended up reading in my normal position. Only a little tenser. I was scared, if not witless, then feeling quite uncomfortable with the sheer horror of Alex’s alternate histories. I’m not much of a horror fan, so it was borderline at times.

Time Riders is a group of ‘dead’ teenagers who travel in time to make sure that history doesn’t change when other, less scrupulous, people alter something in the past. Or the future. I’m a little hazy on the logic of time travel. They’re part of an agency which recruits those who are about to die in their own time, and that’s why you have a former cabin boy on the Titanic working with a computer nerd from 2010 and someone who is ‘good at detail’ from 2026. The fourth member of their group is Bob, who is their ‘support unit’ (computer to you and me).

To avoid being noticed as they go about their business, they live and work under a New York bridge in 2001. September 10th and September 11th, to be precise.

There wouldn’t be a story here if things didn’t go wrong. Big time. There are a few small ‘what ifs’ to warm you up a little, before some madman does something quite revolutionary. It’s a fascinating way of going back and forth in history and thinking about things that might have been different. It’s very much cause and effect, and if it wasn’t so exciting it’d be good material for lessons on why we should look after Earth a bit better, and to think before we jump, so to speak.

It’s quite yucky in places, and sad, as well as scary. It’s not the big disasters that worry me so much as the little details. Time Riders comes to an end, without an obvious need to read any of the sequels. You’ll probably want to, though.

Space

As the Resident IT Consultant and his witch drive to Leicester for a rocket launch of sorts, it may be a good time to blog about space. We hope Daughter has survived her week at Space School.

In my tender youth I had a pen friend. Actually, at one time I had something like two hundred of them, but let’s not go into that here. This one, my best one, lived in Malta. He was the best simply because he wrote interesting letters and was intelligent and interested in similar things. I picked Malta on the grounds that I wanted somebody vaguely exotic, but with a good command of English.

Anyway, once he had stopped asking silly questions like “had I heard of Simon and Garfunkel”, we were able to exchange favourites of different kinds. I gave him Kurt Vonnegut, and he gave me Isaac Asimov.

I then spent years reading everything I could get my hands on by Asimov. He was one of the stock authors I carried home by the rucksackful after each Inter Rail trip to bargain Britain. I’m sure that at the time I found the Foundation trilogy the most interesting, but right now the only details I can recall from Asimov’s books are the short stories about robots. Particularly the one about Tony. Any other female who remembers Tony? I suspect I want a Tony, really. Well, who wouldn’t?

Daughter may be interested in space, but I have yet to get either Offspring to read my old space fiction. Seeing I, Robot in the cinema is as far as they will go. And that was rather like with old pop songs that come back; children are amazed that the old people know them. We were young too, once.

Life-changing books

This sounds so awfully worthy that I’m almost ashamed. The Resident IT Consultant forced a copy of the New Scientist on me the other evening, saying I might want to read the bit on books.

They had talked to a number of scientists (what else?) about books that inspired them when they were young. Quite interesting, in a quirky way. Only the women dared mention anything vaguely childish in the way of books. Whether that’s because the men never were childish, weren’t inspired by children’s books or didn’t think it right to mention, will remain a mystery.

Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Doolittle, and Tarzan will have to count as children’s choices. Not sure about A Mathematician’s Apology, The Art of the Soluble, One Two Three Infinity, or The Mind of a Mnemonist. Wow. Heartily approve of The Foundation Trilogy.

Having got this far, I’m beginning to suspect that you won’t let me finish without giving you mine. It will have to be Five On A Treasure Island. And I refuse to blush. After that it could be many others, but perhaps I wouldn’t have those if I hadn’t had the Blyton to begin with? You wouldn’t be sitting reading this drivel if it weren’t for the Five. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Famous Five

This isn’t MY cover picture, which I couldn’t find. Couldn’t even find my book to take a photo… But this is nice enough.