Friday, September 28, 2007

Alone, In the Dark

Nope, nothing about the video game here. Musing on two books: The link goes to a Froogle search for Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark, the 2002 Nebula winner, but I also want to talk about "Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto"

I don't remember where I first read about Party of One (called PO1 from now on or else I'd end up calling it POO, that's just not right). It's less of a manifesto than a rant in places, but it's an interesting read. I've always called myself a loner, but I'm not as far off the social path as Anneli Rufus, the author. I've belonged to clubs, a sports team (well, fencing is a solo sport, so I barely count that), and was an avid role-playing gamer, which requires social interaction (but see below). PO1 is adamant about the differences between Loners, who seek solitude, and Outcasts, who are thrown into solitude. Loners aren't the serial killers, terrorists, etc. -- they (we?) just don't care enough about other people to want to hurt them. It takes a broken social structure to cause that kind of pain. But I want to give this book to my mother, who keeps thinking that I need to be more social, that I need to change. Well, to paraphrase Ms Rufus, I no more need to be a social person than a bird needs lips.

Thinking about the role-playing: It's a social interaction that lets me be not myself, to interact with people in a way that doesn't reflect people's perceptions of me, but of my character. It's a way to be other than my loner self. A similar concept is often mentioned about the Japanese fascination with karaoke -- it permits a salaryman to socialize with a boss, to escape class and social structrure. Kinda nifty.

PO1 also talks a bit about autism - which translates to self-ism, of course. Which brings me back to The Speed of Dark, a novel following the life of an autistic man -- high functioning, near-genius, given the chance to change. Now I know I'm not autistic, or even Aspergers, but I'm enough of a loner, and sharing some characteristics of those classed as "gifted" to understand some of the situations: intolerant of noises, sometimes socially inappropriate, not liking changes in routine or being touched -- this character touched me. It's more than that, though, the book is outstanding. Unlike, say Flowers for Algernon, Lou, the main character, isn't mentally impaired. His viewpoint is quite different from mine (evoking such SF themes as C.J. Cherryh's alien minds or her vat-grown Azi), and his quite-different viewpoints of life and the universe are poetic in places.

It's a strange book, Lou's speech is stilted, the tech is uneven for an SF book (things such as "personality chips" for criminals are dropped in suddenly). But I have no doubt it's one of the best of its year, or the decade. There's a desperation to the character, to know himself, to try to understand the world that's full of metaphors that don't fit his mind. It's a book that sat on my shelf for quite a long timne, I'm glad I finally got around to it.

The title is the character's puzzle: Is dark faster than light, since darkness, ignorance, are always there first, before light gets there? It becomes a recurring theme in the book, explring what's out there:
The light rushes into the pupil of my eye, carrying with it the information
that is within range of my vision, carrying with it the world, but what I see
when I look at where the light goes in is blackness, deep and velvety.
Light goes in and darkness looks back at me. The image is in my eye and in my
brain, as well as in the mirror.

This gap between knowledge and un-knowing, light and dark, returns again and again, to a most satisfying conclusion I won't give away.

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