The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark

4.2 41
by Elizabeth Moon
     
 

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In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Unfortunately, there will be a generation left behind. For members of that missed generation, small advances will be made. Through various programs, they will be taught to get along in the world despite their differences. They…  See more details below

Overview

In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Unfortunately, there will be a generation left behind. For members of that missed generation, small advances will be made. Through various programs, they will be taught to get along in the world despite their differences. They will be made active and contributing members of society. But they will never be normal.

Lou Arrendale is a member of that lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the awards of medical science. Part of a small group of high-functioning autistic adults, he has a steady job with a pharmaceutical company, a car, friends, and a passion for fencing. Aside from his annual visits to his counselor, he lives a low-key, independent life. He has learned to shake hands and make eye contact. He has taught himself to use “please” and “thank you” and other conventions of conversation because he knows it makes others comfortable. He does his best to be as normal as possible and not to draw attention to himself.
But then his quiet life comes under attack. It starts with an experimental treatment that will reverse the effects of autism in adults. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music–with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world–shades and hues that others cannot see? Most importantly, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings?Would it be easier for her to return the love of a “normal”?
There are intense pressures coming from the world around him–including an angry supervisor who wants to cut costs by sacrificing the supports necessary to employ autistic workers. Perhaps even more disturbing are the barrage of questions within himself. For 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.
Thoughtful, provocative, poignant, unforgettable, The Speed of Dark is a gripping exploration into the mind of an autistic person as he struggles with profound questions of humanity and matters of the heart.

Author Biography: Elizabeth Moon is a native Texan who grew up two hundred and fifty miles south of San Antonio. After earning a degree in history from Rice University, she spent three years in the Marine Corps, then earned a degree in Biology from the University of Texas, Austin. She is intimately acquainted with autism, through the raising of an autistic son, now a teenager. She lives in Florence, Texas.

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Editorial Reviews

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." (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
In the not-too-distant future, Lou Arrendale is one of the last of his kind, an autistic man who benefited from early intervention training as a child but was born too late for the genetic treatments now done on infants. Lou enjoys his job and does well in a workplace that provides a supportive environment. He has an apartment, drives a car, and fences once a week. His days have a regular and comforting routine to them, especially when he contemplates ideas such as the speed of dark and whether it is faster than light. When it appears that there is a way to "cure" autism in adults, a new manager tries to take away the supports, pressuring Lou and his coworkers into getting the treatment. Uncertain that he wants the treatment, Lou worries whether he will be the same person. Much of his background includes a kind of autistic culture where "'normal' is a dryer setting," and he has learned to like who he is. At the same time, he wonders what it would feel like to be "normal." In the end, what matters is not what Lou chooses but whether he has the choice to say yes or no. Moon, herself the mother of an autistic child, captures the singular perspective of the autist in her portrayal of Lou yet makes it clear that people with autism are not all alike-and that the so-called "normal" people have more in common with the autistic than perhaps they would like to admit. Some characters, such as the psychiatrist who treats Lou as a low-functioning child and the insensitive new manager, seem over the top, but sadly, as the mother of a child with Asperger Syndrome, which falls in the autism spectrum, this reviewer can confirm that they are all too real. The story is engrossing and beautifully writtenwith wide appeal for young adults. Those who like books such as Flowers for Algernon will devour it. Thoughtful and thought provoking, the book raises serious issues and questions of importance for everyone while telling a poignant and hopeful tale. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Del Rey, 352p,
— Donna Scanlon
Library Journal
Well-known sf writer Moon (Heris Serano) is also the mother of an autistic teenager. In her latest book, she movingly depicts an autistic adult struggling with a momentous decision. Lou Arrendal functions on a fairly high level: he has a job with a pharmaceutical company and leads a quiet, independent life. Telling Lou's story from his perspective, Moon depicts his thought processes and his interactions with his co-workers, therapist, and others around him, clearly revealing some of the social obstacles that an autistic person faces. Lou's difference from "normal" people is highlighted by his obsession with the "speed of dark," a puzzle dismissed by everyone else as trivial. When an experimental treatment offers Lou a chance to reverse his autism, he must choose between remaining himself or possibily becoming a different person. Unlike Daniel Keye's classic Flowers for Algernon, Moon's work shows little of Lou's life after the treatment and spares readers from the tragedy of Lou's losing what he had at the novel's beginning. Recommended for larger fiction collections and academic libraries with disability studies and autism collections.-Corey Seeman, Univ. of Toledo Libs., OH Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Military-SF novelist Moon (Against the Odds, 2000, etc.) offers a touching account of an autistic man who struggles to cure his condition without changing his self. Lou Arrendal, a computer programmer at a large corporation, lives alone but has a pretty tight group of friends and belongs to a fencing club. He is also autistic. Although Lou works in a special section of his company (Section A) that's comprised entirely of autistics, he spends much of his free time with "normals" and is secretly in love with Marjory Shaw, a normal at the local university. Quite a few of the autistics in Lou's support group resent his spending time with her, seeing it as a form of betrayal and self-hatred. Lou's supervisor, Peter Aldrin, has an autistic brother, understands their problems, and has been extremely sensitive to the his Section A employees. But his CEO, Mr. Crenshaw, can't see past the balance sheet and is eager to shut the section down and get rid of the autistics altogether. And he may have found a way. A new drug is said to cure autism, and Mr. Crenshaw wants Section A to take it. Most of them are wary-they suffer from a condition, not a disease, and have good reason to suspect Crenshaw's motives. Lou is unsure as well, but before he can make up his mind, he faces more immediate threats. Someone has begun stalking him-slashing his tires, then planting a bomb in the car's engine-and the police make him hide out while they investigate. To Lou it makes no sense at all and confirms his low opinion of the normals. Does he really want to be like them? Or can the exceptions (such as Marjory) make the change worthwhile? Sometimes a life and death struggle is not the hardest kind. Well-written,intelligent, quite moving. Moon places the reader inside the world of an autistic and unflinchingly conveys the authenticity of his situation.
From the Publisher
“Splendid and graceful . . . A lot of novels promise to change the way a reader sees the world; The Speed of Dark actually does.”—The Washington Post Book World
 
“[A] beautiful and moving story . . . [Elizabeth] Moon is the mother of an autistic teenager and her love is apparent in the story of Lou. He makes a deep and lasting impact on the reader while showing a different way of looking at the world.”—The Denver Post
 
“Every once in a while, you come across a book that is both an important literary achievement and a completely and utterly absorbing reading experience—a book with provocative ideas and an equally compelling story. Such a book is The Speed of Dark.”—Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
 
“A remarkable journey [that] takes us into the mind of an autistic with a terrible choice: become normal or remain an alien on his own planet.”—Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow
 
“A powerful portrait . . . an engaging journey into the dark edges that define the self.”—The Seattle Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345481399
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/28/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.84(w) x 4.14(h) x 1.04(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Monk stood on the embankment staring at the lights reflected on the misty waters of the Thames as dusk settled over the city. He had solved his latest case to the satisfaction of his client, and twenty guineas were sitting comfortably in his pocket. Behind him, coaches and carriages moved through the spring evening and the sound of laughter punctuated the clip of hooves and jingle of harness.

It was too far from here to Fitzroy Street for Monk to walk home, and a hansom was an unnecessary expense. The omnibus would do very well. There was no hurry because Hester would not be there. This was one of the nights when she worked at the house in Coldbath Square which had been set up with Callandra Daviot's money in order to give medical help to women of the streets who had been injured or become ill, mostly in the course of their trade.

He was proud of the work Hester did, but he missed her company in the evenings. It startled him how deeply, since his marriage, he had been accustomed to sharing his thoughts with her, to her laughter, her ideas, or simply to looking across the room and seeing her there. There was a warmth in the house that was missing when she was gone.

How unlike his old self that was! In the past he would not have shared the core inside him with anyone, nor allowed someone to become important enough to him that her presence could make or mar his life. He was surprised how much he preferred the man he had become.

Thinking of medical help, and Callandra's assistance, turned his mind to the last murder he had dealt with, and to Kristian Beck, whose life had been torn apart by it. Beck had discovered things about himself and his wife which hadoverturned his beliefs, even the foundations of his own identity. His entire heritage had not been what he had assumed, nor his culture, his faith, or the core of who he was.

Monk understood in a unique way Beck's shock and the numbing confusion that had gripped him. A coaching accident nearly seven years before had robbed him of his own memory before that, and forced on him the need to re-create his identity. He had deduced much about himself from unarguable evidence, and while some things were admirable, there were too many that displeased him and lay shadowed across the yet unknown.

Even in his present happiness the vast spaces of ignorance troubled him from time to time. Kristian's shattering discoveries had woken new doubts in Monk, and a painful awareness that he knew almost nothing of his roots or the people and the beliefs that had cradled him.

He was Northumbrian, from a small seaboard town where his sister, Beth, still lived. He had lost touch with her, which was his own fault, partly out of fear of what she would tell him of himself, partly because he simply felt alienated from a past he could no longer recall. He felt no bond with that life or its cares.

Beth could have told him about his parents and probably his grandparents too. But he had not asked.

Should he try now, when it mattered more urgently, to build a bridge back to her so he could learn? Or might he find, like Kristian, that his heritage was nothing like his present self and he was cut off from his own people? He might find, as Kristian had, that their beliefs and their morality cut against the grain of his own.

For Kristian, the past he believed and that had given him identity had been wrenched out of his hands, shown to be a fabrication created out of the will to survive, easy to understand but not to admire, and bitterly hard to own.

If Monk were at last to know himself as most people do automatically—the religious ties, the allegiances, the family loves and hates—might he too discover a stranger inside his skin, and one he could not like? He turned away from the river and walked along the footpath toward the nearest place where he could cross the street through the traffic and catch the omnibus home.

Perhaps he would write to Beth again, but not yet. He needed to know more. Kristian's experience weighed on him and would not let him rest. But he was also afraid, because the possibilities were too many, and too disturbing, and what he had created was too dear to risk.

Copyright© 2002 by Elizabeth Moon

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Splendid and graceful . . . A lot of novels promise to change the way a reader sees the world; The Speed of Dark actually does.”—The Washington Post Book World
 
“[A] beautiful and moving story . . . [Elizabeth] Moon is the mother of an autistic teenager and her love is apparent in the story of Lou. He makes a deep and lasting impact on the reader while showing a different way of looking at the world.”—The Denver Post
 
“Every once in a while, you come across a book that is both an important literary achievement and a completely and utterly absorbing reading experience—a book with provocative ideas and an equally compelling story. Such a book is The Speed of Dark.”—Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
 
“A remarkable journey [that] takes us into the mind of an autistic with a terrible choice: become normal or remain an alien on his own planet.”—Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow
 
“A powerful portrait . . . an engaging journey into the dark edges that define the self.”—The Seattle Times

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Meet the Author

Elizabeth Moon is a native Texan who grew up two hundred and fifty miles south of San Antonio. After earning a degree in history from Rice University, she spent three years in the Marine Corps, then earned a degree in biology from the University of Texas, Austin. She is intimately acquainted with autism, through the raising of an autistic son. She lives in Florence, Texas.

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