Although I am not an avid fan of the science fiction genre, I did love this book along with Celia Rees' young adult novel, "The Truth Out There," both of which merge different literary genres and have delightful characters with autism. This book together with Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" make for some excellent adult literature about autism.
The protagonist of this story, Lou Arrendale, is a man who has autism. He works for a large company as a systems/patterns analyst. His cubicle is adorned with mobiles and other sensory treats that provide patterns for him to focus on when he goes on sensory overload. Visual patterns can be very soothing and this finding is not limited to people on the autism/Asperger's (a/A) spectrum. Many neurotypical (NT) people love watching fish in aquaria, for example.
I loved the way physics was included in this story; Lou's co-worker, Linda, who has severe autism and loves astronomy wonders if light as a speed and if its inverse, darkness does as well. Linda poses an interesting question: if light has a speed, would it not be pulled into a black hole by gravity? I think that light probably has a METAphysical speed, just as time is a metaphyiscal gauge and its counterpart space is a physical measure. I love that sort of thing.
Lou, while clearly autistic sounds closer to the Asperger's end of the spectrum. He is bright; verbal; independent and able to grasp very abstract concepts. His autism is manfested in his slavishness to routines, even when those routines are not practical. He does his grocery shopping on Tuesdays regardless; he does his laundry at the same time on the same day of the week; there are certain programs he watches and computer contacts he makes when he is home and these activities are generally performed at the same time.
Lou is also a fencer. His fencing coaches, Tom and Lucia, take him under his wing and commiserate with his dissatisfaction over the Center and an especially unpleasant client named Emma there. Emma is rude and hostile; she makes personal attacks on Lou one Tuesday when he is shopping. She tells him that his crush on Marjory, a fencing partner will come to nothing as Marjory is NT and only sees Lou as an experiement or charity case. I didn't like the way Lou naively defended Emma, even when it was plain to all and sundry just how hateful she was.
Someone else has targeted Lou. Three attacks have been made on his car. His tires are slashed; his windshield broken and later, a bomb is found under the hood. Unmasking the culprit and subduing the culprit is where Lou demonstrates his pattern analytical skills; the legal penalty for malicious mischief is to have a computer chip embedded in the brain so as to rewire/reprogram the brain from future violence.
The book is beautifully written. One humorous thing I caught was in Chapter 12, when Lou, says "Mr. Arendale (meaning Mr. Aldrin, his company supervisor) looks worried." Lou IS Mr. Arrendale! A piece of political humor can be found as well in a text Lou is reading by an author named Clinton whose co-author has the middle name of Rodham. Clever! I like that.
Lou and the other people in his unit, all of whom have autism are given the option to undergo an experimental treatment to restructure their brains and "cure" them of the neurobiological condition. Naturally there are questions; their angel of a supervisor Mr. Aldrin goes to bat for them and is able to rescind a previous order the company's CEO, Mr. Crenshaw, who is an autistophobe and wants to eliminate Lou's unit from the company. Mr. Aldrin is able to go through the legal channels to ensure job security and to make this a voluntary and not a compulsory decision.
A masterpiece of a book that recognizes the sensory responses and concerns of people with autism. My favorite part was when Lou dispells a tired myth about people with autism not caring what others think of them. That is not true. People with autism as do NT people care very much about how others perceive them. "What will people think of me" has long been a plaint among many people in deciding whether or not to disclose having autism.
As Lou said in the book, NT people self-stim and engage in repetition and other behaviors that they are highly critical of when done by people with autism. Lou does an exemplary job of pointing out this double standard. I really like the way Lou ruminates over Scripture; the beautiful description of a Catholic mass and his assessment of very esoteric concepts. This is light years and full speed ahead of the cliche Rainman routine!
This book deserves a place of honor!