Book Cover
Title The Speed of Dark
Series ---
Author Elizabeth Moon
Cover Art ---
Publisher Ballantine Books - 2004
First Printing Ballantine Books - 2003
Category Science Fiction
Warnings None

Main Characters

Lou Arrendale, Tom & Lucia, Marjory, Don, Mr. Crenshaw

Main Elements Medical Advances

Thoughtful, poignant, and unforgettable. The Speed of Dark is a gripping exploration into the world of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man who is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental "cure" for his condition. Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world...and the very essence of who he is.

This was suggested at an online reading group I had joined and I wasn't quite sure I wanted to read it. One review said it was like Flowers for Algernon but the ending cut off. Now I've read and loved Flowers for Algernon, but it's a pretty depressing read, wasn't sure I was in the mood for depressing.

But as Canadian book prices rise to absolutely absurd levels (sometimes nearly twice the cost of the US price even though the Canadian dollar is only 20 cents less) I got fed up and decided I'd only buy books I *really* wanted from a new bookstore. Now used bookstores are great but their stocks are random, so I decided to check out the library. I had not borrowed a book from a library in over 15 years, and that was for university. A fiction book must have been much longer. But this library had The Speed of Dark and I thought it would be perfect, after all I didn't think I'd really like it anyway and I'd just return it when I'm done.

Well, this was a book I wouldn't have minded keeping. Lou Arrendale is such a sympathetic character. What happened around and to him was almost irrelevant as the reader is transported into seeing the world through his eyes. His confusion when people are "polite" and so don't say what they really mean (like I don't want to talk to you anymore, go away, isn't considered rude to him, it's just clear and to the point). Also his love for fencing made me want to try it out as well.

But the core of the book is not just exposing readers to the struggles in the life of an autist (and Lou is a highly functional one), but the question of, if a cure were made available, would you take it? It sounds obvious, I mean who wouldn't, but Lou was already in his 30's. All his likes and dislikes, his friends, everything, stemmed from his being autistic. It made him who he is. Now take away the autism that causes him to struggled in social situations, that overloads him with sensory input (you know, not just autists hate those little tags in the back of shirts...), that allows him to do the job he does that no one else could do as well. Would he lose all that? Is the price of having some things easier worth maybe losing interest in the girl you think you love? Maybe he won't like fencing anymore, even though he just started going to tournaments (a big deal for him) and realized he likes them. At the same time, it's not like the world stays the same. Even if he doesn't undergo the treatments, he has seen for himself how he has had to adapt and become a different person just through his regular daily interactions with the world. And of course there's no guarantee that the experimental treatment won't leave him a vegetable the rest of this life, he could lose everything.

As someone who doesn't much like change herself, I could sympathize with Lou's dilema, and could also understand how change is inevitable so why not go into it intentionally instead of letting it just happen to you.

And of course, we are exposed to other characters and their reactions to Lou. Tom, who takes him under his wing. Don, who irrationally blames him for all the ills of the world. And Lou's boss Mr. Crenshaw who bristles under the "expense" the "specials" have to have, like a gym with a trampoline to help them relax, or doors on their cubicles, which the regular employees don't require. Of course not taking into account that the "specials" were the most productive team, and that perhaps, just maybe, if all employees got some extra "perks" they might all perform better. While disabled people may need special accomodations, the costs are usually minimal in return for the benefit a company gets...and well, it's just the right thing to do. But in a world of saving every penny, even a gym (which costs nothing after it is already built) can grate on the nerves of an idiot boss trying to cover up his own incompetencies.

The SF aspect of the tale is nearly non-existant (just the treatment and some handheld computers and solar powered cars mentioned in passing), but it really makes you think, which a good book of any genre is expected to do.

Posted: August 2017


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