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The Speed of Dark Hardcover – January 1, 2003
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Corporate life in early 21st-century America is even more ruthless than it was at the turn of the millennium. Lou Arrendale, well compensated for his remarkable pattern-recognition skills, enjoys his job and expects never to lose it. But he has a new boss, a man who thinks Lou and the others in his building are a liability. Lou and his coworkers are autistic. And the new boss is going to fire Lou and all his coworkers--unless they agree to undergo an experimental new procedure to "cure" them.
In The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon has created a powerful, complex, and believable portrayal of a man who varies radically from what is defined as "normal." The author insightfully explores the nature of "normality," identity, choice, responsibility, free will, illness and health, and good and evil. The Speed of Dark is a powerful, moving, illuminating novel in the tradition of Flowers for Algernon, Forrest Gump, and Rain Man . --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
"If I had not been what I am, what would I have been?" wonders Lou Arrendale, the autistic hero of Moon's compelling exploration of the concept of "normalcy" and what might happen when medical science attains the knowledge to "cure" adult autism. Arrendale narrates most of this book in a poignant earnestness that verges on the philosophical and showcases Moon's gift for characterization. The occasional third-person interjections from supporting characters are almost intrusive, although they supply needed data regarding subplots. At 35, Arrendale is a bioinformatics specialist who has a gift for pattern analysis and an ability to function well in both "normal" and "autistic" worlds. When the pharmaceutical company he works for recommends that all the autistic employees on staff undergo an experimental procedure that will basically alter their brains, his neatly ordered world shatters. All his life he has been taught "act normal, and you will be normal enough"-something that has enabled him to survive, but as he struggles to decide what to do, the violent behavior of a "normal friend" puts him in danger and rocks his faith in the normal world. He struggles to decide whether the treatment will help or destroy his sense of self. Is autism a disease or just another way of being? He is haunted by the "speed of dark" as he proceeds with his mesmerizing quest for self-"Not knowing arrives before knowing; the future arrives before the present. From this moment, past and future are the same in different directions, but I am going that way and not this way.... When I get there, the speed of light and the speed of dark will be the same." His decision will touch even the most jaded "normal."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I wanted to like this book, I really did, but it was so flawed that I quickly ended up hating it and wouldn't dump it on my enemies. I drudged through it with the hope that a superb ending might deliver one iota of reason for this book's existence but alas no dice!
On the most base level this book reeks of amatuerish writing. I get the fact that the terse writing style is meant to put us "in the head" of an autistic but this writing style can't maitain a 300 page book. Moon should of intermingled more scenes from other points of view and more plotlines with the secondary characters. More corporate intrigue and more romance with Marjory could of added some life to this corpse.
I don't want to sound un PC but honestly I found Moon's portrayal of the autistic personality boring and at times creepy in a robotic Village of the Damned kind of way. After the first 50 pages I knew pretty much the way Lou was going to react and feel about every situation and the book became a monotonous bore.
On a thematic level I felt insulted by the book's pro-autistic mantra. As if any of the people reading this book are "anti" autistic. In the end we are supposed to realize that autistics can be happy being who they are.....a dissapointedly obvious thematic element maybe appropriate for that "warm and fuzzy" last page of an issue of Newsweek.
I find it shocking this book won the Nebula in what was clearly a politicaly driven result. Having only read Diplomatic Immunity (in the bottom half of Bujold's stellar Miles Vorkosigan series) from that years nominees, this just further flames my belief that the Nebula is a joke.
Bottom Line: An interesting idea that failed on every possible level. I cant even call it a "poor man's" Flowers For Algernon.
The central conflict in the novel describes a new director for Lou's job, Crenshaw, who decides that all the extra amenities and facilities that Lou and his colleagues need to be able to work are perks that should be cut. To that end, he "encourages" Lou's colleagues to try out an experimental treatment for curing autism. Crenshaw is a stereotypical corporate villain, and is never fleshed out, which is the biggest flaw in an otherwise excellent novel. But his attack on Lou brings up several issues: if you could cure a deep psychological problem like autism, would it be desirable to do so. If someone has come to an accommodation with his condition, wouldn't the change be traumatic, and possibly be effectively eliminating that person's former self? The novel explores these issues from Lou's perspective.
The best thing about this novel is it's use of the first person perspective to grant insight into how an autistic individual works. If you're a Silicon Valley engineer, reading this novel will give you a very strong sense in how similar many engineers are to an autistic person, and where the big differences are. Jeff Bezoes is quoted as saying, "I learn more from fiction than from non-fiction books," and this book is illustrative: it's more insightful than even autobiographical books like Born on a Blue Day. The treatment is extremely sympathetic, and extremely well written.
For some novelists, the central conflict's resolution would end the novel, but not Moon. She goes on to explore all the deeper issues involved in the novel, and the conversation Lou has with himself is a lot of fun. This is an excellent novel, and I can highly recommend it.