Speed of Dark


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:

Tick tick tick
Tick tick tick

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.”

56 thoughts on “August 3, 2009: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

  1. Congrats on having your story selected. I am curious to read it. Thanks for the heads up on The Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford. I loved it. It wasn’t quite what I expected, I thought is would be a little more supernatural, but was delighted with it.

  2. The Speed of Dark
    Very intriguing title and immediate reaction is: why not? This could/should easily be a topic for philosophical discussion and/or debate.

    If dark is the absence of light and the speed of light is measured, then, conversely light is the presence of “bright,” which could mean dark is always present. But if we use the view of the earth as the sun “rises” and areas become bathed in light, the speed of dark on the other side is equal to the speed of light. Or, both are always present but masked, blocked, etc. hmmm.

    Initially, I was more intrigued by the book title – but started to read and then a whole new view of the world was presented. It was a very fascinating approach to have the story told by an autist (to use the descriptor from the book), whiich makes the story even more significant. I don’t pretend to understand or have the right to say, the presentation was spot on…but in my limited exposure, the presentation seemed to be, it “felt” right.

    Lou was simple, typical, but also complex and different in his following his necessary day-to-day patterns and routines but he was atypical because, when compared to the others, he analyzed something to a point where he would want to explore more/try it – like fencing. He did not seem to have the closed mind that the others seemed to have; and what the expectation might be for someone with autism. In the end he says, “…I had to choose, and like Lou-before-I chose to go on, to risk success, to find new friends, to be who I am now.”

    It was fascinating to read the analysis he applied to so many things as well as the presentation of the skill – the pattern recognition. Which on reflection, I must say – sounds familiar and I can think of personal mental exercises that while I have probably have not gone the depth as Lou, there were so many similarities in the analysis phase that “normals” exercise. Note, I did not say, “we normals,” because it is a valid question – what defines normal? What is normal?

    One wants to challenge the thoughts, “rules,” processes, etc., that the “specialists” or “experts” have proffered because one question that begs to be asked and answered is: what makes anyone a specialist or expert?

    Have you not run into situations where – the “expert’s” opinion was totally off the mark? Where, post event analysis shows that the expert opinion was wrong?

    The “routine” of Lou’s life or even Tom’s rules of the house/fencing club – is what makes many in this world function well. The funny thing is one need not be autistic to need, want, and/or follow a routine. I have routines that allow me to be efficient as I want to be.

    Not far into the book, I began to feel anxious for Lou…waiting for the shoe, the other shoe, etc., to drop because we know how mean, cruel people are/can be. And, the “child like” innocence and trust seemed quite vulnerable. The term I’ve just used, “child-like” is meaning the trusting aspects of ANY one’s behavior; regardless of applied labels like “normal” or other. Anyway, I feared for Lou. I feared what catastrophe would unfold on the next pages. The author wove the the story line very nicely to prompt that fear.

    Yet, the character presentation is one where Lou is thinking and planning to avert disasters or conflicts in a very “normal way.”

    It is sad, but the book also points to another weakness in our society – why can we not have honesty in all dealings? Why all the subterfuge and ultimately a situation where there is no trust?

    So why, must individuals with autism be segregated and treated as “second or third class” citizens? What gives “bosses” the right to pressure subordinates to consider, much less do something that the boss thinks is best without consulting the individual? Worse, the threat of “do this” or lose your job?

    Stepping back from my pompous statement, we do realize there may be individuals who really need assistance; cannot live independently, etc., and for them, there should be the reasonable accommodations to ensure they do not hurt themselves or have to fend for themselves without a good understanding of what is occurring. I think what is a little scarey is the idea of the experts making decisions in this regard. The “big brother, – I know what is good for you.”

    This book made me even more conscious of people and their prejudices. For example, there are those who think it fun to make fun of overweight, over thin, etc., but do not see the flaws in their own existence.

    I was quite surprised that Lou decided to take the treatment. So much of his analysis, which was “very normal,” seemed that he was intent on preserving who he was. Yet, this decision also fit his approach to things – analyze, then put the toe into the water to test it.

    And, I felt devastated when it appeared he had not responded well and was potentially in a permanent child state. All of the doctor’s and experimenter’s statements were so weak and lame. When asked – what will happen to…? Their responses were along the lines of, “…it should not change, etc.” The operative words “should not.” Which when applied to will I be happy, the same, able to remember, etc., is very scarey.

    The ending was good, but it did not feel exactly right. Perhaps my overly critical view of the people performing the experimental procedure biased me. So, now, we see where the procedure worked and apparently worked well.

    Then the sad part – Marjory. And, it appeared that Lou was alone again, but with a broader view of the world, science, and life. And, I like his final assessment of the speed of dark when he states, “…It bothered Lou-before that the speed of dark was greater than the speed of light. Now I am glad of it, because it means I will never come to the end, chasing the light.

    And, his last statement – “Now I get to ask the questions.” Now I want to know the questions.

    Thank you for a wonderful book. Very good and very thought provoking.

    Questions for the author – Elizabeth Moon

    1. What was your inspiration for the book’s title?
    2. Please give some insight to Lou’s last statement, “…Now I can ask the questions.”
    3. If you can share, did you experience some of the “experts” who were living in the past and had not kept up with research on autism?
    4. Even thought you wrote the book, if you were one of Lou’s closest friends like Tom, etc., and if he asked you – what should I do? How would you have responded?

  3. Congratulations on the short story…now, we wait for it to become available.

  4. Righto. More later; you thoroughly covered the major aspects of the book from my POV.

    I’m the only person I know who gets jet lag from a 3-hr. flight going from east to west.

  5. I really loved this book when I read it a year ago. I work with disabled people, including some with autism or autism-spectrum disabilities, asperger’s, etc, so I was very interested in seeing how Moon handled the theme and I was not disappointed. Her mostly matter-of-fact style was very moving and I was left with the feeling that there is no one approach to this situation. The individuals each should decide on what’s best for them, but having the options is — or would be in our time and realm — preferable to not. The characters were noble, to me, as they struggled with the sudden possibility of being like the majority of people and there is no one right decision to make.

  6. Hi Joe!

    Super congrats on getting your short story published with such a great group of writers!!! 🙂 🙂

    Also, congrats on Eps 19 & 20 (or whatever it turns out to be) coming along so well.

    I certainly don’t want to leave the SGA movie to a coin toss, so until I read otherwise (and I’m willing to cover my eyes to prevent seeing it!) I’m going to hopefully hope one will come along. There is untold story there, eh?!

    I enjoyed reading your review of The Speed of Dark. I will make a point of picking it up and (obviously) not reading it in time for discussion, but in my head we’ve had great discussions of The Land of Laughs and Infoquake. I think the next book review I imagine will occur at Fuel, with you picking up the bill. OK?


  7. The Speed of Dark is one of my favorite books. I loved Lou and was heartbroken when the experimental treatment initially seemed not to work. I echoed Tom’s anger and frustration with the researchers when they didn’t see the issue of Lou losing his “before self”.

  8. This is my first book back on the BOTM train. I did enjoy the character of Lou as an unlikely protagonist and the order-to-disorder-then return to order of his personal universe with the introduction and use of “the treatment”. The only dissapointments I suffered were the threat of Lou’s villains, I never really felt that Lou would not ‘vanquish’ them. Don was just a man-child, and Mr. Crenshaw is excized off-screen in a deus-ex machina call from his boss, and in the end both become speed bumps in Lou’s life.

    I found myself hoping that ‘the speed of dark’ and Lou’s ‘pattern analysis’ job would play into something bigger rather than a metaphor for Lou’s struggle. Although in defense I think the book is more speculative fiction vs science fiction.

    I agree that Tom was the most compelling of Lou’s personal relationships. I thought it was interesting that virtually everyone in Lou’s life after ‘the treatment’ virtually left the story as Lou set off on a whole new life. It reminded me of my transition from high school to college. Not say that I wasn’t still a little ignorant when I graduated college, lol.

    All in all I appreciated the complexity of Lou’s sensory and perceptive experience and the overall diagesis of the modern autistic adult.

    My question for Elizabeth Moon:
    “Speed of Dark provides a unique perspective on the Autistic experience in the United States. In the acknowledgments you cited research involving long-reaching and ongoing contact with families experiencing autism, but was any part of the book autobiographical? And if so, which voice in the book was yours?”

  9. The Speed of Dark
    by Elizabeth Moon

    I loved this book! I loved Lou Arrendale. I loved that it was written mostly from his point of view. And what a view it was! I considered Lou to be a highly functioning autistic. He lived on his own, he had a great job, he drove his own car, and he had both autistic and “normal” acquaintances. He seemed very “normal” to me. His only issues where sometimes having trouble communicating and handling emotions. Don’t we all?

    He had me going to the mirror to actually look at my blue eyes to see if they had other colors in them I had never noticed before. Lou was someone I would love to have as a friend. Honest, funny (not always ententionally), and very smart – just the opposite of how others see him. His “but that would be inappropriate” cracked me up! I also felt afraid for him sometimes. Like other people or anyone might take advantage of him. I wanted to protect him. I was surprised someone like Lou would bring out such intense hatred and jelousy from one of “normal” friends. Does anyone know what normal is exactly?

    I would love to get into conversations with him to hear what he thought about things. I was fascinated with the speed of dark discussion he had with his “normal” friends and with his other autistic friends. Just for the record, I don’t think there is a speed of/to dark. Even though it can creep up on you in the evening, or happen suddenly, it does not have a speed. Dark is not an object. It does not radiate from an object. It is just there. It is what fills the void of light. Light is produced from an object: sun, stars, light bulb. Dark is the absence of a light source. But this is a whole other topic.

    I would have been one of Lou’s friends not wanting him to do the study but encouraging him to decide for himself. He had more than a lot of “normal” people do in their lives. Chapter 21 was heartbreaking. It looked like the treatment did not work and it had reversed him back to infantcy. I was madder than his friend Tom! The doctors where like, “we don’t know’, “wait and see”. And when Lou started coming out of it, I knew he was different when everything was boring to him. The therapy, the food, the people. The old Lou could see wonder in every little detail. The new Lou seemed to be just seeing the surface – like “normal” people tend to do. Like “normal” people did with him.

    I guess it worked out the way Lou had wanted. I felt a loss. I’m don’t know why but the Epilogue made me cry. Maybe because I would not like this new Lou as much or maybe because I know he would not like me either. I don’t know. It was a surprising emotion from me.

    Thanks Joe for bring this book to your book club.l It was very thought provoking.

    Questions for Elizabeth Moon:

    Greetings fellow Texan! I am writing from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metoplex! I loved The Speed of Dark! Very interesting and emotional read! Thank you for writing it. Where is this story set? The, “finding a place to plug in my car”, had me wondering.

    Why didn’t you spend more time on the new Lou? I liked the old Lou better anyway, but I was wondering if he was really finally happy with his new life.

    What did you glean from your own son in writing this book?

    I have read you wrote your first book at age 6 about your dog. This is a dog lovers blog. What exactly was that first book about? What was your dog doing in the book?

    When you are in the middle of writing a book, do you walk around in a fog, thinking about the book constantly?

    Thank you Ms. Moon for taking the time to stop by and answer our questions. Your book was a great pleasure to read!

    Thank you Joe!

  10. From those I’ve spoken to prior to today who have read this book, it sounds as though it should be a very interesting discussion. Look forward to reading in. Is that a real phrase? It’s not like I’m listening in.

    Oh well, I’m off again to continue my fight with technology. It appears to be one of those days for us and our clients. So far, Technology – 5, Narelle – 1. At the end of it all though, I control the power switch. So I literally hold the power. Well maybe not hold, that could cause a mild case of electrocution and some hair frizzies, but I’m not afraid to use the hard reset button and you pesky technological devices should remember that.

  11. The first thing that impressed me about The Speed of Dark was the first person point of view Elizabeth Moon used. It’s hard enough writing “normal” characters and making the narrative convincing and interesting. To take the viewpoint of someone whose mind is literally wired differently, and to do so with such authenticity is an amazing accoplishment, even from as talented an author as Elizabeth Moon.
    I agree that Lou is a character that we become emotionally comitted to, and very quickly. In action and deed he is an exemplary human being. He is polite, neat, reliable, truthful, hard working, and a dozen other things that society values. It’s only because the author lets us “inside his head” that we see how much it cost him to present himself to society at large as someone worthy of holding a place in that society.
    the same point of view strengthens our commitment to Lou as we can recognise how badly treated he is by certain characters in the story, from Dr. Fornum, to Crenshaw, all the way to Dr. Ransome, all of whom fail to recognise, or even acknowledge, Lou’s place in humanity.
    And that’s this book’s strongest aspect. With the gentlest of touches, it slams the readers into the wall repeatedly, forcing the reader to consider what it is that makes us human, makes us “normal”, makes us “good”, and what is ethical. It even touches on evolutionary themes as we watch Lou cope and adapt to changes forced on him by circumstances. And how he moves beyond reacting to those changes, to actively seeking out change, pushing himself beyond the borders that society and his own education and training have imposed on him.
    Beyond all those themes, I was fascinated by how the author shifted the story as Crenshaw’s machinations were undermined by Aldrin. It was easy to say that the “treatment” was a BAD thing, when it was something being imposed on people ignorant of all of the ramifications. It’s such a blatent violation of medical ethics that as a reader it seemed obvious that once Crenshaw was stopped, justice would prevail and Lou and his fellow autistics would preserve their special lifestyle.
    Then choice of the treatment becomes an issue of informed consent, and Lou is as informed as a layperson can be on such matters. While certain of his fellow autistics have their own reasons for risking their very being for the chance to become “normal”, Lou’s decisions go back to childhood dreams. The final pages of the book are rather painful, as we see something in the body of Lou, but who has been stripped of not only memory, but seemingly his abilities. The final resolution as we see Lou as a new, integrated, “normal” person who has achieved all he set out to do makes us want to give a small cheer.
    Yet even with a “happily ever after” ending, there are questions. Is this Lou, however socially integrated, really “better” than the maladjusted autistic Lou who struggles with daily interactions with others? What cost did the “new” Lou really pay? What about the more sinister applications suggested in the text as to how the treatment might be utilized by industry or government? There’s even the question of Dan’s punishment for his crimes? Is it justice, or even mercy, to “adjust” a person’s mind? There are also echoes of the arguments seen in the deaf community, about is it even proper to treat such “disabilities”. The more one looks at this book, the more questions it brings to mind. And few of the questions are actually answered in the text. As a reader, trying to puzzle out the answers myself is sometimes a disquieting experience.
    As a sci fi entry, the book is what I consider “marginal” sci fi. By that I mean it’s a plausible look at the near future, with the science fiction elements a modest projection of modern capabilities in the sciences. What is a shame is that this book has not managed to break through into the “mainstream” as a NYT best seller. It’s a far better offering than many now-forgotten books that have claimed that “honor”. As it is, I can only be glad that Mr. M. offered up this book as a BotM club selection. As a sci fi fan I feel as if I’ve been initiated into a special private club, to savor the book as private collectors figuratively drool over their art collections.
    I’ll try to come up with questions tomorrow night. Thanks to Ms. Moon for participating here, and to Mr. Mallozzi for bringing such a good book to my attention.

  12. The Speed of Dark

    I have to admit my thoughts early on were “why does Joe so love this book?”. Because in truth, compared to many sci fi books, not a lot happens. It’s sort of “Office Space” meets “Flowers for Algernon”. The stakes are high for just a few characters, born too early to be cured completely, but late enough to be made functional. There’s not a lot of intrigue, just a few people being jerks and others stumbling along as best they can.

    But as I discovered, it’s not the plot but the characters who make the book so engrossing. I came to care very much about what happened to Lou, his friends, and his enemies. I just had to know if Lou would take the treatment and what he’d be like afterward.

    The most memorable aspect for me was the description of the world through Lou’s eyes. His intense self-awareness, his confusion at “normal” human behavior, his fascination with patterns, lights, and colors, his frustration that the rest of us are so clueless about them. Lou is a heroic figure. He pushed the boundaries of his life so hard, learning fencing, daring to fall in love and nearly doing something about it, learning to rely on others even knowing he wasn’t fully able to judge their motivations. I love his methodical approach to everything, and his simple morality.

    At times I found myself wondering why I was so fascinated. I mean, the description of how Lou will replace four slashed tires goes on for pages, but I couldn’t stop reading them. (I loved the fencing descriptions, too, even though I barely know what a rapier is.)

    I missed Lou-before by the end, but I felt selfish for doing so. As beautiful a soul as he was before, he was not “happy” in my opinion. He was unsatisfied on many levels. And maybe that was partly because of what he’d been told all his life, but to the degree that life is about the people in our lives, he was missing so much. And I’m very glad he got to keep his genius.

    Questions for Elizabeth Moon:
    — Has an autistic person ever read the book and told you what they thought about it?

    — I read that you fence as a hobby. Would pattern recognition really help a person overcome basic lack of coordination?

    — Do you have any theories about why autism seems more common now than in the past?

    — Do you think Lou made the right choice?

  13. As one who has lived with Asbergers all my life, albeit undiagnosed for most of it, I read this story with great appreciation. It is a wonderful book.

  14. To Charles Schneider I so agree with you about expecting the pattern recognition job would turn out to be a major sci fi element. Like that the autists were being used to develop some world-changing AI or something. As to the deus-ex machina from the boss… Mr. Aldrin was about as adept at office politics as I am, but I could accept the seeds he planted were enough to trigger the CEO finding out. The CEO not being totally evil was maybe hard to believe, as was Crenshaw getting as far as he did with his insane plan.

  15. Joe,
    I was wondering if you could direct me to a few Sci Fi authors whos works would, for lack of a better term, be consider PG. I’m not asking for “kid” stuff, I am very much an adult however as a christian women I am mindful of what I read as I do not want to read something which uses foul language or has passages describing graphic sexual encounters. I’ve found my way to some very good authors in the christian suspense area who can pen wonderful stories that don’t offend my beliefs… but as a huge Sci Fi fan I would LOVE to find books that I can read that take me into the sci fi world (much as watching, SG1 and SGA and in the day ST and it’s offshoots) without offending my christian beliefs. I thank you for your time.

  16. @otrosojos You’re not alone on the jet lag. Even just the two hour’s change from Central to Pacific throws me off balance.

  17. Bonjour Joseph!!!

    =D Vous allez bien??? Moi super!!!

    Aujourd’hui c”est mon Anniversaire!!!! J’ai 19 ans =)

    Je ne sais pas encore quel cadeaux je vais avoir mais j’ai déja demander à mon pére de faire un fraisier en gateaux ..miammm…j’adore!!!

    Je voudriez bien avoir une nouvelles photos de vous pour mon anniversaire =D rien que pour moi ♥ …mais je rêve un peu ..nan?

    Passez une trés bonne journée!! Je pense que moi ça ira =)

    Bisou Bisou
    A bientôt!!!

  18. HI Mr M!

    If I can sneak in ONE more Caption under the wire….

    Carl Binder : “Anchor Man for the Oompa Loompa Human Pyramid Team”

    Congrats on the Short Story!


  19. First up, can I get a high-five for finishing a BOTM book?. Yay!

    I was curious with Speed of Dark because the main character is autistic and my nephew has Asperger’s Syndrome (on the high functioning end of the Autistic Spectrum). So I am intrigued with the way the autistic mind works.

    I must say that I loved Lou’s internal monologue. I actually found it very comforting. In fact I was REALLY annoyed when the author switched to Tom’s or Pete’s POV. I realise that there were things that need explaining that Lou was not privy to but this bugged me. The monologue in SOD reminded me of the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, another title with an autistic main character and a writing style that shows the autistic mind.

    Now down to the main themes. So, what is normal? Would I be normal if I was colourblind or my eyes were different colours? Is anyone normal? Surely everyone has something that makes them different from what is considered normal. Who decides this anyway, does it change over time? I puzzled over everyone’s quest to make Lou and the other autistics “normal”. I thought the best line from the book was actually uttered by Eric:

    Autistic is different, not bad. It is not wrong to be different. Sometimes it is hard, but it is not wrong.”

    While it might be fine to use research and technology to make people’s lives easier or cure certain illnesses and disorders, who has the right to tell a person that they must change to be so called “normal”. No-one, it is an individual decision. While it was sad to see that Lou’s relationships with his friends had changed, it was what he chose and he got to be in space which was what he wanted.

    I think the epilogue is hopeful. Lou gets to have his cake and eat it to. Lou-before is just as much a part of him as Lou-after, which I loved, and he seems confident in his choices and in control of his path.

    Cheers, Chev

  20. The Speed of Dark

    This is really a great book. Interesting from the beginning until the end. It’s thought-provoking, beyond Lou’s story. I could probably write a paper about it (at least in German 😉 ). I hope my thoughts are understandable and that there aren’t too much mistakes. Because my head is spinning now, after all the thinking. 😉

    Elizabeth Moon created very good and different characters. Lou was a likable person and I cared for him almost immediately. All the other characters were well drawn, too. The only exception is Marjory. The reader didn’t learn much about her and her real feelings, the reasons behind them. That’s a pity, because for Lou she had an important part in his life.

    I’m impressed about the kind of writing. It’s amazing. Admittedly, I don’t really know any autistic person, but this is exactly the way I imagine they think. It’s understandable and inherently consistent.

    This story leads to questions I’ve already asked myself in one way or another, just not necessarily in terms of autism.

    The biggest question: where does one draw the line? Between being normal and being autistic? What exactly is the difference? What is normal and, more important, who lays down the rules? Is there really a distinct boundary?

    Why should Lou and the other autistic people in the book be bad people? What exactly is the problem, some people have with them? Is it sometimes ‚just’ a kind of jealousy? For me that’s the case with Don and Mr. Crenshaw. Actually, in parts, I can understand them. It isn’t a great feeling when someone gets a preferred attention. Always and automatically, just because he is different and seemingly weaker in any form. However, this isn’t the way the book described the situation.

    Marjory didn’t choose Lou over Don because she felt pity for Lou. She just liked Lou. And she probably would have liked Don, too, if he hadn’t acted like a complete jerk. From Don’s point of view it’s so much easier to blame Lou for everything instead of himself. He was definitely a person who couldn’t take responsibility for his own actions. The question for me is, has anybody ever explained that to Don? Really, in a friendly way? Or did they just turn away and confirmed therefore his way of thinking? I don’t excuse Don and his actions in any form. I just think that circumstances often aren’t as easy as they seem. And mistakes can be made both ways. Maybe Don would have needed some kind of special attention, too. Maybe this wouldn’t have changed anything, because in the end he is who he is. Who knows?

    It was a striking parallel that Don got a brain chip and Lou later got a treatment for his brain as well. Both treatments, as different they might be, changed their personalities.

    Mr. Crenshaw saw just the special treatment for the autistic people as well. What he didn’t notice was, that they really earned that. They did excellent and valuable work for the company. Work, not everybody was able to do. Why shouldn’t they get some special treatments? All the more, since it didn’t cost the company anything (anymore). For me Mr. Crenshaw is a poor, jealous man who thought, he didn’t get the attention/treatment he deserved. He aimed at a (seemingly) weak group of people to distinguish himself. I’m glad that he was stopped.

    One reason I struggle with the definition ‚normal’ is, that normal is often (usually?) what the majority does/is like. You belong to a group – the ‚right kind’ of group. Anyone, who is different from that, isn’t normal.

    I don’t have problems to socialize. However, I’m a person who needs much time for herself. Definitely more than most other people. Since I was a kid I have been happy being left alone for hours. It hasn’t changed much since then. I still like daydreaming. To immerse myself into the world of books, films and forget my actual surroundings. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for talking and/or company. Is that bad? Is that something what autistic people do, too? Does that make me less normal than normal people? And if so, why would they even care?

    Another main topic from this story is the way people persuade others, what they are able to do and what not. Especially with certain illnesses it’s ‘a common knowledge’ that ‚they can’t, they aren’t able to, they will never, they need help’ and stuff like that. But is this really the truth? Maybe they just need more support and time. Maybe they just need more self-confidence.

    It’s sad, that other people can make us believe things about us, which aren’t necessary true. Lou observed that himself. He started to question things. Things and opinions he has believed all his life. He believed them and accepted them as given. But finally he started to question them. Was he really not able to do certain things – or was that just what other people said and he believed it? I’m not someone who lets other people telling me how I am and what I can or can’t do. Not little people call that just being stubborn. For me it’s more like living my own live.

    People, who have known someone for years, tend to ignore changes. They tend to pigeon-hole you and leave you there for the rest of your life. Sometimes that can be frustrating. And you may question yourself whether you have really changed. The worst case? You fall back into old habits, because everyone around you believes you’re like that anyway. Probably the only people who noticed that Lou has changed (before the treatment) were Tom and his wife. In my opinion they were the only ones who really endorsed him. Being just himself. Not even ‘his own people’ – the autistic ones – were doing that.

    Lou’s thoughts about not being able to understand other people (the meaning of their words, their expressions)? He had really no idea, how normal that is, hadn’t he? Even when everybody would just say what he really means, there would still be enough room for different interpretations. Maybe the only difference between ‘normal’ people and Lou is, that normal people often pretend to understand each other.

    I have mixed feelings about the end of the book. Of course, Lou eventually wanted the treatment. Everything went well after some time. He could life his dream. Objectively everything is fine. I just don’t feel well with it. With the fact, that he has changed and became in a way a different person. Not just a non-autistic one. I believe everybody changes more or less while he is getting older. Friends come and sadly sometimes they go. Feelings and the way someone thinks change. You can love someone more than anything else in the world and years later you can’t even imagine why you ever loved him. However, those changes happen naturally. Mostly over a long period, because of the things which happen in one’s life.

    It was different with Lou. The changes were forced, they happen suddenly and quite randomly – not because of events in his life. For example, maybe his feelings for Marjory would have changed anyway. Naturally. I just don’t feel comfortable with the way they have changed now. How much from Lou is still actually Lou? And what is artificially? Especially since he had already changed before the treatment. He had started to question things about him, his life, the people around him. Where would this path have led him to?

    Surely, the decision for or against the treatment wasn’t an easy one. In the end it’s a question nobody can answer for another person.

    Maybe it doesn’t really matter, as long as Lou is happy now. I hope, he is. And that this isn’t something others made him believe.

    For the questions. I’m not good in asking questions. I would be a lousy journalist. 😉 It’s a good thing, that you have more talented readers than me. However, it’s often the case that I have questions after reading the Q & A. Because some answers lead to new questions or new topics. I probably would need a following Q & A. Isn’t going to happen, I know. 😉

  21. Hi again Mr M!

    Keep meaning to do this, and finally got the technology to do so!

    Seeing as you always post such lovely pics of the pugs…here is one pic of our lovable rogue Duncan the Dalmation.


    Best to all


  22. I can’t believe I missed the 1000th post, on my Birthday as well! Curse the craziness surrounding my Birthday and my Dad’s wedding.

    Congratulations any way!

    I’ve been following your blog for over a year now, hope to reading it for many more years to come!

  23. Hi Joe,

    I went out and read “The Speed of Dark” on your recommendation and really enjoyed it. It is not just one of those books that you put down and forget about, you really think about it after you finished.

    I agree with your review of the book, it was great. I have read elsewhere that it was the publishers that classified it as a scifi book, which may explain why it is under that, even though as pointed out above, it is more marginally a scifi.

    Thanks for the recommendation of the book!


  24. Question:

    Quand vous rédigez un dialogue, le lisez-vous à voix haute pour vérifier si les phrases sonnent bien à l’oreille, pour entendre les répliques afin de vous assurer qu’elles sonnent naturelles?

  25. Er… nothing, Batman. I’m just fine. ::teehee::

    Congratulations on getting published, Joe! That is some pretty heady company.

  26. I thoroughly enjoyed The Speed of Dark. I love books that offer a different take on the world, and this story certainly does that. This is one of those books where I got done reading, and then had to take a break from reading because I just didn’t want to leave Lou’s universe…

    I really loved the exploration, through Lou eyes, of what it means to be normal. Lou is an adult with autism, but he is able to live an independent life. He drives to and from work, he is able to earn a decent wage doing a specialized job, he has hobbies, and friends who care for him, and to all intents and purposes, he is normal. He has the same worries and concerns this normal person has — worries about being judged in social situations, worries about losing his job, moments of self-doubt because he feels he doesn’t fit in quite right. These are all things I would imagine many normal people could identify with, and yet Lou is considered abnormal because his brain doesn’t process data the way most other people’s brains do.

    Lou spends so much of the novel debating what it means to be normal, and ultimately decides to go through with the treatment to be normal so he can relate to other people, be more like them. It struck me as kind of ironic that the first thing Lou does after his treatment is sign up to be an astronaut, and travel to the stars, far away from all the normal people just like him. Is that what normal means? Wanting so much to be like everyone else right up until we are, and then we want to be something different and escape?

    I found the end of the novel bittersweet. On the one hand, Lou gets to live his childhood dream of travelling to the stars. On the other, in attaining that dream, he loses his feelings for Marjorie, and the opportunity she afforded him of having a very normal loving relationship with another human being. I can’t help feeling that Lou paid a very high price to become normal.

    To be honest, I would have been quite happy for the book to wrap up two chapters earlier than it did, with Lou on the cusp of undergoing treatment. Don’t get me wrong — I liked the ending we got, but I would also have been quite happy with an open-ended, ‘imagine for yourself if the treatment worked’ type ending as well. To me, it felt like, at that point, Lou’s story was pretty much complete — he’d made his peace with his decision to undergo the treatment, and the remainder of the book felt like it was more for reader reassurance, if that makes sense?

    One thing I really admired was the recurring metaphor of the speed of dark for being something different. I love how, at the end of the book, when Lou is finally on his way to the stars, he makes an observation to the effect that the speed of light has finally caught up to the speed of dark. I read that as shorthand for Lou finally realizing that he’s normal, whatever that means.

    I am somewhat torn on the notion of developing drugs and/or computer chips to regulate behaviour. I thought it was an interesting idea to raise: what if we could condition abnormal behaviour — make everyone normal, productive members of society. On the one hand, you would be able to get rid of anti-social behaviour like that of Don. On the other, who gets to decide what it means to be normal? The Crenshaws of the world? People like Lou’s psychiatrist (who didn’t know anything, really, about Lou’s private life — his burgeoning feelings for Marjory; his interest in fencing, and relationship with Tom and Lucia and the other members of the fencing club)? People like Lou himself, regarded by so many around him as deficient, substandard, even though he’s clearly not?

    Question for Elizabeth Moon: Did you have the last few chapters in mind before you started writing The Speed of Dark? Or was it something that grew organically as the story went along?

  27. RE: the article on coin flipping:
    I’m actually terrible at traditional flipping w/my thumb (I flip too far & it rolls away somewhere…) so I always toss out of my open palm. As a kid I discovered that whatever side was up before the toss landed in my hand up. After the catch when I put the coin to the back of my other hand, it’s the opposite result from the start. I can win probably 95% of the time. I used to say to my younger siblings “Tails never fails” & then begin with heads & win.
    & now that I’ve told you it’s your own fault if you ever lose to me 😉

  28. @Charles Schneider: I thought the deux ex machina way in which Crenshaw exited the book was accomplished in a rather clever manner.

    When Lou’s boss discusses the treatment with Lou and co., the boss gets some flack from Lou for talking about trying to help rather than doing something to help Lou and Linda and Chuy and co. I thought the way Moon was able to show how Lou’s boss really did do something to help, even though Lou himself doesn’t really see/appreciate it, was very well done. If Lou’s boss hadn’t done what he did, calling around and publicizing Crenshaw’s plan to the point that the big boss finally heard about it, Crenshaw would have succeeded in his little plan to force Lou and the others to undergo the treatment.

    In some ways, I thought this helped to highlight that, for all his skill in recognizing patterns, there were some things Lou just missed. And I guess, I really liked that for all these people around Lou who were trying to help him when he didn’t really want it (e.g. the psychiatrist), here was one person who helped Lou tremendously, even if Lou didn’t entirely recognize it. I was quite impressed with Lou’s boss — he helps quietly, and without expectation of benefit to himself.

  29. @silver_comet: I know what you mean about the ending. Going through the treatment does make Lou a different person, and it feels a bit sad that Lou-before never gets a chance to realize his potential.

    It kind of makes me wish there was a branch universe, one in which Lou-before chooses not to go through with the treatment. One in which he finally asks Marjory out on a date, and continues to fence on Wednesdays (and the occasional competition weekend) with Tom and Lucia.

  30. Joe – Lou says to look for the book sometime in 2010. You will give us a head’s up, I’m sure…but I was wondering if you know if this is going to be a general release thing (something you can pick up at your local bookstore), or limited, and only available through select outlets.

    Thankies, sir. And have a good day! Pups and the missus, too! And Carl…can’t forget Carl…


  31. I promise to read this book. I wanted to have had it finished by now (I haven’t even started). Life is getting in the way. Having a child with autism who is completely on the opposite end of the spectrum and can’t do anything for himself is…well…all consuming, in between working full-time, too (which has included now the last 3 weekends). Only had July 11/12 off and July 4/5 from work. The rest of the days I was working and then once done, giving my husband a break from watching him.

  32. Oh! Silly me…

    Disregard my last question. I forgot…you’re sending me a copy for free! 😉

    (Hey…it’s worth a try, I mean…with my entitlement and all… 😀 )


  33. Alright Joe!!! I’m getting excited about reading Downfall.

    Are you going to make With Great Power book of the month with a Q&A with you? you know no Star Gate questions just writing and Downfall questions?

  34. Congratulations Mr. M!!!!

    Shirt n’ Tie: Beautiful dog, beautiful countryside.

    Otrosojos and Gilder: I would love some jet lag, these long car trips I’ve been on every weekend since Oct 2008 ( for sick releatives) are killing me. I must be the only person that dreads the weekend.


  35. Juste un petit passage avant de finir ma journée. Au finale j’ai eu un framboisier en gateaux…(encore plus bon =)

    J’ai passer une super journée!

    Bisou, à plus tard.

  36. Thanks Joe, for making this a BOTM selection (and again for making it A book not 3 or 4, I love reading but just couldn’t keep up)!

    I really enjoyed The Speed of Dark. Getting to know Lou and then watching him grow and step out of his comfort zone, even if he was pushed (or shoved) at times, was fascinating. I think because he was such a likeable human being. I was surprised that he decided to undergo the treatment especially because I didn’t think he had finished his research. He was so through and meticulous with everything else, I was worried for him. I do think he had made so many changes to and in his life that he felt he was ready for the next step. Like Michelle said earlier, I felt selfish for missing Lou-before. I was sorry the book ended because I wanted more.

    Questions for Ms. Moon:
    I’m curious about your writing process. I read that you researched Autism in depth for this book, did you have a spark of an idea about the storyline or about the characters prior to your research? Or did the research lead to the story/characters? Do you know the end prior to writing a story or does the story dictate itself to you as you write? What inspires you to write?

    Thanks for taking the time to blog with us!


  37. Shirt ‘n’ Tie – What a gorgeous place and a very spunky dog. Have to ask, do you ever mow all that grass or do you just employ some sheep? If it’s sheep, my Kelpie wants to know if Duncan wants to play.

  38. hi joe!!!

    who has won the caption legend????

    what is the utility of ground chevron?

    can we see a photo of internal and external of shuttlepod?


  39. My opinion is that the dark is already there, so it’s faster than light. And slower. The Speed of Dark is one of the best and most disturbing books I’ve ever read. I’m finding it very hard to put my feelings about it into words.

    JM What is normal? I don’t believe there is a “normal”, only a range of whatever is being compared- intelligence, social, verbal, sensory etc.
    How does one weigh the value of identity in the face of progress? That is up to the individual. It’s why I prize free will above all else.
    And what is the speed of dark? Metaphorically, IMO it’s how fast you can or cannot deal with change.

    Don’s actions were definitely wrong, but I got his frustration and anger in the context that I’ve found people like him always blame some other than himself and try to destroy what they can’t or won’t understand. Same as the boss Crenshaw. Aldrin
    made an attempt to understand because of his life experience. Like Tom, at the end I found it very hard to accept that Lou didn’t value things about himself that I valued. I mourned the loss of his pattern recognition ability and love of Marjory. But he
    thought of those things as liabilities. You can’t second guess a decision an adult makes for himself, which for Lou that he wanted to be “normal” and pursue other work and interests. It is the right of free will, and that I think it’s a waste of talent is
    irrelevant. A big question I wonder about, would Lou have been able to stop Don after the treatment? I keep coming up with “no”. In the end, I thought Lou was as “normal” as anyone because he did better than I would in a lot of the situations he
    was in, and was upset that he believed that he wasn’t normal because someone told him so.

    I look fwd to the Q&A. I might have more to say, I read the Guide in the back of the book before I read the book, to make sure I had a grasp of things. But it pretty much answered questions I had for now. Again, a really good read and Ms Moon’s turn of phrase and art of language is always appreciated.

  40. Gilder: It’s good to know I’m not the only one who can get a bit drained by even brief air travel. I think my problem is partly a touch of claustrophobia, but if anyone asks, I just tell them that the flight attendants went into the pilot’s cabin every five minutes and came out looking worried. So feeling a bit “off” actually looks good compared to the state of near-panic everyone else was in.

    Tammy Dixon: I know what you mean, and don’t envy you. My former long-drive weekends were for other reasons, but they still wore me down over time. I hope you hold up okay.

    Joe, more kudos on your status as soon-to-be published short-story writer. Sci-fi TV series producer and scriptwriter = very, very cool; writing in two media = s/über fly. – Funny cartoon, but obviously the comedian is jealous of Batman. – You had your suspicions?! Oh come on, you know George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell were just messing around on set – I think. . . .

  41. I greatly enjoyed The Speed of Dark. This is the first book I’ve read by Elizabeth Moon, and I’m eager to check out her other work.

    Like Thornyrose, I was strongly impressed — at times, amazed — by the author’s ability to develop the character of Lou Arrendale from a first-person point of view. Even in fantasy, it takes great imagination and craftsmanship to create a world that’s 1) credible and 2) internally consistent when portrayed almost wholly through the eyes of the main character. In a work that’s not fantasy, the author has the added task of making sure that her main character/narrator remains quite believable when compared to one or more peer groups (for lack of a better term) that already exist in our own society. Given Lou’s attributes as an autistic person — moreover, noting his exceptionally gifted, perhaps genius-level mind, and his significant insight on incredibly varied topics — Moon’s accomplishment in writing with his voice is highly laudable and establishes The Speed of Dark as an outstanding cross-genre work, as Joe said.

    Repeating what a reviewer said, for me, this is a life-changing book. A brief clinical rotation in child psych left me feeling that autism was a foreign country to which I couldn’t possibly gain access. After getting to know Lou and his co-workers, I’ll never feel that way again, even while realizing that at present, many people with autism (and those around them) deal with much more difficulty arising from the condition. As well, what understanding I’ve gained is helping me see many other different, “abnormal” behaviors from a changed perspective — more empathetic, less from a purely analytical (and inadequately informed) standpoint. The author’s deft portrayal of many different people, each with his/her own unique personality makes it easier for the reader to take those steps.

    As a case in point, Emmy is not an autist, but she is different — developmentally disabled, as I took it. She has a strong personality and equally strong feelings for Lou. Her jealousy of Marjory, with resulting statements and actions, culminates in her telling Lou that he needs to associate with “your own kind” — although Emmy, like many other people, doesn’t perceive the difference between her disorder and Lou’s. In this way, the author not only nudges readers about the tendency to lump together all disorders that are superficially similar; she also brings in another concept related to communities of people outside the majority: Some who face obstacles in society, as well as those who advocate for them, may seek varying degrees of separation from “normals.” Such people may not feel a need to be “cured” or even to acquire tools for coping with the rest of society. Should it be required of them to do so? Or to shift focus, to what degree will society choose to go in disabling (for instance) antisocial behavior, like that displayed by Don and Mr. Crenshaw? Since Don’s treatment is much more humane than that shown in, say, A Clockwork Orange, the option to protect others via a minor neurosurgical procedure is attractive from one POV, perhaps still a bit disturbing from another. Clearly, The Speed of Dark is packed with thought-provoking issues, but Moon’s skill as a writer keeps that element from becoming at all oppressive. The story flows as smooth as silk, from fascinating visual details to funny moments and everything else it comprises.

    – Joe, thanks much for recommending this book.

    Questions for Elizabeth Moon:

    1) Which aspects of The Speed of Dark were most challenging to you as a writer?

    2) If this isn’t too personal, which parts of the writing process were a) most difficult, and b) most rewarding for you as the mother of an autistic person?

    3) Regarding some (or all) of the controversial issues raised in this book, would you consider addressing them again from a different slant at some point in the future?

  42. Hi Joe –

    It’s been along while since I had a chance to weigh in on a BotM selection. And it seems I am a little late with this one – many of your readers have already posted very detailed and thoughtful reviews, most of which touched upon some point of my own reaction to the book.

    I really enjoyed this book, although, like some, I wonder at it being classified as scifi. One part I particularly enjoyed was when Mr. Aldrin finally ‘grew a pair’ and set the wheels in motion to turn the voluntary program truly voluntary.

    And I may be crazy, but I didn’t enjoy the ending as much as most others did. Am I the only person in the group to see the darker side? Maybe I projected too much into it, but when I read of him finally out in space, all I could do was flashback to earlier in the book to the description of possible uses for the treatment. It talked about the problem in space-based employment was getting people to concentrate and not be distracted, and that the sensory imputs in space are not what people on earth are used to.
    All I could think about was Lou thinking he finally is doing what he wants, as a ‘normal’ person. What if he was set up? What if during his post-treatment recovery he was programmed to want to go into space and work? It disturbed me – and kudos to Ms Moon! Disturbing means I will think about it harder and longer – even if I didn’t get it right, and it really was a ‘happily ever after’ending.

  43. For Joe – Many thanks, once again.

    For Elizabeth Moon –

    I really enjoyed your book and the unique perspective you used to tell this story. Since this draws from some of your own personal experience, thank you for sharing part of this world with so many others. I did have a few questions for you.

    1. The book is more about interactions experienced by perceived social outsiders than a sci-fi story – did this direction evolve as you wrote or was this a deliberate decision before you began writing? And, how long did it take to write this?

    2. How difficult was it to make Lou’s character believable and to write the story from his point of view?

    3. What was behind the decision to have Lou’s parents already departed?

    4. What I liked about Lou was that he expected to be self sufficient and was always surprised when others were wiling to help him out. Was this supposed to reflect an autist’s difficulty in reading social cues or was it simply supposed to be part of Lou’s personal experience with people in general?

    5. Lou’s autistic friends and co-workers were generally more reluctant than Lou to socialize with “normal” people. How common is it for autistics to integrate into wider or larger social circles?

    6. Did you know how the story would end when you began writing this (with many questions unanswered); and, did you know how you were going to write it?

  44. Sorry I can’t concentrate on your book. I just read on David Hewlett’s website that the Stargate Atlantis movie may not even happen?!?!?! Say it ain’t so Joe!

  45. have you got any visual descriptions of lou at all? i was looking for someone to dress as for world book day and i really love the sound of this book and would love to dress as lou

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