On her blog, Patty Jansen asked whether I’d ever stopped reading an author because of some sort of political opinion they’d expressed, and my answer was no. But it did make me remember that Elizabeth Moon was involved in some kind of kerfuffle awhile back…something to do with Islam? And how bad Islam is? I am too lazy to look it up.
And that reminded me that I love Elizabeth Moon’s Speed Of Dark. It is straight up one of my most favorite books. It’s a near-future first-person narrative whose protagonist is a high-functioning autistic person. In many ways, it’s similar to that book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time, that was so highly acclaimed awhile back. But it’s so much better. The Curious Incident… was basically all about chuckling re: how this kid kept misapprehending super obvious things about the world. But Speed Of Dark is about a very intelligent adult who’s doing his best to understand the world around him. And it also dares to ask questions about the nature and value of autism itself. Speed of Dark also has one of the most incredibly daring endings I’ve ever read. Even thinking about it gives me shivers.
But one of the things I love most about Speed of Dark is that Elizabeth Moon wrote it. Because, you know, it’s really not the kind of book you’d expect her to write. For most of her career, she’s written adventure fantasy and space opera. And I think that after writing Speed of Dark–a less-plotted, voice-driven novel–she went back to writing the adventure stuff. I think she wrote it because she has an autistic child and she really had something to say about autism.
But it just goes to show…the differences between adventure SF and literary SF are not really a matter of authorial skill. There seems to be this perception that if a good writer decides to write an adventure SF, then they can write the Madame Bovary of adventure SF. But I don’t think that’s how it is.
Elizabeth Moon writes excellent adventure novels. I’ve read and reread her Pakserranion and Gird novels. But they’re good in the ways that adventure SF novels should be good: they have vivid heroes; they have unexpected plot twists; they put their protagonists in impossible situations that they win out from. If they were good in the way that Speed of Dark is good, then they’d be something different–they’d be extremely disquieting, like, say…The Road or Don Quixote.
Elizabeth Moon is obviously a great writer. And whatever she sets out to write, she succeeds. However, I will say that, as good as her adventure novels are, Speed of Dark is better. Oh my god, Speed of Dark deserves to be more famous. It won the Nebula, but it ought to be, like, Ender’s Game famous. No, it ought to be Middlesex famous.