The Speed of Dark

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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 ...
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The Speed of Dark

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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: 6/28/2005
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.84 (w) x 4.14 (h) x 1.04 (d)

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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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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Interviews & Essays

A CONVERSATION WITH ELIZABETH MOON

Paul Witcover:
You're known as a science fiction writer, but even though
The Speed of Dark is set in the near future, the world you depict is not
too different from the world of today. Certain technology, such as
genetic engineering and nanotechnology, is more advanced than at
present, but the society in which Lou Arrendale and the other characters
live and work seems contemporaneous. How much of a change of pace
was this novel for you? Is it science fiction? And if so, what makes it
science fiction?

Elizabeth Moon: This was definitely a change of pace. Occasionally
an idea or a character blindsides me and knocks me right out of what I
intended to do next. Whether it's science fiction or not depends on the
reader's definition of science fiction. Although it's set in the future (or
near future), the issues facing the characters are indeed those of today.

PW: What is autism? Is it a genetic condition? A mental illness? The
result of an infection? Physical trauma? I've even heard infant
immunizations blamed.

EM: Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. The diagnostic
criteria are found in DSM-IV (the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association),
but this source is very much out of date for treatment and prognosis.
Most children with autism are clearly born with it, and the best current
evidence suggests that something begins to be different in autistic fetuses
well before birth. It is not known whether maternal infections or trauma
can cause this "difference." It usedto be considered a mental illness
(which is why you find it described in the psychiatric literature), but
it's not currently given that classification. Since it occurs at higher
frequencies in families with other cases of autism and related
neurological conditions, genetics certainly plays some role in many, if not
most, cases of autism. Some people will blame anything, however
unlikely, and in the face of contrary data; there is no evidence that infant
immunizations cause autism.

PW: What are some of the warning signs that parents should be aware
of? Where can people go for more information or help?

EM: The autistic spectrum includes a range of developmental disabilities
that are similar but not identical. Classical autism presents as
developmental delay, often global, but particularly affecting sensory
integration; fine-motor coordination; language, both receptive and
expressive; and social interaction. The amount of delay varies widely.
What a parent will notice first, most likely, is marked delay in language
acquisition, marked delay in normal social interaction, and very
restricted activities/interests compared to other children the same age.
The autistic child may not talk at all, or speak only to echo what he just
heard, or repeat that jingle. He may ignore TV to sit by the bureau
flicking the handles of drawers over and over. He is likely to do the same
thing hour after hour, day after day: stacking blocks, winding and
unwinding string, some other repetitive activity. Autistic individuals have
great difficulty learning to "read" the social cues the rest of us use—tone
of voice, facial expression, etc. A child whose autism is milder, and
undiagnosed until school age, will usually demonstrate very uneven
abilities—excelling in one subject, and flunking in another—and will
also have the associated difficulty in reciprocal social interactions.

PW: Milder . . . Is this where Asperger's Syndrome comes in?

EM: Asperger's Syndrome, which is related to autism in many ways,
does not involve language delay—Asperger's kids may talk early and
fluently—but does involve delays and difficulties with social interaction
similar to those in autism. As with classical autism, there is a wide range
of severity. If a child talks "on time" but does not develop reciprocal
social skills—can't hold a conversation with turn-taking, doesn't play
with others—that's also cause for concern.
All small children do things that autistic children do, all the lists of
behaviors you may have seen in magazine articles, but normal children
also do much more. If they repeat advertising jingles ad nauseam, they
can also demand more cookies, ask questions, play pretend games with
friends, argue about bedtime. Normal children may also have strong
idiosyncratic interests. I was horse-crazy, and made endless parades of my
toy horses. They may flap their hands, spin the wheels of toy cars, act shy
and refuse eye contact, or be unusually sensitive to texture or taste, all
without being autistic . . . if the rest of their development is coming
along at the usual rate, if these "autistic" behaviors aren't the only ones
they have. Children do vary in their acquisition of social skills; they all
have to be "civilized" into the normal give-and-take of social interaction.
What matters is not any particular behavior, but the overall pattern of
development.
Since language delay has several causes, all of them important to a
child's future, any delay in talking should be checked out. The child may
have a hearing loss or any of several other problems—autism is only one
of the possibilities—but the sooner the cause is identified and therapy
begun, the better.
Parents today have many resources. If they have a concern about
a child's development, any of the basic books on infant and child
development will give them some guidelines. Day-care and nurseryschool
teachers, who have seen hundreds of children, are also helpful
resources—they know when a given child is or isn't making
developmental milestones. Doctors vary in their understanding of
autism; some may be reluctant to make the diagnosis early because when
they went to school it was a very bad one. But most family practitioners
and pediatricians are at least familiar with the diagnostic criteria, and can
help families determine if autism is a possibility.

PW: Lou Arrendale is an extraordinarily vivid creation. There have been
books and movies that feature autistic people before, such as Rain Man,
but I can't recall another treatment that gets inside an autist's head as
deeply as you do here. I know you have an autistic son; how much of
Lou is based on your son and your experiences in raising him?

EM: Our son was certainly the starting point and the inspiration—
eighteen years of 24/7 experience provides a lot of information (he was
seventeen or eighteen when I started the book). In addition, I had read
books by Oliver Sacks; Temple Grandin, who is herself autistic and a fine
advocate for the autistic community; Clara Park, whose autistic daughter,
a talented artist, is now in her forties; and others, and had found online
groups of autistic individuals who demonstrated the wide variety of
personalities and abilities that autistic people have.
Lou's character is, however, quite different from that of our son; Lou
is the product of early intervention and educational advances that were
not available when our son was born. He's also innately more intelligent,
with a high IQ; our son's is low normal. Lou is by nature a quieter and
more thoughtful person; our son is more exuberant.

PW: Despite being autistic, Lou functions better than many so-called
normal people. He has a job, friends, interests. He is highly intelligent
and extremely sensitive to certain sensations and perceptions, such as, for
example, smells and textures. And his pattern recognition abilities, which
he relies on in every aspect of his life, from his job at the pharmaceutical
company to his hobby of fencing to his interactions with others, are
phenomenal. How typical is Lou of people with autism today in terms of
his social skills and mental abilities?

EM: Here it makes a huge difference which generation of autistic
persons you're talking about. Most autistic children born in the 1940s
and before were characterized as having "infantile schizophrenia" and
were institutionalized early as hopeless (as in Rain Man). Only a few
exceptionally intelligent autistic children had the kind of support they
needed to achieve independent living as adults. As late as DSM-IV, the
prognosis was that only 30 percent of the most intelligent and capable
autistic persons would ever live independently. However, with the advent
of mandated public education for all students and early childhood
intervention, the situation has improved markedly. Social problems
are still the main reason for autistic persons not achieving full
independence, but more and more of them are holding jobs and living in
less sheltered environments. They are still earning less than non-autistic
persons of equivalent intelligence, and autistic persons who are also
retarded or have another disability (physical or other) are still likely to
need lifelong assistance of some kind—but few now are consigned to
residential institutions. I expect that in the next five to ten years, as
children who received good therapy in the birth-to-five-years range
reach adulthood, we will see a reversal of the DSM-IV prognosis, with
60 percent or more holding jobs. Assuming, of course, that the economy
improves . . .
Lou's sensitivity to sensory input and his pattern-recognition skills,
however, are common to most autistic individuals. Sensory perception
and sensory processing differences are universal. If there is an autistic
child anywhere who tolerates tags in T-shirts or bulky seams in socks, I
never heard of one . . .

PW: How is autism treated today? Have you seen much progress since
the birth of your son? Do you think that we are on track toward the sorts
of advanced therapies available in your book?

EM: Autism is treated today in a variety of ways—the most useful being
intensive supportive therapy for young children. The earlier autism is
diagnosed, and the earlier families begin helping these children develop,
the better the prognosis. Communication therapy (not just speech
therapy), sensory integration therapy, skills training (including social
skills training)—all these and other therapies, not necessarily the same
for each child, make an enormous difference. Autistic children do
continue to develop; what you have with an autistic toddler, an
enormous and terrifying challenge, is not the limit of what's possible.
Certainly there's been a lot of progress since our son was born. I had
to figure out a lot of things for myself—not much was available, at least
not here. But after the legislation that mandated early childhood
intervention for disabled children, more and more people were working
in the field and soon began to discover what worked best. Positivereinforcement
behavioral shaping—more on the model of Karen Pryor
than the rigidity of the academics, in my opinion—works best.
I definitely think that the sort of advanced therapy I wrote about is
within reach; whether the research heads in that direction or not will
depend on funding. But in the process of writing this book, I was
reading an international neuroscience journal (Nature Neuroscience), and
kept worrying that the science was catching up with the story all too fast.

PW: Lou is constantly questioning what it means to be autistic and what
it means to be normal. He comes to believe that the two are points along
a spectrum rather than wholly unrelated ways of being. I think this must
be true because of my own experience in reading the novel. At first, I
found Lou fascinating but alien; I could sympathize with him, but from
the outside looking in. Then, as I read on, a curious and amazing thing
happened. I began to empathize with Lou. His way of thinking stopped
seeming alien to me and began to seem human. In fact, I began to
recognize more and more of myself in him. When the demands of daily
life took me away from the book, his voice stayed with me, coloring my
perceptions of the world, until I felt almost as if a part of me were
autistic. It was no longer possible for me to think of Lou as alien, and it
even became difficult to think of him as damaged, exactly. Just different.
Which raises a lot of interesting practical and philosophical questions
about autism . . . and not just autism.

EM: Doesn't it, though! To a large degree, we (meaning society in its
judgmental role) create aliens from humans by excluding them, by
defining them as too strange, too difficult. Human cultures have always
done this. It helps a group to bond, if they define nonmembers as
completely different. Cultures have defined other races, religions,
nationalities, and even economic groups as "not really human" and thus
outside the rules that govern behavior in the group. And we've done it
with disabilities. Sometimes the disabled are treated as children (We
know what's best for you . . . )
and sometimes as monsters who must be
confined or even killed.

PW: The other side of this coin would be the criticism that you've
described autism too well; or, rather, have romanticized it, made it seem
appealing in its strangeness, as if to be autistic were to be like Star Trek's
Data or Mr. Spock. How would you respond to this criticism?

EM:With a loud snort . . . No parent of an autistic child would ever
romanticize autism, or minimize the strain it places on both the child and
the society in which that child lives. Hours of screaming when nothing
would comfort him . . . cleaning up smeared feces . . . endless days and
nights of struggling to understand the child's communications, and
communicate to him . . . nothing romantic about that at all. It was hard
work, and tough emotionally (on him as well as on us). For most of his
life, we had him 24/7, 365 days a year (ordinary baby-sitters can't
cope)—there were no nights out, no weekends off. Respite care, in
those days, was not available.
But I definitely chose not to demonize autism, which is what many
magazine articles do: They treat autism as the worst, most horrible, most
alienating of the developmental disabilities, a complete and utter tragedy
for families, a wasted life with no possibility of joy or fulfillment. That's
simply not the truth. The autistic child is a fully human child, capable of
receiving and giving love, capable of enjoying and giving pleasure. The
autistic persons I met online, even when they described themselves as
alien, demonstrated all the common human emotions and desires: They
want to be around people who understand them, who like them as they
are. They want to have a comfortable living and working environment,
to be treated with respect and dignity. They want to eat what tastes good
to them, and avoid what tastes bad. They want friends who share their
interests; they want to enjoy life in their own way. If they believe
themselves to be alien, it is because we, the "normals," have told them
over and over how impossible they are. We try to insist that they must
become like us to be acceptable—which makes about as much sense as
insisting that someone change his skin color or eye color or height.

PW: What feedback have you received from autists and members of the
autistic community, parents, and researchers?

EM: Very positive so far. Several autists have contacted me and told me
they like the characterization of Lou. I hear from parents and special ed
teachers that the book is beginning to spread through their communities
(parents and teachers of autistic children are busy people and rarely find
the time to read books when they first come out). Researchers I would
imagine are focused on their research and pay little attention to fiction
written on their topic.

PW: Your novel has been compared, perhaps inevitably, to Daniel Keyes's
classic, Flowers for Algernon. Do you think the comparison is valid?

EM: I think it's flattering—that is a great story. On the other hand, most
people who've read both have ended up concentrating on the contrasts
rather than the similarities.

PW: The title of the novel, The Speed of Dark, often contrasted by
Lou with the speed of light, becomes a metaphor for a lot of things:
prejudice, ignorance, death. It is also, more generally, the unknown.
How did your understanding of this phrase evolve in the course of
writing the novel?

EM: When a title really works, it begins to resonate with more and more
elements of the story and its underpinnings . . . and this happened to
me. At first it was more a clever than a wise choice. (It's one of the few
places where our son "appears," since he gave me the title one day early
on. He came in, leaned on the doorframe, and said, "If the speed of light
is 186,000 miles a second, what is the speed of dark?" I gave the usual
"Dark has no speed" answer, and he said, "It could be faster. It's there
first.") But in the writing, the other metaphorical connections formed.
The book grew after Lou, in a way, following him in a somewhat
different direction than I had expected.

PW: I had the same reaction to the "speed of dark" question when Lou
raises it in the novel. But then I realized that it was exactly the sort of
question Einstein was famous for asking himself; in fact, I recently read
an article that speculated that Einstein might have had Asperger's
Syndrome.

EM: Many scientists and engineers have behavioral traits found in the
autistic spectrum; there's been speculation about Einstein for years. But we
simply don't know enough about his childhood to make a firm diagnosis.
There are other causes for language delay, and someone can be obsessive,
absentminded, socially inept, and brilliant without being autistic. Still, it
could be true. The more we've learned about the autistic spectrum, the
more it's clear that many people are "a little autistic"—share some of the
same behaviors, to a lesser degree—and yet function well in the world.

PW: How did writing The Speed of Dark change your views on autism . . .
and normality?

EM: Having a child with autism changed my views on autism and
normality . . . writing the book gave me the chance to share those views.

PW: Did it change your relationship with your son?

EM: No. Our son is himself, not a fictional character, and our
relationship is the product of almost twenty years of interaction. He has
no interest in the book. I tried to read him bits of it while I was working
on it, to get his reaction—and his reaction was to zone out.

PW: If the cure that is offered to Lou and his fellow autists were available
today, would you want your son to try it, despite the dangers?

EM: I don't know. One of the great challenges for any parent of a child
with disabilities is how to love the child as he/she is, and yet remain open
to change that may be beneficial. Some people come down hard on one
side or the other of this: the parents who insist that they would never
want their disabled child to be cured because that would invalidate their
love for the child as he/she is, versus the ones who insist that everyone
should leap at every chance at a cure. I can't. Part of it is his age now. At
two, three, four, five, I would have taken a "magic bullet" cure in a
heartbeat, assuming that it had to be better than where he was. Now?
Our son at this point is an enthusiastic, happy, loving young man,
eagerly learning what he can in special ed classes in his high school.
Losing any of those characteristics would be a terrible loss. But if he
could talk easily with the girls he so admires, if he could use his body
and mind more easily, that would be a great gain. If/when such therapy
becomes available, it will have to be his decision.

PW: It turns out that Lou's company is not acting altruistically in
offering Lou and his fellow autists the chance for a cure. Just as the
procedure can give them more normal neurological responses, so, too,
can it impart autistic responses, such as enhanced pattern-recognition
abilities, to non-autistic people, perhaps making them more productive
workers. Are you concerned about the potential misuse of advanced
therapies, genetic and otherwise, that are being developed today? What
safeguards, if any, are in effect to prevent such misuse, by both the
government and the private sector?

EM: Any therapies that change brain function can be misused—though
what constitutes misuse is presently the hot topic in this part of
bioethics. Recent articles in various journals have discussed the ethics
of memory enhancement (fine for Alzheimer's patients, but what about
college students?), attention enhancement (okay for fighter pilots, but
what about college students?), and others. Fixing a neurological problem
is one thing; enhancing one's own performance is another; imposing the
requirement to enhance someone else's performance . . . slides over into
mind control of a very literal kind. In my opinion, this is an area
where research and clinical utility are out ahead of safeguards. Nobody wants to safeguard the Alzheimer's
patient from enhanced memory—that clearly improves the patient's
quality of life. But should the college student take the same drug to
improve his ability to cram for a test at the last minute? Is it "fair" to give
yourself a better memory, or twenty points more IQ? Is it fair if your
parents, who paid for that expensive college, do it to you by sending you
drugged brownies? If your employer puts it in the punch at the company
Christmas party? Or, conversely, is it fair if your parents refuse to let you
improve your intelligence, when you are struggling, because they think
you're just lazy? Experience shows that once a therapy exists, someone will find a
new (and to many, a less ethical) use for it. "Safeguards" are put up
afterward, trying to shut the barn door before all the horses get out.

PW: Has there been any interest from Hollywood? The part of Lou
Arrendale would be an actor's dream!

EM: You'd think so, wouldn't you? There've been nibbles, but no
deals yet.
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Elizabeth Moon titled her novel The Speed of Dark?

2. Is The Speed of Dark a typical science fiction novel? Is it a science fiction novel at all? Why or why not?

3. Lou Arrendale is the novel’s main character, and most of its events are related in his voice, through his eyes. Yet sometimes Moon depicts events through the eyes of other characters, such as Tom and Pete Aldrin.
Discuss why the author might have decided to write this story from more than one point of view. Do you think it was the right decision?

4. In the accompanying interview, Elizabeth Moon states that she wanted to avoid demonizing autism in her presentation of Lou and his fellow autists. Does she succeed? Does she go too far in the opposite direction and romanticize it?

5. What is it about damaged characters like Lou that makes them so fascinating to read about? What other novels can you think of that feature main characters or narrators who are damaged or in some way
“non-normal”?

6. Compare the author’s portrayal of characters like Mr. Crenshaw and
Don to that of Lou. Are their portraits drawn with equal depth and believability? Why do you suppose the author might have chosen to depict some characters more realistically than others? What effect, if any,
did this have on your enjoyment of the novel?

7. In what ways is Lou’s autism a disadvantage in his daily life? Does it confer any advantages?

8. What does it mean to the various characters in the book to be normal?
How do Lou’s ideas of normalcy compare to those of Crenshaw? Of
Don? Of Tom and Lucia?

9. How did reading The Speed of Dark change your own concept of what it means to be normal?

10. What reason does Lou’s company give for wanting him and his fellow autists to undergo the experimental treatment? Are they being truthful, or is there some other reason?

11. Does Lou decide to try the experimental treatment because he believes what the company has told him, or for reasons of his own? If the latter, what are those reasons, and do you find them believable? Do you think he makes the right decision? Discuss in terms of the reading from the book of John that Lou hears at church, about the man lying by the healing pool in Siloam.

12. Do you agree or disagree with Crenshaw’s contention that Lou and the other autists are a drain on the company and that their “perks” are unfair to “normal” employees? In your opinion, are special needs employees, whether autists or those with other mental or physical disabilities, given too many workplace advantages under current law?

13. What do you think accounts for the personal hostility toward Lou displayed by characters like Crenshaw and Don? At any point in your reading, did you find yourself taking their side? Why?

14. Why, despite his sensitivity to patterns, does Lou have such difficulty accepting the possibility that Don may be the one behind the vandalism of his car? Once Don is arrested, why does Lou have misgivings about filing a complaint against him?

15. Given what is revealed of Marjory’s personality and history, do you think she is genuinely attracted to Lou?

16. One of Lou’s biggest difficulties is interpreting the motivations of other people. Yet this is something almost every reader can relate to.
Similarly, many readers can identify with other aspects of Lou’s character and behavior: his appreciation of music or his sensitivity to patterns, for example. Were there any facets of his character that you found totally alien to your own experience of living in and perceiving the world?

17. One reviewer called the ending of The Speed of Dark “chilling.”
Another termed it a “cop-out.” What’s your verdict? Has Lou achieved his dream of becoming an astronaut, as it seems? What price has he paid?
Is he still the same person he was before the treatment? If not, how has he changed? What has been gained? What has been lost?

18. The treatment offered to Lou features a combination of genetic engineering and nanotechnology, two of the hottest areas of scientific research today. Some diseases and conditions are already being treated with gene therapies, and scientists expect that more will soon follow. The prospect of cures for such scourges as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism is exciting. But what about genetic therapies to raise IQ or program developing fetuses for certain physical, mental, and emotional traits? Are we moving too fast into this brave new world? Have we taken sufficient account of the dangers and ethical considerations? Do human beings have a right to tamper with nature in this way? Where would you draw the line?

19. If you were offered an experimental drug to improve your IQ or some area of your mental or physical functioning, but with a possibility that you would no longer be the same person, would you try it? What if it were offered by your employer and tied to a higher salary or better benefits package?

20. Imagine that you and the members of your reading group are highfunctioning autists like Lou and the others. Now go back and discuss one of the previous questions from this new perspective, based on behaviors and ways of thinking presented in the novel.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 40 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(16)

4 Star

(21)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

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1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    What Keeps You Being You?

    What makes you normal? Who decides what normal is? Do others have the right to make you normal? Is there a place for everyone in society? Lou Arrendale has found his own way in our world without compromising who he is. He's got a job that utilizes his abilities, but the upper management at his company feels that people like Lou are pandered to and given expensive benefits. Suddenly Lou is given the opportunity to change from the autistic existence he knows to that of a "normal" person through a new therapy. But how much of Lou's identity is tied into his present state? Is Lou really being given a choice? Suddenly everything that Lou has done to find a stable and comprehensible path in life is called into question. While he grows in his ability to deal with challenges by overcoming the adversity of persecution- Lou still feels the desire to change for many reasons.

    Elizabeth Moon gives us a rich look at the nature of identity and a future that offers a choice that has many answers. Lou's perception of reality is brought forth very clearly in the book and it effects how the reader progesses through the story creating a clear path of empathy to his situation. One to make you think...

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2003

    A Fine Book Tainted

    As a mother of a son with schizophrenia I was enjoying this book both as entertainment and as a wonderful insturment to increase empathy for those whose minds work in different ways; until I came to these words: [Back in the mid-twentieth century therapists thought autism was a mental illness, like schizophrenia. My mother had read a book by a woman who had been told she had made her child crazy.] This perpetuation of stigma against people with schizophrenia (and their mothers) surprised me. People with schizophrenia have a neurological disease caused largely by an excessive production of dopomine in their brains. It's no more a 'mental illness' than autism and it is not caused by bad parenting. Most importantly, they are not 'crazy' and should not be refered to as such. With the help of a medication that blocks absorbtion of the excess dopamine, my son holds down a job and has a social life in which no one else is aware of his illness.

    5 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2007

    Advanced development

    The story develops superbly starting with the first person perspective of the story's hero Lou. Adequate, but incomplete, descriptions allow the reader to feel the same process of learning that Lou does as we come to understand what he is doing and why. Anyone who has felt panicked and tongue-tied can relate to Lou's discomfort in some situations. Elizabeth Moon wrote this novel giving us an educated guess at the internal workings of the autistic mind. The possibility of a mental adjustment to Lou throughout the story makes one stop to think about what is common, normal, and whether or not that is truly superior to being uncommon. The struggle in the story challenges us to examine change, choices, and sacrifice. The general comparison for this novel will be Flowers for Algernon, but this has only superficial similarities. It is its own, very good, story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2005

    'If I had not been what I am, what would I have been?'

    Wouldn¿t you like to know the speed of dark? Well Lou Arrendale did. Looking at the world from an autistic eye, Lou thought of thought provoking questions looked at life¿s details that 'normal' people would have surpassed. Lou may have lived his life different, acted, appeared or thought differently but it didn¿t disable him. Disability is defined by the people who call themselves average. How would they know if it were better to be different then normal? No one knows. Lou lived a normal life, for him at least. He owned an apartment and a car, he worked at a pharmaceutical company and he had hobbies such as fencing and listening to classical music. He saw patterns and beauty in ways an average human would never see. Lou was challenged with the thought of becoming ¿normal¿ with new age medicine. Would he see the world in its beauty that it is if he became normal or would he lose that gift? Would becoming normal be beneficial to his way of life, or to win over a woman whom he thought he has no chance with? Only Lou can decide which path he will travel on. This book gave me much more insight in the world of autism. My brother is autistic and more often than not I cannot understand the way he thinks though I have attempted. It has made the world a bit brighter by thinking of ¿normalcy¿. Moons writing helped me in many ways in seeing the peculiar ways these gifted people see. I would not call autism a disability. It is just a different way of looking at the world.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2002

    An amazing book!!!!

    This is an amazing book. The fact that it is told from the perspective of someone who actually is autistic is a refreshing change from other fantasy and science fiction novels that have tried to portray the life of someone disabled. I think that it does lead one to ask the question what would they do if they had a power to see the world like no one else could if they would give it up just to be normal. I think that Ms. Moon's going off of her own life experiences have an autistic child show her growth as a writer. Not many would have been brave enough to do that. She shows the world that they are people no more no less then anyone else

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2013

    Facinating

    Elizabeth Moon shows real insight into the mind of autistic people. I had trouble putting ing down. Well worth reading again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    What makes you YOU?

    Very thought provoking, well written book pondering the questing of who we are. Interesting subject, well written, enjoyed it very much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Lou Arrendale is a high-functioning autistic man in a near-futur

    Lou Arrendale is a high-functioning autistic man in a near-future world. When his employer starts to put pressure on him to be one of the first human subjects in a dangerous brain-altering experimental “cure” for autism, he questions what it is to be Lou. Is his autism part of his personality? What does it mean to be “normal?” Are the normals even normal? This book is full of deep questions of identity and categorizing of humans. It is also about mistreatment of disabled people by bigots. In fact, I thought the bigotry was a little over-done to the point of not being realistic…but maybe this is Moon’s idea of what the near future will be like. Or maybe I’m naïve. :) This book was very thought-provoking and interesting, though I thought it lacked verisimilitude. And there were three (apparently) independent secondary characters named Bart within a 25 paged interval. Not sure what Moon was trying to say there—maybe she really likes the name Bart. :) Anyway, despite my nit-pickiness, I thought it was quite a good book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 27, 2012

    A good read

    I found this book to be fascinating. It really give a wonderful 1st person account of autism. Incredibly interesting!!! I do not "get into" Si-Fi, but this book was great with its' "what if" futuristic story line. Buy It!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2011

    A new favorite

    It was very easy to get lost in this book and only took a few days to read because i didnt want to put it down. The characters emotions came through very well and braught me nearly to tears more than once. The ending is bittersweet, but it left me happy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    powerful tale similar to Flowers for Algernon and Rain Man

    Though Lou Arrendale suffers from autism, he refuses to allow that condition from stopping him from living a fruitful ¿normal¿ life. Lou works at a pharmaceutical company and has many friends. He has adapted to the troubles his condition causes him in a non-autistic society by adopting polite mannerisms such as shaking hands and using salutations. Lou tries very hard to behave ¿normal¿ when he is in the urban wilderness. However, the CEO of his firm wants to cut costs by firing the autistic work force that needs special assistance to perform. Lou is given an option of taking an experimental drug that will allegedly turn him into a normal, but he hesitates. He worries that if he becomes normal is he Lou? Adding to his dilemma is his deep feelings for Marjory Shaw, a normal who probably will never love the present Lou. Would the revisionist Lou still love her? Before he can decide what to do, Lou must hide from a stalker who wants to harm him. THE SPEED OF DARK is an incredible novel that captures the essences of an intelligent autistic person struggling to independently survive in a constantly changing world. Though the stalking angle adds suspense, the excitement of the subplot takes away from the powerful themes of focusing on autism and the ethical issue of chemical cures to the mind and body changing the essence of the person. This strong tale with powerful characters will remind the audience of Flowers for Algernon and Rain Man as Elizabeth Moon takes the reader inside the soul of the hero. Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2002

    Very powerful and moving.

    The Speed of Dark provides a fascinating and unique glimpse into the mysterious world of the autistic. Written with clarity and feeling from the perspective of the autistic Lou Arrendale, Elizabeth Moon draws the reader into his perceptions in a manner that would be impossible using any other technique. Because of this and other similarities, there will be many comparisons of this novel with Flowers for Algernon. The major difference however is the degree of so-called impediment. Lou is competent and lucid, whereas Charley was not. Each character is given the opportunity to participate in a procedure which would remove their disability and render them ¿normal¿, Lou is capable of making a rational and informed decision, but Charley could not. In point of fact, the aptitude that Lou shows in researching this operation shows he possesses genius level intellect in stark contrast to his lack of social ability due to his differently-wired brain. It is this contrast that drives the narrative. The author makes it clear, as the mother of an autistic son, that autism and intelligence can mix. This, and the concept that autism is not a disease to cure, seem to be the main point of this novel. This book could just as easily have been written about a black person in an all white community. There is obviously nothing intrinsically wrong with the autistic or black person, but in a community where he or she is unique, the onus of being different will fall upon this hapless victim. The major difference here is that the autistic person may not be able to put a voice to this issue. Lou Arrendale does, with feeling and passion. He knows who he is and does not understand why anyone would want him to be otherwise. The novel is thoughtful, warm, and engaging. Lou evokes our pity and wonder simultaneously, quickly shifting from helpless child to crippled genius. The manner in which he manages his unrequited love for Marjory and the anger and jealousy directed at him by a man he considered his friend shows a self-contradictory combination of competence and ineptitude, which serve to make the character that much more realistic. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to further understand those with different abilities. The insights one can gain from reading this work are invaluable. Well done.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2014

    Excellent!

    Another great book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    Brady

    He walked back in

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2013

    Hazel

    Walked in and sat down opening her binder writing in it and doing research on things

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2007

    good read

    it was a good read, i found myself pulling for the main character the whole time. it keeps you interested but the ending i found to be a bit disappointing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2007

    Gets you to look at life differently

    This is a well written book that challenges the way we percieve 'mental disorders' and mental illness. The understanding of conditions which have been labled as 'mental illness' including autism is changing. Doctors are able to identify physical causes for a number of illnesses. The person who has one of these conditions is normal for them. This book illustrates this concept with the main character. Prehaps the day will come when no one is labled crazy and no blame is attached for different mental perspectives.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2003

    Beauty of the human experience.

    Many elements in this novel. Thought provoking.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews

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