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150 of 155 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2003
Most fiction writers portray people with autism as freaks and highlight the spectrum's most extreme behaviors. In *The Speed of Dark*, Elizabeth Moon accurately identifies and addresses the real issues that autists face through the point of view of an autistic man, Lou.
Lou has learned to function well enough within "normal" society to hold a job and to live independently. His company recognized that people with autism often have an unusual talent for pattern-recognition and created an autist-friendly division in which Lou and other people with autism work. Problems arise when a new supervisor questions the cost-effectiveness of the program and suggests (in a most coercive way) that Lou and his coworkers undergo an experimental procedure which may "cure" them of their autism.
As the parent of two children who fall on the autism spectrum, I commend Ms. Moon's grasp of the major issues and their implications. She clearly understands the limitations that sensory integration disorder (the inability to efficiently and accurately process sensory input) places on life skills, the need for routine, and the feeling of living in an alien environment while surrounded by humanity. In fact, what I found most compelling was Lou's continual analysis of his every action, his need to evaluate and reevaluate, so as to appear "normal". Each day required thousands of decisions, decisions most of us make intuitively and without thought. The most mundane activities--walking through airport security, asking a woman out, deciding where and what to eat--become trials for him.
Another area she addressed well was the problem that people with autism and other disabilities face when their superiors, immediate or higher up the line, decide that those with special needs are not worth accommodating or resent them for their special status. While a person in a wheelchair may advocate effectively because s/he has adequate communicative and social skills, how do people whose disability lies in their inability to communicate effectively cope? What kinds of safeguards are required to ensure compliance with the law? Those of us with special needs children deal with this daily when schools fail to deliver promised services to our children. The problem continues in the workplace.
Finally, she forced me to think about "normal" and its parameters and to reassess its desirability for my children. Is it fair to make normalcy their goal, when their paradigm differs so radically from the norm? Clearly they must learn to cope with a world which is foreign to them, but should we, as a society, hold up normal as the grail? Are they flawed individuals in need of "repair" or does their orientation have validity? This book will make you think and think hard about autism and how it impacts on both the individual and society.
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98 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2003
While a number of books have made me stop and think, I can't remember the last time a book made me stop and think about myself. Lou Arrendale was born autistic. Through therapy he was able to lead a normal life, but it doesn't change the fact he is autistic. Until he is offered a chance to change....

I suffer from a mood disorder that is similar to clinical depression. It's hard to describe. Periodically, I will feel either normal or incredibly depressed for no apparent reason. Many people thought I was simply being difficult or being "whiny." I wish it were that easy. Recently I have begun taking medication to help this condition. It limits my mood swings to bearable levels, but it is something that has, and will, always be a part of me. Being this way as a child certainly set me apart from other kids and I was often the subject of ridicule, just as Lou was.

Although Autism is certainly more severe than what I suffer from, I recognized many of the questions that Lou asked himself. What are they trying to tell me? I know I should say something, but what? They are looking at me funny, did I say the wrong thing? Was that a social cue? Should I have responded to that?

I don't pretend to be a Lou Arrendale, but I saw parts of myself when I read this book. Now I wonder: What if I was offered the chance to change? What if I could become a "normal" person? Would I do it? And if I did, would I be the same person? Would I be better, or worse? I used to think that I wanted to be more like everyone else, to be able to socialize with others without concern, to not have to worry about what mood I will be in when I am at work or class. After having read this book, I'm not so sure anymore. Maybe if I were to become "normal," I would no longer be myself.

This one is a must buy and a must loan-to-a-friend. The writing makes you believe that you are in the mind of an autistic. The only nit I would have is that some of the villains were a little shallow and predictable, seeming to exist only to further the plot. Regardless, they end up playing a minimal role, so it is easily forgivable. You see and feel what Lou sees and feels, and when he makes a final decision as to what to do ... well, I wonder if I would have the courage to do the same.
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88 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2003
With *The Speed of Dark*, Elizabeth Moon steps out from her usual role of science fiction author to deliver a gimlet-eyed perspective of what it means to be 'normal,' and in the process shows the reader what normal means.
Others elsewhere ably limn the story's plot; surprisingly, few note how Elizabeth Moon has used the medium (its context) to help tell her tale -- and convey her message -- via employing a style at once affectless yet lucid. This is a worthy parallel (and metaphor) to protagonist Lou Arrendale's changed mental and emotional state, and showcases an author at the top of her form.
I enjoyed the insights about "pattern recognition"; I enjoyed learning about the inner world of fencing; I enjoyed the insights into the inner turmoil autistics (and those close to them) suffer; I enjoyed reading each word, as 340 pages flew by. Chapter 18, in particular, left me agog in wonder, and I immediately re-read it to savor its finer qualities.
Yet don't let my dry prose deter you from a stellar reading experience. Recommended.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2003
What are you willing to do to fit in? Feel normal? Feel acceptance?

That is the premise of the book. I found it intriguing and engrossing to read. I stayed up several nights until 1:30 am reading this book, I didn't want to put it down or leave off where I was at in the book.

Initially, when the book arrived and I read the content, "autistic person struggles" I was prepared to do my duty, read the book and give the review, anticipating that this would be another boring book on the hardships of person suffering from autism.

Boy did I miss the mark! Yes, that is part of what the book is about. But even more, this book is about how we look for acceptance from self and others, how we interact with the world, how we interact with others, the constant and evolving process of developing our own process of understanding and making sense out of the world and defining our place in it. This book also asks us to question "social convention" as to whether it is an honest interaction between people, or even an honest response.

While discussing the main characters difficulty reading social cues, Ms. Moon asks us to question our own acuity in reading emotional nuance, facial cues, body cues, intonation meanings and the many other cues and signals that we process constantly, often automatically. How often have I decided I knew what another person meant, only to find out how grossly wrong I was in my ascertaining their response. I could certainly stand improvement in my abilities to read these cues and the resulting decisions that I make. Ultimately, Ms. Moon encourages us to openly discuss our assumptions and interpretations. She is quite right.

Bravo!
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2007
I'm a person with high-functioning autism, and like the main character of this novel I've adapted very successfully to living on my own in "normal" society.

I was surprized by how well the author captured the inner experience of someone with autism. The confusion with colloquialisms; the extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, touch; the effort required to recognize human faces; the extreme anxiety caused by change or unfamiliarity; the use of classical music as a calmative. She even managed to guess the right music for the right reasons: Bach for the small, intricate interlocking rosettes of sound; Bruch for the long, sweeping lines. It's unusual for me to read fiction and find a character whose inner monologue is anything like me.

Even so, many aspects of the story seemed unnecessary. The book could have been much shorter than 239 pages. The discussion of personal identity would have been clearer if the author had just written an essay, rather than hiding everything inside a lot of discussions of fencing and mysterious "treatments." Perhaps science fiction authors can only get their works published if they write them as "science fiction."
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2003
Set in the future (though the book never specifies when), when medical advances has made autism a thing of the past, this is the story of Lou, a highly functioning autistic man - one of the last autists in existence. When Lou is given the choice to undergo treatment to become "normal", he must decide whether to venture into the unknown, or remain his familiar, but flawed, self.
Elizabeth Moon is a mother of an autistic child herself, and you can tell she knows the condition inside and out by the way she tells her story from the viewpoint of an autist. The Speed of Dark poses the question: How much would you do to become normal and accepted? How much would you sacrifice of your true self? And then Ms. Moon sets out to answer that question in the guise of Lou Arrendale, who is at once likable yet, at times, infuriating. The book is exhausting to read - I can't imagine how exhausting it must be to live with autism! And at the end of the book, we are given some answers... but also left with one final question: What, exactly, is normal?
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2005
The Speed of Dark is an exquisite, delicious story that you want to hurry and finish, and yet, you want it to linger over it, making it last.

Lou Arrendale is a functioning autistic, working for a large multinational corporation. The corporation uses his pattern recognition skills to review and revise its software. The story, told from Lou's point of view, details his life and an attempt by the manager of his department to use Lou and the other autistics in the department for human trial experimentation on a new procedure that purports to 'cure' autism.

We see the world through Lou's eyes; a place that is sometimes orderly and understandable and, at other times, confusing and duplicitous. It takes a few pages to get into Lou's world and narrative style but once you're there you wonder if his observations of people, their behaviors and life in general aren't more logical and appropriate than what we've been told is 'normal' all out lives.

The narrative is deceptively simple as it seduces the reader into considering the questions of why we behave the way we do, how people view those with disabilities, what is normal, how we perceive the world around us and whether it's 'right' or simply appropriate to ourselves, what happens to us when we change, both in our own estimation and the estimation of others and the sick, superior behavior of some people when faced with those suffering from mental or physical disabilities.

Every thing in the story has a reason to be there, whether it is immediately apparent to the reader or not. Ms. Moon keeps the pace brisk yet you feel as though you're lingering, pleasantly, over the prose.

The characterizations are wonderfully subtle, particularly as seen through Lou's eyes, when he has little understanding of how 'normal' people behave and why. He is, at once, a painfully accurate observer and his musings on why people do what they do can make you laugh out loud from time to time.

And the ending... Ms. Moon leaves you just enough clues to wonder what sort of ending it really is, unhappy or happy and whether it really matters.

I do not read Ms. Moon often but, after reading The Speed of Dark, I will definitely be purchasing more of her books. A book so good I needed a smoke and a lie down, afterward. They don't make them like this as often as they should.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2005
If you are looking for a "typical" Elizabeth Moon story, this is not it. I always trust her as an author and always buy her books. I hesitated on this one, partly because it is so completely different from her usual work, and partly because my oldest son was, at age 3-1/2, diagnosed as pre-autistic, and has a "mild" version of Aspergers. After I bought the book I hesitated to read it, because I have found books about "learning disabled" people painful to read in the past.

But this story is a triumph! Another reviewer said that Moon has an autistic child - I don't know if this is true, but based on her dedication, I suspect it is. If that was her inspiration, she has more than done justice to her child and herself.

Other reviewers cover the plot quite well, and I won't repeat their work. I can only say that this book gave me insights into my son's mind and thinking that I had never had before - and he is now 43. Moon has given me a whole new and wonderful perspective of my son, and I am deeply grateful.

As another reviewer said, this is a must-buy and must-loan book. I intend to loan it to as many people as I can arm-twist into reading it, and will buy extra copies for just that purpose.

There is some science fiction in the book, in the medical science involved. But mostly this is the story of one autistic man, how he has learned to live in the "normal" world, and how he manages to cope with surprise and change. Her understanding, empathy, and acceptance of "other" as "normal" for her protagonist are outstanding. There is no condescension or pity, only narrative of what is happening to Lou.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2003
Elizabeth Moon drew on her time in the Marines for her military SF, and she has drawn on her time as a mother of an austist for this astonishing stand-alone novel. The comparison to _Flowers for Algernon_ is inevitable, but I'd rather not make it. Lou is a complex, fascinating character who deserves to be appreciated for who he is, not who he is like or who he is not like.
What is normal? What makes you you and me me? Are we the sum of our memories, or our interpretation of those memories? Do you really perceive blue the same way I do? Are you frowning because you are angry or are you just thinking really hard? Do I understand you? Do I understand me?
It's easy to describe this book as the story about an autist who is offered the chance to change, but that description ignores one of the book's recurring motifs: change happens to us, all the time, no matter what consent we offer or refuse. The narrative pulls you along swiftly, offering a point of view that is both alien and familiar. Absorbing, provocative, and moving. Highly recommended.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I can't remember what made me try this (especially as I am not normally a huge fan of Elizabeth Moon--Kick-tush heroines tend to make me a bit tired after a while): A book about a middle-aged autistic man confronted by the possibility of a new medical procedure that might make him "normal"-or destroy everything he is? That is NOT the sort of book I usually embrace. Sounds...Meaningful, doesn't it? Slightly depressing? Dull? Trust me, it's not. Fascinating is a better word.
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