Today’s Book: “Nantais”, by Verity Reynolds
The Plot: A ship’s crew are stranded after a computer virus infects their spaceship, and the more they try to find repairs for their ship and retrieve their missing comrades, the more complex the web of conspiracy around them seems to become.
Autistic Characters: Two crew members, named David and Hayek, and also, the author.
“Nantais” is a space opera in which all the usual fun space opera things come into play – cool aliens, interplanetary governments, space pirates, sentient ship’s computers, and so on. It contains some autistic humans, as well as some cool aliens that autistic readers will be able to relate to.
I don’t have much to say about the autistic humans, which is unusual for me. “Nantais” is being marketed in a way that makes a lot of noise about how the whole book is “very autistic” without ever mentioning the word “autism”, and how this is a radical authorial choice. I’m not sure I would describe either David or Hayek as “very autistic”. They both have autistic traits, but these traits are described in a very blink-and-you-miss-it way; in fact, I ended the book still unsure if Hayek was meant to be on the autism spectrum or not. Hayek is a fairly standard “go out of the spaceship and shoot guns” character, and the only autistic trait that I noticed from him is the use of a weighted vest.
There is nothing WRONG with having characters like this. Nor in refusing to other them or navel-gaze about their disability. In fact, a character like Hayek is nice to see since we don’t usually picture autistic people in that role. I’m just not convinced it’s an especially radical way of writing, with or without the word “autism”, especially since neither character seems to require the type of accommodations that necessitate societal change.
The aliens are good, though. “Nantais” is at its most interesting when Reynolds uses alien forms of communication to lightly upend common wisdom about communication in humans. Different species use different body language, including flapping and otherwise gesturing with the hands. Niralans appear to have no body language at all, and seem eerily emotionless to humans. But their nonverbal communication is actually some of the richest and most intense in the galaxy, for the few who have a sufficiently close physical connection to read it. Autistic readers and others whose emotions are misperceived by those around them will be delighted to spend time with the Niralan characters.
(As a side note, this might be another reason why I wasn’t super impressed with Hayek as an autistic character; he has an initial reaction to the main Niralan character’s lack of body language which more or less exactly mirrors the way NT ableists in real life respond to autistic people whose body language they can’t read. Not only did this make me subjectively annoyed with him, but it seemed like an odd and not-quite-realistic choice if he is meant to be autistic himself.)
Truth be told, I was a little underwhelmed with “Nantais” overall. The pacing is a little jumpy, and the way events progress doesn’t always feel coherent or satisfying. There is a cool subplot with a sentient ship’s computer that is trying to fight off its virus. The computer functions very differently from an Earth computer, in ways that are often interesting, but it irritated me that the term “computational linguistics” in this universe appears to mean something completely divorced from what it means in real life.
I think this is the most “meh” review I’ve ever written. There is nothing really wrong with the representation in “Nantais”; it didn’t click for me on a craft level, but there is nothing truly horrible about the book on that level, either. I did quite like the aliens, but the rest of it didn’t do a lot for me.
The Verdict: YMMV
Ethics Statement: Verity Reynolds and I have had quite a few business interactions; she beta read my still-unpublished novel and was a developmental/acquisitions editor for MONSTERS IN MY MIND. MONSTERS and NANTAIS were both published by the same press. I read her book because she emailed me a copy asking me for a blurb. I did, in fact, provide a blurb, which is an excerpt from this review. All opinions expressed either here or in the shortened blurb are my own.
This book was not chosen by my Patreon backers; I simply reviewed it because I decided that, having already read and blurbed it, a review would not be much extra labor. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the works. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.
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