In the interest of full disclosure: This isn‘t my first time reading The Speed of Dark. It’s one of my favorite books and I have nothing but good things to say about it.
Okay. Onto my review:
Thirty-five year old Lou Arrendale is a bioinformatics specialist working for a pharmaceutical company in the not too distant future. His astounding pattern analysis abilities sets him apart from the average man. But that isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. Lou is wholly sincere, honest to a fault, and highly sensitive to the attitudes, feelings and intentions of others. And he also happens to be autistic. As are his fellow co-workers.
Lou has a great job, a pleasant home life, and good friends from among the members of a local fencing club he frequents. Life is good. Until his new boss, Mr. Crenshaw, sets his sights on Lou’s division. The company is developing a new experimental treatment that purportedly cures autism through a procedure that rewires portions of the affected brain. The initial trials on apes proved very promising and now they’re looking for human subjects. Seeing an opportunity, Crenshaw strong-arms the division, threatening them with dismissal if they do not “volunteer” for the human trials.
Suddenly, Lou’s organized existence is upended as he faces a difficult choice, one that could well undo his sense of self and transform him into someone totally different. But would that necessarily be a bad thing?
Lou is our narrator and, as such, our POV throughout this funny, touching, fascinating, and altogether engaging tale. We grow to know him, to like him, and, most important of all, to understand him. By novel’s end, our emotional investment in the character is enormous. We’ve shared in his frustration and bewilderment at the hands of the cruel, sometimes vindictive individuals who target those they deem different or weak. We’ve experienced the affections and friendship of the people in his life, autistic and non-autistic alike. And, ultimately, we join him in wrestling with a decision that could alter him either for better or worse and, quite possibly, both.
On the surface, Lou’s dilemma seems fairly straightforward. Given the opportunity, why wouldn’t someone with autism take the chance to live life as a regular person? But this question becomes incredibly complex when applied on a personal level. The author opens our eyes by making us realize that it isn’t as simple as it appears on first blush, especially if someone we care about is at the heart of the issue. On the one hand, Lou does have trouble socializing and approaches the world with an almost childlike innocence, and yet, on the on the other hand, he succeeds where so many other “normals” fail, building a solid life for himself, establishing friendships, even falling in love. The author does such a wonderful job of allowing us to see the world through Lou’s eyes that, when the time comes for him to choose, we feel for him as we would a friend. In fact, my sentiments echoed those of his fencing instructor, Tom, who ends up torn between wanting to see his Lou achieve all the things he ever wanted but heartsick at the prospect of losing him to that new life.
This book asks some tough questions. What is normal? How does one weigh the value of identity in the face of progress? And what is the speed of dark? In the end, these questions are left unanswered. Or, rather, the author leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.
I can honestly say that few books have affected me as deeply as The Speed of Dark. It’s smart and compelling and leaves a lasting impression. Not only a great SF novel, but a great novel across all genres.
So, those are my initial thoughts. Yes, I loved this book – even more so on second reading. And you? Let’s hear your take and let’s see those questions for author Elizabeth Moon who has kindly agreed to join us for a little Q&A.
Well, it’s official. Sometime in early 2010, my very first professional short story will hit store shelves as part of With Great Power, an anthology of superhero-themed tales in the tradition of Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and The Dark Knight. When editor Lou Anders first approached me about submitting a story for this collection, I was honored. And somewhat terrified. Scripts, I know I can do. But short stories? I accepted Lou’s offer with the understanding that if my submission didn’t meet his high standards, I would happily serialize my efforts on this blog and we’d have no hard feelings either way. And soon after, I got to work. Lou wanted the stories to be “non-ironic takes on the superhero genre”. As he put it: “…stories that contemporary readers of DC/Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse would comprehend and enjoy. Not “outside looking in” stuff.” As it turned out, I had a story – actually two stories – that fit the criteria, notions I’d been considering as potential comic book series. After much thought, I combined the two and set out to write my story. I had an opening scene. I had my protagonist. I had the mystery. And I had my ending. Now, all I needed to do was come up with the rest. And, over the course of some ten months, I did – writing a scene here, a paragraph there, going dry for days on end before returning to my labor of love and always, always agonizing. Writing, re-writing, and re-rewriting until I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to send it off before I drove myself mad. The next day, Lou dropped me an email. The initial review was positive – and I was finally able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Yesterday, Lou published the table of contents for the upcoming anthology and I must say that I’m in some mighty impressive company. The many distinguished authors contributing to the collection include Dr. Who’s Paul Cornell, SF great Stephen Baxter, comic book heavy-hitters Gail Simone and Bill Willingham, and many more. Check out the complete line-up here: http://louanders.blogspot.com/2009/08/look-up-in-sky-is-it-bird-is-it-plane.html
Continued progress on the script front. I finished Act III today and got a little ahead of myself, writing a couple of scenes form Act IV before being stymied by a communications issue. Hopefully, it’ll be resolved before tomorrow and I can remain on track. Today, to celebrate, I give you the countdown clock:
Among the author home pages I check out on a semi-regular basis is that of Jeffrey Ford (http://14theditch.livejournal.com/). Most of you know I’m a huge fan of Jeff’s work and recently finished (and, incidentally, adored) his 2005 novel The Girl in the Glass (which definitely makes my July Top Picks, an entry I’ll be jumping on as soon as I finish this final script). Anyway, Jeff’s livejournal page is incredibly eclectic, running the gamut from the philosophical to the downright ridiculous. And hilarious. Take a past entry (http://14theditch.livejournal.com/287714.html) titled “Jimmy Olsen in “Gnor Trouble”“ that offers up some pretty funny excerpts from the comic book icon’s least memorable appearances. The entry inspired one Thom Davidson to send in one of his favorite comic book moments that I post for you below. All I can say is – I had my suspicions.
Finally, those of you who opt to let fate decide with the flip of a coin might do well to check and see what side is facing up before you call it. Recent findings suggest the old coin toss may not be 50/50 after all. According to this (http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/hey-wait-minute/2009/07/28/flipping-out?g=1) artcle coin flips are governed by laws of mechanics meaning “their flight is determined by their initial conditions.” As The Simpsons’ resident pigskin prognosticator would say: “Hey, when you’re right 51 percent of the time, you’re wrong 49 percent of the time.”