"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.
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,
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.
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.
“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