Vintage Autistic Book Party, Episode 8: Triggers

(First published Aug 10, 2013)

Today’s Book: “Triggers” by Robert J. Sawyer

The Plot: A PTSD therapy experiment goes haywire and causes people in Washington D.C., including the President, to share each other’s memories.

Autistic Character(s): Ivan Tarasov, a hospital security guard.

This isn’t the book I thought I would be reviewing after “The Damned Busters”, but it was in my Aurora Award voter packet, plus I have recently seen it on several other lists of autism-relevant books, because of Tarasov.

Ivan Tarasov is an adult Aspie man who has a job he likes (even though he would rather have gone into science, and might have been able to, had more supports been available for him in school) and also a wife and daughter. Yay! There’s no egregious autism fail in how he is written. There is a bit about picture thinking which seems to exaggerate the effects of this thinking style slightly, and which fails to point out that only some autistic people think in pictures, not everyone. (I don’t think in pictures, for instance.) But that’s forgiveable. Overall he’s as solid as Sawyer’s other characters.

The problem is that there are 51 (short) chapters in this book. Ivan Tarasov appears only in four of them, and never even for the whole chapter. He’s a very minor character. He has a small subplot which causes him to do a dramatic thing that affects other characters, and then he sort of stops being part of the story. So, if you’re looking for a book in which autistic people have lots of screen time, this isn’t it. On the other hand, if you want to see a book which strives to include the experiences of a large number of diverse people who happened to be in the same place at the same time, and in which neurodiversity is one small part of that diversity, then that’s exactly what Sawyer is doing. (The characters are also culturally and religiously diverse, among other things.) So, yay.

So, I’m not sure how to talk about this. I don’t want to imply that a book is bad just because the only autistic person in the book is a minor character. I mean, we exist, so we should logically be major characters in some stories and minor characters in others. It’s just that, if I am making a recommended reading list for people who are interested in autistic authors and characters, “Triggers” isn’t really very relevant.

(There are other things about the book that I liked, and other things about the book that I disliked. But I don’t want to get into that now.)

So I don’t know what to call this one. It isn’t, “Recommended”, it isn’t “Not Recommended”, it isn’t even “YMMV” – Tarasov gets the same amount of screen time no matter who’s reading. Can I call it “Irrelevant”? Except it isn’t completely irrelevant, it’s just not relevant enough. Or something. Suggestions are welcome.

(ETA: After a suggestion from David Lamb, I invented the verdict of Marginal for this book, and have since used the Marginal rating for several others as well.)

For a list of other past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

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