Playlists, Soundtracks, and Science Fiction

The first chapter of Justina Robson’s Natural History is structured around the Don McLean song, “American Pie”. The lyrics help to structure fraught events, both in our world and in that of the dying Isol. The book (about which more discussion  next week) begins, in effect, with music, with a theme song. It’s not a whole soundtrack for the book, but it’s why I noticed a coincidence or a trend – I don’t have enough data to know which.

Our first book of this year’s TC reading project didn’t have one theme song. It had an entire discography, listed out on the final pages of the paperback and a page of the accompanying website. Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love is about a rock band, so it’s not surprising that it might come with music. Plenty of books about bands don’t, however. This one recommends hours of previously-existing albums, plumbed for their vibe, their synergies, their influence on the book’s musical interactions. Its concerts are major plot points.

The second book didn’t have a discography listed out as an appendix, but it didn’t need one. Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark is suffused with soundtrack, carefully orchestrated by its main character to match the needs of his life. Lou uses symphonic music to overlay sequences in his life with imposed structure, a device which makes it easier for him to cope with various scenarios, from the gym to the drive home. It need not even be recorded: he has a wealth of classical music stored in his memory for summoning up when he needs it as counterbalance. A mention – name, composer – may be enough to summon up the tunes for some readers as well. In only one instance does Lou recommend to us specific versions of the music he thinks through: in all other cases, we can pick our own symphonies, our own soloists.

I’ve read a couple of other books in the past year or so which came with the songs or albums listed to which the author wrote the book. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty books do. Linnea Sinclair’s last novel, Rebels and Lovers, does. Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland has an entire purchasable album which was compiled around it. So does her currently Clarke Award-nominated Zoo City.

The only book soundtracks I’m particularly aware of from previous decades are filk. Mercedes Lackey has written and produced a slew of albums to accompany her Valedemar novels. Anne McCaffrey approved an official album in part comprising tunes to lyrics she’d provided in her Pern novels. Suzette Haden Elgin’s Native Tongue came with poignant alternative spacefaring lyrics to known tunes, used as chapter intros.

The CD singles charts may be in commercial freefall, as far as any given song’s success is concerned, but I am certain that, more broadly, the singles market has never been more healthy. Download a song as ringtone. Download a single at a click. In the ‘80s it became feasible to make mix tapes, with the advent of the cassette tape. Now, a book’s soundtrack need not even be prepackaged if the tunes are mainstream enough: they can be individually downloaded and reassembled into the unified album that a playlist had the potential to be on one’s own music playing device.

As evidence goes, this is scanty. These are the works of science fiction and fantasy I can name off of the top of my head which come with soundtracks.

So – the three books so far for the best science fiction novels written by women in the last decade. Will more of this year’s TC reading project feature theme songs or downloadable soundtracks?

Are female authors more likely to include that bit of extra real-world tie-in world-building than male ones are, or is this an accident of what I’ve been reading that I’ve only noticed soundtracks in books which happen to be written by women?

Regardless of gender, is this a trend or a coincidental cluster?

Speed of Dark: Recap

Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark was the second of the  poll-topping best science fiction novels written by women in the last ten years that we’ll be discussing here at Torque Control over the course of this year. It was the only one of them published in 2002. Notably, where Bold as Love was written before 9/11, as Niall observed, Speed of Dark was finished after it, and reflects that in a scene in an airport, where security is not quite as we know it. Major airports now have separate access to the gates for arriving and departing passengers (much as international transfers have long had):

This is not the way it used to be. I don’t remember that, of course – I was born at the turn of the century – but my parents told me about being able to just walk right up to the gates to meet people arriving. Then after the 2001 disasters, only departing passengers could go to the gates. (41)

But that’s not what the book’s about, merely an observation of a way in which it is part of its time.  Speed of Dark is set in our near future, when space exploration and brain manipulation are both somewhat more advanced than they are in our world. It’s about Lou and his distinctive, wonderful, evocative voice which positions the reader so clearly in his head. It’s the clarity and accomplishment of that voice which meant the ending disappointing me: Moon doesn’t give her readers a chance to get to know the revised version of Lou, and so I didn’t feel the ending was earned. I liked and admired the journey; I stumbled on the destination.

Niall hosted this month’s discussion, exploring Lou’s voice, the arguably brittle construction of the book’s antagonists, and the ways in which Moon resolves the book’s major narratives. That last post in particular resulted in a number of thought-provoking comments as to why the ending does or does not work for some people.

My thanks to Niall for hosting the discussion, and to all the commenters who joined in reading (or re-reading) the book.

Niall’s Discussion: Part I, Part II, and Part III
Discussion and reviews from December, when Speed of Dark
Recent Reviews
David Hebblethwaite’s Review
Alex Ward’s Review
Kilroy bounced off of it
Speed of Dark was a March Group Reads suggestion on GoodReads

Speed of Dark: III

Speed of Dark cover


So what can we do with Gene Crenshaw? Right from the start he feels false; in his first scene, we see him berating Pete Aldrin about how “these people” — Lou and the rest of Section A — “have to fit in”, have to give up their “toys” (17). It’s Crenshaw who insists to Section A that “you are not normal. You are autistics, you are disabled” (103); in his most charitable moments the most he can allow is that it’s “Not their fault” (163); when the police come to interview Lou about the vandalism, Crenshaw’s first assumption is that Lou is the one under investigation, and his second assumption is that it’s Lou’s fault: “What have you been up to, Lou, that someone’s trying to kill you? You know company policy — if I find out you’ve been involved with criminal elements –” (247). But it’s Crenshaw who drives the central tension of the novel. There is, it seems, a novel treatment that could “cure” adult autism. Crenshaw buys it (just like that!) and sets about blackmailing Lou and his colleagues into taking it, or face redundancy.

We might, I suppose, find it ironic that the character most ardently convinced that Lou is defective is himself monstrously inflexible, entirely unable to adjust his preconceived ideas to accept Lou as a person. We might also find some satisfaction in the fact that Crenshaw’s obsessive vendetta leads directly to his downfall late in the novel. We might reflect on the ways in which institutional policy and social conventions support and validate Crenshaw’s bias, while at best tolerating Lou’s. We might even find Crenshaw’s antics amusing, theatre, if his whole routine wasn’t so drearily predictable. It’s not that Crenshaw clearly wears a black hat that’s the problem; it’s that he fits his role in the plot too neatly and completely to develop any of the possibilities above, denied the personhood insisted upon for Lou.

In contrast, Don’s plot strand, perhaps because it is of secondary importance, ends up somewhere interesting. It helps that we simply see more of Don, including — if only briefly — different sides to his character, and helps, too, that his judgments of Lou are mostly muttered and snide, rather than improbably explicit. But in many ways Don is as much a device as Crenshaw; it’s just that something interesting happens after he’s dealt with. After his arrest, the police explain to Lou that the probable punishment, if he is found guilty, is the insertion of a “programmable personality determinant brain-chip” (284), because:

“Recidivism,” Mr Stacy says, pawing through a pile of hardcopies. “They do it again. It’s been proved. Just like you can’t stop being you, the person who is autistic, he can’t stop being him, the person who is jealous and violent. If it’d been found when he was an infant, well, then …” (285)

A little on-the-nose, perhaps, down to the possibility of early correction, but effective nonetheless: having spent 300 pages being conditioned to recognise the possibility of the modification of Lou’s personality as beyond the pale, it’s nicely unsettling to be asked to accept it as justified for someone else, perhaps especially someone as obviously a bad guy as Don. (We might think: it’s been proved, you say? Like Lou’s disability?) The feeling is reinforced when the fencing group welcomes the news, over Lou’s misgivings:

“I think it is very scary, I say. “He did something wrong, but it is scary that they will turn him into someone else.”

“It’s not like that,” Lucia says. She is staring at me now. She should understand if anyone can; she knows about the experimental treatment; she knows why it would bother me that Don will be compelled to be somebody else. “He did something wrong — something very bad. He could have killed you, Lou. Would have, if he hadn’t been stopped. If they turned him into a bowl of pudding it would be fair, but all the chip does is make him unable to do anyone harm.”

It is not that simple. […] Even I know that, and I am sure Lucia knows it too, but she is ignoring it for some reason. (291-2)

Thus is the second point of parallel — the treatment — made explicit, and thus does the ground of the novel shift a notch further, moving away from the unambiguous wrongness of Crenshaw’s blackmail towards the more challenging questions of what might be changed, and what change might mean in practice. (Although we never get to see the chipped Don, which seems a shame.) “I am sideways to the world”, is Lou’s assessment of his own situation (277); and at some point, he starts to wonder whether that’s how he always wants to be.

And so to the closing chapters of Speed of Dark, where the novel is at its tough, thoughtful best. With Don apprehended and Crenshaw deposed, there remains only the question of change itself, the cost/benefit analysis of becoming a different person — or rather, hastening the process. As Lou himself points out, he has changed already, and would have done even if Gene Crenshaw had never impinged on his life. But the possibility of removing his autism feels more fundamental. The crucial passage probably comes when Lou goes to church, and finds himself confronted with a sermon about the necessity of choosing to be healed. He asks whether he should want to be healed, whether God would want it; the best his priest can do for an answer is, “only if it doesn’t interfere with who we are as God’s children, I suppose” (347). (And Lou is more than his autism, the novel has been telling us.) At the fencing club, his friends can scarcely believe it when he tells them he’s going to take the treatment, some being sure that he must be doing it to be accepted by Marjory; at work, Pete Aldrin can’t quite believe Lou really understands that there’s no longer any pressure from the company, or threat to his job. Lou’s choice is not unexpected — if you hang a miracle treatment on the wall in the first act of a science fiction novel, it’s almost unthinkable that you won’t do anything with it in the third — but it feels like a choice nonetheless, suffused with ambivalence and uncertainty. The chapter in which Moon breaks down Lou’s voice and then reconstructs it, the same but different — not out of love, nor out of fear, but out of curiosity and ambition — is very effectively controlled. Of course it changes things more; changes Lou’s job, his friends, his relationships. (Though not, in the case of Marjory, in the way that the earlier Lou would have hoped.) But at least, he tells us on the final page, at least “Now I get to ask the questions” (424). The call-back is one more neatness in a novel that has too many of them; but this one, I think, is earned.

Speed of Dark: II

Speed of Dark cover

(With apologies for the delay.)


One of the few scraps of information we gain while outside Lou’s viewpoint comes in a conversation between his line manager, Pete Aldrin, and his new boss, Gene Crenshaw. The latter feels the supportive environment their company provides for Lou and his colleagues is an expensive indulgence; the former defends the cost by pointing out that Section A is “person for person, more productive than any other department” (18). Rationality has no effect on Crenshaw, who launches a crusade to get Section A’s “privileges” removed, and its personnel more “integrated” into the company — on which more tomorrow — but we get the point. In the right context, someone like Lou is better than most of us.

Lou’s great skill, we are told, is pattern recognition (a skill that, by the by, for me is emblematic of twenty-first century sf). It’s what enables him to excel at his (rather vaguely defined) job; it’s what makes him a skillful fencer, once he’s mastered the physical basics. “What I like is learning patterns,” he tells us, “and then remaking them so that I am the pattern too” (34). Patterns structure his daily life, from the regimented day to day activities — the routine — to any social interaction. Lou knows the rules of the psychiatrist’s office, and the rules of the office, and the rules of the supermarket; what is expected, how things should go. And he sorts people by the patterns they enact: friends, acquaintances, colleagues. And, perhaps more pertinently, when he doesn’t understand people, he assumes it’s because he can’t see their pattern.

Moon is good, as I already said, on Lou’s analytical approach to life, his constant assessment of patterns, of testing behaviour against expectation and projection: good at conveying the seductive functionality of it all. Inevitably, however, a major strand of the novel turns on the problems that this approach to the world — so successful at work — can cause. And on that front, I’m less convinced.

Among Lou’s fencing friends, there is a woman called Marjory on whom he has a crush (and who seems to like him), and a man called Don, who is rather obnoxious (and not much liked by anybody). He seems — to us, and not to Lou, who has Don firmly in the “friend” category — that Don is jealous both of Lou’s talent, the skill it gives him it fencing, and of his friendship with Marjory. Matters take a darker turn the week after Lou enters, and excels in, his first fencing tournament. They day after the next fencing class, Lou discovers that the tires on his car have been slashed. The pattern is clear to us but, this time, opaque to Lou.

Put another way, at this point, there are two possible stories that could be developing. (OK, more than two, but two obvious ones) In one of them, the reader’s intuition that Don is responsible will be correct; in the other, Lou’s assumption that the tire-slashing is a random event will be proved valid. A week later, Lou’s windscreen is smashed; and a week after that, a small explosive is attached to his engine. At this point Don’s name finally enters the frame — Lou and a cop have an entertaining conversation about the mathematical validity of “once is accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action” — and see that Lou’s affinity for patterns led him into excessive rigidity, refusing to recategorise Don until it’s almost too late. But the problem with making the reader right and Lou wrong in this way we readers haven’t, in fact, worked out the right answer based on a superior understanding of people, the understanding that the text wants us to recognise that Lou lacks; we’ve worked it out on the basis of a superior understanding of the formulae of fiction. Lou is trapped inside a pattern that he can never know, but that we can solve easily.

The other story, I think, would have been more interesting: the story in which Don may well resent Lou, but the vandalism has nothing to do with him; where the challenge to Lou’s behaviour is not that he recognises the wrong pattern, but that it’s hard for him to tell when there’s no pattern to recognise; where we as readers are denied the neatness of pattern, and put in the same position as Lou, not opposed to him. (What proportion of incidents of vandalism are random or targeted, I wonder? Which narrative would be more “true to life”?) That would be a story in which it’s easier to accept the argument — made forcefully in another strand of the novel — that Lou’s cognitive approach to the world is only a point at one extreme of a spectrum of human behaviour, that we are like him in crucial ways. In a similar way, there could be a more nuanced understanding of the interplay of class, money and power, of the forces that make an executive gym earned, but Section A’s gym a luxury. It’s one thing to be shown that autism can be as effective as “normality”; it would be another to be shown that normal can be just as error-prone, as fooled by life, as autistic.


Speed of Dark: I

Speed of Dark cover

We have to start with Lou. He lives a normal life. He has his own apartment, and he works as an analyst in the bowels of a pharmaceutical company. He does his weekly shop on Tuesdays, his wash on Fridays. He’s a church-going man. He goes out for pizza with colleagues, and he goes fencing with friends. But the world tells him, over and over again, that he’s not normal. “Questions, always questions”, are his first words to us; and then, “Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think, and saying what they want me to say” (1).

You could argue that Speed of Dark is primarily a demonstration of why Lou has to live this way, and what living this way means. It is a work whose most memorable characteristic is the voice telling the tale, Lou’s voice, notable for the particular ways in which it carries out the duties of every narrative voice to filter and sort and react. This is how Lou experiences the world:

“You got home from work at nine –” he glances down at his handcomp “– forty-seven last night?”

“No, sir,” I say. “I got home from work at five fifty-two, and then I went –” I don’t want to say, to my fencing class. What if he thinks there is something wrong with fencing? With me fencing? “To a friend’s house,” I say, instead.

“Is this someone you visit often?”

“Yes. Every week.”

“Were there other people there?”

Of course there were other people there. Why would I go visit someone if nobody but me was there? “My friends who live in that house were there,” I say. “And some people who do not live in that house.”

He blinks, and looks briefly at Mr Bryce. I do not know what that look means. “Ah … do you know these other people? Who didn’t live in the house? Was it a party?”

Too many questions. I do not know which to answer first. These other people? Does he mean the people at Tom and Lucia’s who were not Tom and Lucia? Who didn’t live in the house? Most people did not live in that house … do not live in that house. Out of the billions of people in the world, only two people live in that house and that is … less than one millionth of one percent.

“It was not a party,” I say, because that is the easiest question to answer. (127-8)

I offer a fairly lengthy quote because I think you only start to appreciate the power of Lou’s voice after immersion in it; at first glance it can seem merely readable. The short, straightforward sentences of this passage are characteristic; Lou doesn’t use semicolons, or contractions (or parentheticals). At the start of the passage, you might think he’s the ideal subject for a police interview, conscientious and precise in his answers; but that pursuit of precision, the constant literal analysis of what his interlocutor has just said, makes the interview hard going for Lou, even makes him look like he’s got something to hide. He hasn’t; it’s just that to say what they want him to say, he first has to work out what they’ve said.

All of which is the long-winded way of saying what’s clear from the back cover, or the acknowledgments, or at the latest at the bottom of page one: Lou is autistic. But the word raises expectations, not all of which are met. Moon takes pains to create distance between her autistic characters, setting them in a near future in which an improving array of treatments has ameliorated the most extreme effects of autism, and pointing out more than once that Lou and his colleagues are among the last cohort of individuals to be so far away from “normal”. (We’ll be coming back to that word.) So although clearly meticulously researched, and drawing on personal experience, above and beyond Lou’s distinctive individuality, Speed of Dark avoids claiming authority, making it less obnoxious than, say, Mark Haddon’s subsequent The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And there are aspects of Lou’s character that actively go against expectation: fencing, for instance, is not the kind of hobby conventionally associated with autistic individuals, but Lou’s enthusiasm for it and skill at it are convincing here.

Of course, writing the story of an uncommon perspective as science fiction raises another raft of associations, particularly once news breaks of a treatment that might be able to “cure” Lou’s autism once and for all. Parallels with Flowers for Algernon (1958/1966) are there to be seen in the mismatch between Lou’s understanding of people around him and what we as readers can see through his narration. The comparison highlights one of Speed of Dark’s weaknesses, which is that every time we leave Lou’s viewpoint feels like an assertion that Lou’s understanding is literally insufficient, when in fact such excursions tell us barely anything we didn’t already know. It’s a betrayal in particular because it undermines the key difference between the two books. In Algernon it’s clear that Charlie Gordon’s low intelligence is an affliction – not an excuse to demean his personhood as so many do, but a real straitjacket on his potential all the same. In Speed of Dark, it’s not at all clear that the analagous assertion is true for Lou; in fact a large part of the novel is devoted to arguing that it’s false.


Reminder: Speed of Dark

As Shana posted at the start of the month, I’ve been reading the second (chronologically) of the Future Classics identified in last year’s poll, Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, and will be putting up some discussion posts here next week. So if you want to join in, time to pull your copy off the shelf!

This also seems an apt time to point out the discussion Ian Sales has been hosting about sf mistressworks, and the meme he’s put together as a result.

(And in case you were wondering whether I’ll be leading every discussion, after this I get a few months off, but I’ll be back later in the year.)

March: Speed of Dark

I’d like to invite you to join us in reading Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark this month, part of a year-long chronological reading of the novels nominated as the best science fiction novels written by women in the last ten years.

Published in 2002, Speed of Dark went on to win the Nebula Award the following year, and it was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke award. Elizabeth Moon was long-since well-established as a science fiction author, with several series under her belt. She’d been published for fourteen years at the time it came out.

I mail-ordered my copy a few weeks ago, and when it arrived, I found a UK mainline rail train ticket tucked into it, a long-forgotten book mark. It’s an open single from London Terminals to Stansted Airport for the 7th of March, 2003, bought the same day. I wonder if it was a domestic flight that ticket-holder was on with his or her full-priced single ticket. Wherever they were going, I can envision them sitting on that train, reading while en route to further-flung places. I love knowing that this book went somewhere, all those years ago.


In 2002, Astrid Lingren died. Gwyneth Jones won the Clarke Award for Bold as Love, her fifth time being nominated for the award. The Euro came into use, and the Mars Odyssey probe found signs of water on Mars. In the US, criminal proceedings against Enron began, the Department of Homeland Security was established, and WorldCom went bankrupt.

Appropriately enough, given the book’s topic, the UK designated 2002 as Autism Awareness Year.

Niall will, again, be leading the book discussion in the later part of March.  I hope you will join us in reading and discussing it.

Top Ten Writers

As was noted back at the start of the week, and by a good number of people casting their votes in the poll, the popularity of series in the sf field can make it hard to single out individual books. Moreover, many writers are prolific — if someone’s written one outstanding novel in a decade, they may have an advantage, in this sort of poll, over someone who’s written three. So here’s another way of looking at the data, counting up the top ten writers who were nominated for multiple books, ordered by total nominations received.

1. Gwyneth Jones

Not a surprise, given her three appearances this week. But two other books were also nominated: Castles Made of Sand, the follow-up to Bold as Love, and Siberia, one of Jones’ YA novels (published as by Ann Halam).

2. Justina Robson

Natural History did well, of course, but plenty of people also nominated Living Next-Door to the God of Love, Mappa Mundi and Keeping it Real.

3. Tricia Sullivan

As noted in this morning’s post, in addition to Maul, nominations were sent in for every other novel she’s published this decade — Double Vision, Sound Mind, and Lightborn.

4. Elizabeth Bear

The first writer to appear on this list who hasn’t appeared in the main top ten, Bear received nominations for Hammered (often as a proxy for the whole Jenny Casey trilogy), standalones Carnival and Undertow, for Dust, and for By the Mountain Bound.

5. Elizabeth Moon

In addition to Speed of Dark, Moon picked up nominations for Trading in Danger and Moving Target.

6. Jo Walton

Farthing‘s placement low in the top ten certainly doesn’t reflect the strength of support Walton received, with many nominations for the second Small Change novel, Ha’Penny, and for Lifelode.

7. Liz Williams

Like Bear, Williams hasn’t made it into the main top ten; but she achieves the distinction of having more novels nominated than any other writer, six in total:Ghost Sister, The Poison Master, Empire of Bones, Nine Layers of Sky, Banner of Souls, and Darkland.

8. Karen Traviss

In addition to the nominations for City of Pearl, Traviss picked up a few nods for her tie-in work — Gears of War novel Aspho Fields, and Star Wars novels Hard Contact, 501st, and Order 66.

9. Ursula K Le Guin

Lavinia accounted for the bulk of Le Guin’s nominations, but a few enthused about the Western Shore novels, in particular Gifts and Voices.

10. Connie Willis

And finally, Willis picked up nominations for both Blackout/All Clear, and for Passage — both not that far off the top ten.

Ranking calculated from 101 responses to a poll run during October, November and December 2010.

Future Classics: #5

Not a typo in the subject line, because now we reach the other tie.

Spirit by Gwyneth Jones (2008)

Spirit cover

Spirit is Jones’ most recent novel, and the other science fictional retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, as Karen Joy Fowler explores:

The reader picks up a sprawling space opera with certain expectations: a fast pace, exotic settings, mysterious aliens, badly behaved (and also much-abused) nobility, plenty of off-world adventure and intrigue. In her new book, Spirit, Gwyneth Jones delivers all these and more.

The plot of the novel is loosely modelled on Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. Jones is not the first writer to find that a classic swashbuckler translates effectively into outer space, and, in this case, the fun of finding familiar elements strangely transformed more than compensates for any predictability in terms of how the plot will go. Like The Count of Monte Cristo, Jones’s book features an exiled emperor, a conspiracy involving imperial restoration, an impregnable prison, an unjust imprisonment, a fellow prisoner with wisdom and wealth to bequeath, a daring escape dependent on the removal of a corpse, unimaginable treasure, fabulous fetes and balls, appalling betrayals and the intricacies of vengeance.

To this, Jones has added a great many elements not found in Dumas’s book (and surely the Dumas is the poorer for it): space travel, a Hegemony of many planets and many “numinally intelligent bipeds”, an ill-starred diplomatic mission to a world of bloodsuckers, chitinous serpents that can be saddled and ridden, robots, body modifications and, as the Edmond Dantès character is female in Jones’s retelling, bizarre pregnancies and childbirth.

Other reviews: Paul Kincaid, for Strange Horizons; Dan Hartland, for Strange Horizons; Nic Clarke, for SFX; Duncan Lawie, for The Zone; by Cheryl Morgan; and by Ian Sales.

And here’s a thing: you can download the full text of the novel from Jones’ website. It was release online in January of this year which, I think, counts as its first US publication — which means it’s eligible for a Hugo. Isn’t that interesting?

Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (2002)

Speed of Dark cover

Winner of the Nebula Award and shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award, Speed of Dark bowled over many reviewers with its examination of the introduction of a cure for autism; John Grant, for instance:

In sum, The Speed of Dark is one of those exceptionally rare novels that has the power to alter one’s entire worldview, and reading it is a profoundly rewarding and enriching experience. It is impossible to avoid superlatives when speaking of it, even though one’s all too aware that one may be perceived as perpetrating hyperbole. Well … tough. I cannot remember when last I enjoyed a novel this much, but it must have been a very long time ago.

Other reviews: Adam Roberts, at Infinity Plus; and Jayme Lynn Blaschke at SF Site. See also an essay by Moon, “Autism: Past, Present, Future, Speculative.”

Ranking calculated from 101 responses to a poll run during October, November and December 2010.