Graeme Simseon


The Rosie Project


Initially I thought this was pretty obvious cashing in on the excessively travelled Big Bang Theory ground - and maybe it is (like banging out a teen vampire story). Actually, given that it’s as feelgood as all getout with a centrally romantic theme and (here’s the clincher) subtitled ‘Don Tillman #1’ (perhaps only once it turned out to be a money-spinner), sure, definitely it’s cashing in. The clichés are here – or do we simply call them the hallmarks of this, surely by now its own (sub-) genre: should you baulk at, for example, ‘Aspergers as a superpower’ (in this case in marshal arts and, well, pretty much any skill – Don can sort of upload Matrix style anything he needs – dancing, cocktail mixing – in a week or two) or ‘rigid weekly timetables down to the minute’ in ASD fiction any more than swords and sorcery in a fantasy? Perhaps a little: fantasy is openly unrealistic, whereas the stereotyping here in some ways encourages unreasonable demands: “Why doesn’t my ASD contact have a superpower like Rain-man or the Elementary version of Sherlock? Why aren’t they just so goddam charming all the time?” I think, for example, Haddon’s Curious Incident does significantly better in creating a likeable, admirable character without some of these Forest Gump style extremes. Still, since ASD is defined behaviourally, it’s unavoidable to not have certain characteristics – such as the love of structure and imperviousness to emotional niceties. I do like, and recognise, the element of truth in the description of universities as ‘sheltered workshops for people with Aspergers’. And, sure, a good friend of mine on the scale literally calls his (staggering) musical ability his ‘Aspergers superpower’.


However my cynicism pretty soon faded, not so much because of a surprising veering into more realism over the clearly deliberate heart-warming stuff, but because Simseon simply does it so well. Sometimes you want something that isn’t ‘merely’ genre fiction, but doing genre fiction well is impressive and enjoyable. Simseon does a great job in the way he puts the elements together, the situations and relationships he creates to show them, deft comic timing and dialogue, and Don’s consistently alternative perspective.


Also, even while he’ll always choose the less credible but more charming/impressive option, and is far more interested in entertaining than preaching, there are some moments of insight, perhaps most particularly in the wonderful, "Shoot the baby! Shoot the baby!" scene. This hammered home the important point that different isn't wrong/inferior - all the more potently because of the genuine humour. And I have seen parents create a rod for both their own and their ASD children’s backs by forcing them into normal situations that would be lovely for neuro-typicals, perhaps partly with the good intention of giving what they see as a good thing (like a party) to their child, but also because *they* want this mainstream experience (while their child is understandably freaking out, “Who are all these strangers? What are they doing here when it’s minecraft time? Argh! What’s all that noise?). While differences at times can be exhausting and traumatic (meltdowns are not fun for anyone, and can’t always be avoided), hats off to Simseon for anything he does that encourages more allowance for and even celebration of difference.


April 2015