The Outside – Ada Hoffmann

the outside

I was very excited by the premises of this book ; its beginning (aside from one point, see below) was really good. In fact I read with pleasure most of the book before losing patience and interest.
Why, it’s rather difficult to say, probably because the story in itself didn’t manage to be good enough to make up for the points which annoyed me…

The story is original for its setting which was the reason why I read eagerly for a while. The idea of overpowering IA which have became gods was great and well defined. I like the organisation of it all, the hierarchy, all had a real potential (even if the mix between ruthlessness and cuteness – the relation between the angel and its sbires, which could have fit a romance – wasn’t completely convincing). Some aspects were a bit botched, as the various references to things that exist in our daily lives but couldn’t possibly exist in this kind of faraway diasporic futur (some details, but the kind that always grates on me, as it snatches me from the story), but still, a satisfying reading.

The enfolding of the story was good, if a bit repetitive, especially as repetitions didn’t manage to explain anything clearly about the Outside (mind you, it’s possible that the problem was because I didn’t understood it, couldn’t understood it, but the result was the same for me). The spooky part was also good, strongly reminding me of the Stranger Thinks’s series.

What I didn’t like since the very beginning and what bored me in the long run was the heroine. As a classical heroine she would have be convincing, nice, decent and courageous. But as a supposedly genius, in the autistic spectrum, she sounded completely wrong to me.

To begin with, what are the chances that these distinctions and terminologies for neurotypes would be in use in such a distant futur? Absolutely none to my point of view, especially to be exactly as we consider them now, in our interested but not specialised kind of way. Well, I may be wrong, maybe the author knows much more about the question as I do, but still, the manner to insert autistic particularities in the book had for me a strong flavour of « autism for the dummies ». Not bad, but basic and incomplete. For instance a lot of efforts are made to explain about the manner autistic person view the world via their senses (which is easily uncomfortable even insufferable because of an extreme hyper sensibility to sensations, to begin with). But between each scene, it seemed that it was forgotten, Yasira seemed pretty neurotypical for me. Another point irked me: speaking about autism being a pathology. Most (and maybe all) high functional autistic persons absolutely don’t think about their autism as a handicap but as a difference, and are quite happy to be as they are, just wanting to be considered as a normal, if different, person (see the excellent book of Alexandra Reynaud, « Asperger et fière de l’être: Voyage au coeur d’un autisme pas comme les autres »).

Another annoying fact is that she’s supposed to be a genius. Alas, apart from an excellent memory and a capacity to analyse and synthesise, skills often found in gifted persons, she didn’t seemed exceptionnel to me. Clever, yes, but a genius? No. She was quite your random strong and sensitive random female character (no disdain here, I love these characters!).

So, the repetitions about Yasira being a genius, and autistic, and a genius, and autistic, etc., annoyed me more and more. Enough that I lost interest for her, and for the story, before the end.

To finish with my recriminations, a last point. Yasira has a lover, Tiv, a nice young woman. No allusion is made about sexuality in the whole book, her choice is exposed as natural and accepted, the world seems – at least ! – accepting and just, which I liked for its natural and simplicity. But I didn’t care for the (very probably unintentional, at least I hope!) less-intelligent-than-me-shaming. Each time Yasira’s lover is evoked, it’s with the two words: « good girl ». A good girl, good with gods (which the heroine isn’t, as she repeats over and over). I don’t know if it’s the automatic French translation which makes is so wrong and dismissive to me (« brave fille », « gentille fille »), but I couldn’t help reading between the lines : « Of course she’s so much less clever than I am, because of me being a genius and her being a normally clever person but, she’s nice ; yes quite nice ; a good girl ; really, a good girl »). What didn’t help was that their interactions were very basic, very mundane, with no insightful and personal conversations, just basic-fits-all exchanges. Their relation wasn’t touching, except for the dramatic situation.

So I stopped reading at 78 %, after having read: « While Tiv waited, patiently, the way good girls waited »: enough was enough! I understood that Yasira was supposed to be touched be Tiv kindness and goodness, but this emphase about Tiv being (just?) a « good girl » finished me off. A shame…

(I thank Netgalley and Angry Robot for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)