The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark

by Elizabeth Moon


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Thoughtful, provocative, poignant, unforgettable, The Speed of Dark is a gripping journey into the mind of an autistic person as he struggles with profound questions of humanity and matters of the heart.

In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Lou Arrendale, a high-functioning autistic adult, is a member of the lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the rewards of medical science. He lives a low-key, independent life. But then he is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental “cure” for his condition. 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 important, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings? Now 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.
Tenth anniversary edition • With a new Introduction by the author

Praise for The Speed of Dark
“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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345447548
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/02/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 283,926
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.31(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Elizabeth Moon grew up on the Texas border, served three years of active duty in the USMC (1968–71), and now lives with her husband, also a veteran, near Austin, Texas. She has published more than twenty-five novels, including Nebula Award winner The Speed of Dark, Hugo finalist Remnant Population, and the enduring epic fantasy series The Chronicles of Paksenarrion. She has published more than fifty short-fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines and in four of her own short-fiction collections, most recently Moon Flights and Deeds of Honor. When not writing, Moon enjoys photographing native plants and wildlife, knitting socks, and cooking.

Read an Excerpt

Questions, always questions. They didn’t wait for the answers, either. They rushed on, piling questions on questions, covering every moment with questions, blocking off every sensation but the thorn stab of questions.
And orders. If it wasn’t, “Lou, what is this?” it was, “Tell me what this is.” A bowl. The same bowl, time after time. It is a bowl and it is an ugly bowl, a boring bowl, a bowl of total and complete boring blandness, uninteresting. I am uninterested in that uninteresting bowl.
If they aren’t going to listen, why should I talk?
I know better than to say that out loud. Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think and saying what they want me to say.
In this office, where I am evaluated and advised four times a year, the psychiatrist is no less certain of the line between us than all the others have been. Her certainty is painful to see, so I try not to look at her more than I have to. That has its own dangers; like the others, she thinks I should make more eye contact than I do. I glance at her now.
Dr. Fornum, crisp and professional, raises an eyebrow and shakes her head not quite imperceptibly. Autistic persons do not understand these signals; the book says so. I have read the book, so I know what it is I do not understand.
What I haven’t figured out yet is the range of things they don’t understand. The normals. The reals. The ones who have the degrees and sit behind the desks in comfortable chairs.
I know some of what she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know that I can read. She thinks I’m hyperlexic, just parroting the words. The difference between what she calls parroting and what she does when she reads is imperceptible to me. She doesn’t know that I have a large vocabulary. Every time she asks what my job is and I say I am still working for the pharmaceutical company, she asks if I know what pharmaceutical means. She thinks I’m parroting. The difference between what she calls parroting and my use of a large number of words is imperceptible to me. She uses large words when talking to the other doctors and nurses and technicians, babbling on and on and saying things that could be said more simply. She knows I work on a computer, she knows I went to school, but she has not caught on that this is incompatible with her belief that I am actually nearly illiterate and barely verbal.
She talks to me as if I were a rather stupid child. She does not like it when I use big words (as she calls them) and she tells me to just say what I mean.
What I mean is the speed of dark is as interesting as the speed of light, and maybe it is faster and who will find out?
What I mean is about gravity, if there were a world where it is twice as strong, then on that world would the wind from a fan be stronger because the air is thicker and blow my glass off the table, not just my napkin? Or would the greater gravity hold the glass more firmly to the table, so the stronger wind couldn’t move it?
What I mean is the world is big and scary and noisy and crazy but also beautiful and still in the middle of the windstorm.
What I mean is what difference does it make if I think of colors as people or people as sticks of chalk, all stiff and white unless they are brown chalk or black?
What I mean is I know what I like and want, and she does not, and I do not want to like or want what she wants me to like or want.
She doesn’t want to know what I mean. She wants me to say what other people say. “Good morning, Dr. Fornum.” “Yes, I’m fine, thank you.” “Yes, I can wait. I don’t mind.”
I don’t mind. When she answers the phone I can look around her office and find the twinkly things she doesn’t know she has. I can move my head back and forth so the light in the corner glints off and on over there, on the shiny cover of a book in the bookcase. If she notices that I’m moving my head back and forth she makes a note in my record. She may even interrupt her phone call to tell me to stop. It is called stereotypy when I do it and relaxing her neck when she does it. I call it fun, watching the reflected light blink off and on.
Dr. Fornum’s office has a strange blend of smells, not just the paper and ink and book smell and the carpet glue and the plastic smell of the chair frames, but something else that I keep thinking must be chocolate. Does she keep a box of candy in her desk drawer? I would like to find out. I know if I asked her she would make a note in my record. Noticing smells is not appropriate. Notes about noticing are bad notes, but not like bad notes in music, which are wrong.
I do not think everyone else is alike in every way. She has told me that Everyone knows this and Everyone does that, but I am not blind, just autistic, and I know that they know and do different things. The cars in the parking lot are different colors and sizes. Thirty-seven percent of them, this morning, are blue. Nine percent are oversize: trucks or vans. There are eighteen motorcycles in three racks, which would be six apiece, except that ten of them are in the back rack, near Maintenance. Different channels carry different programs; that would not happen if everyone were alike.
When she puts down the phone and looks at me, her face has that look. I don’t know what most people would call it, but I call it the I AM REAL look. It means she is real and she has answers and I am someone less, not completely real, even though I can feel the nubbly texture of the office chair right through my slacks. I used to put a magazine under me, but she says I don’t need to do that. She is real, she thinks, so she knows what I need and don’t need.
“Yes, Dr. Fornum, I am listening.” Her words pour over me, slightly irritating, like a vat of vinegar. “Listen for conversational cues,” she tells me, and waits. “Yes,” I say. She nods, marks on the record, and says, “Very good,” without looking at me. Down the hall somewhere, someone starts walking this way. Two someones, talking. Soon their talk tangles with hers. I am hearing about Debby on Friday . . . next time . . . going to the Did they? And I told her. But never bird on a stool . . . can’t be, and Dr. Fornum is waiting for me to answer something. She would not talk to me about a bird on a stool. “I’m sorry,” I say. She tells me to pay better attention and makes another mark on my record and asks about my social life.
She does not like what I tell her, which is that I play games on the Internet with my friend Alex in Germany and my friend Ky in Indonesia. “In real life,” she says firmly. “People at work,” I say, and she nods again and then asks about bowling and miniature golf and movies and the local branch of the Autism Society.
Bowling hurts my back and the noise is ugly in my head. Miniature golf is for kids, not grownups, but I didn’t like it even when I was a kid. I liked laser tag, but when I told her that in the first session she put down “violent tendencies.” It took a long time to get that set of questions about violence off my regular agenda, and I’m sure she has never removed the notation. I remind her that I don’t like bowling or miniature golf, and she tells me I should make an effort. I tell her I’ve been to three movies, and she asks about them. I read the reviews, so I can tell her the plots. I don’t like movies much, either, especially in movie theaters, but I have to have something to tell her . . . and so far she hasn’t figured out that my bald recitation of the plot is straight from a review.
I brace myself for the next question, which always makes me angry. My sex life is none of her business. She is the last person I would tell about a girlfriend or boyfriend. But she doesn’t expect me to have one; she just wants to document that I do not, and that is worse.
Finally it is over. She will see me next time, she says, and I say, “Thank you, Dr. Fornum,” and she says, “Very good,” as if I were a trained dog.
Outside, it is hot and dry, and I must squint against the glitter of all the parked cars. The people walking on the sidewalk are dark blots in the sunlight, hard to see against the shimmer of the light until my eyes adjust.
I am walking too fast. I know that not just from the firm smack of my shoes on the pavement, but because the people walking toward me have their faces bunched up in the way that I think means they’re worried. Why? I am not trying to hit them. So I will slow down and think music.
Dr. Fornum says I should learn to enjoy music other people enjoy. I do. I know other people like Bach and Schubert and not all of them are autistic. There are not enough autistic people to support all those orchestras and operas. But to her other people means “the most people.” I think of the Trout Quintet, and as the music flows through my mind I can feel my breathing steady and my steps slow to match its tempo.

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

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

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.



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
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

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.

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The Speed of Dark 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
Jeff_Y More than 1 year ago
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...
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
“Autistic is different, not bad. It is not wrong to be different. Sometimes it is hard, but it is not wrong.” Speed of Dark is the second stand-alone novel by American author, Elizabeth Moon. It is set in the near-future. Lou Arrendale is an autistic man in his late thirties, working as a bioinformatics specialist with several autistic colleagues in the Analysis Section of a large Pharmaceutical company. Born too early for the curative treatments available to infants later born with this condition, Lou is part of a select group of autistics whose unusual needs are supported as their unique skills are utilised. Lou lives independently, supporting himself and enjoying the routines that make his life reassuringly predictable: shopping on Tuesdays, cleaning his car on Saturdays, church on Sundays and fencing practice with his friends Tom and Lucy on Wednesdays. He loves the stars, classical music and, lately, Marjory, one of his fencing friends.  But things are changing in Lou’s life: the new division head, Mr Crenshaw, seems to dislike the autistic employees; Tom is encouraging Lou to fence in a tournament; someone is vandalising his car. Lou feels he is changing too. He and his colleagues are being coerced into a new clinical trial for an experimental treatment to alter their brains, to remove their autism, to make them “normal”. But will this treatment change who they are? Reactions to this opportunity are understandably polarised.  Moon uses two narrative strands: Lou’s experience is told in the first person; characters observing him (Tom Fennell, Pete Aldrin) are told in the third person. Moon’s experience with autism is evident in every paragraph: Lou’s voice is authentic and Moon touches on many topical themes, some particularly relevant to those on the autism spectrum: the ethics of chemical restraint, the medicalisation of variations from the norm, bullying and intimidation, what defines self and the importance of memory. This is a powerful and thought-provoking read. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Moon shows real insight into the mind of autistic people. I had trouble putting ing down. Well worth reading again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very thought provoking, well written book pondering the questing of who we are. Interesting subject, well written, enjoyed it very much.
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
debs4jc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wish I could find more books just like this one! Through the eyes of the main character, Lou, the reader explores a futuristic world with timeless conflicts. Lou was born with autism, and while advanced therapies have helped him adapt to the "normal" world he still wonders what
ckopphills on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Speed of Dark tells the story of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man living in the near-future. Scientists have developed a treatment that could cure Lou of his autism. What Lou begins to wonder, though, is if he really needs to be cured. This book raises fascinating questions about what it means to be normal, abnormal, gifted and disabled. Moon does a wonderful job of developing Lou's character by showing him in a variety of situations with many different personalities. Some of the supporting characters can feel a little weak, and the shifts in points of view can be a little distracting, but Lou's story of self discovery is so engrossing that these issues don't detract as much as they might have if the main character had been less compelling. I recommend the book!
DocWalt10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great insight into the mind of a person with Autism. She drew on her son, who has Autism, to write this book. I love everything this woman writes.
faganjc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" much more. This one was just okay for me.
jmyers24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Compelling look inside the mind of someone coping with autism.
danalipp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great concept; I was hoping for something more along the lines of Curious Incident by Haddon, but Moon wasn't as convincing or skillful. She also lingered way too long on some points, repeating previous thoughts ad nauseam. Would have been a much better read if it was 1/2 as long! I'm not sure the ending was consistent with the character; in some ways it seems like a reversal of his thinking.But overall, it was the repetitiveness of several themes that I found most annoying. Ok, ok... I GET IT ALREADY!
Silversi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book wasn't what I expected but I enjoyed it very much. It takes you into the mind of a man with autism, it gave a new way of thinking about this "disability". The outcome was both a relief and left you a bit sad both. I was completely absorbed in this book even though there was not any action so to speak. It was just a mental journey that I completely enjoyed.
susanadewey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A group of high functioning, autistic savants are coerced by their employer to undergo an experimental treatment to 'cure' them of their autism. Elizabeth Moon explores varyng reactions by the 'autists' and the 'normals' around them to this act of coercion. And to the larger question of whether their autism is something that in fact needs curing.It is not a 'lyrical read' as the author speaks primarily from the point of view of Lou Arrendale, the main character. But this literary tool is well executed to provide the reader with incredible insight into Lou's perceptions, realities, and struggles. My own son has special needs. Moon's inner portrayal of how autism may look and feel led me to a renewed pledge to judge outward behaviors less swiftly and harshly. This is also a coming of age story. As the story progresses, Lou takes on a broader world view and he realizes the ability to be the architect of his life. In this and many other ways Lou is very much like each of us. Or maybe I should say that we are very much like Lou. II read this book to fulfill a book club's science fiction slot. Some members are 'anti-scifi' so I was looking for a light read with broad appeal that would stimulate discussion. I found what I sought and more.
Terpsichoreus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Barely Sci-Fi. A watered-down 'Flowers for Algernon'. The writing was alright, and there was some interesting characterization, but the reason it got the Nebula and Clarke awards was its trendy political correctness. Rarely do we get such a concise example of award committees walking hand-in-hand with politics.It feels like Moon stamped on the Sci-Fi elements in order to draw the audience. I hope that isn't true, because that would be a cheap move. This is just modern pop-fiction, an 'emotionally confessional' book with a veneer of 'vaguely near-future'.Moon took an interesting idea, but completely failed to capitalize on it. Speculative Fiction has always been obsessed with what makes us human, and how much we can change before we become something else entirely. While that is ostensibly the main theme of this book, it goes almost unexplored.Imagine a book which posited the invention of an immortality serum, but then only showed that people would have more jobs and schooling, instead of exploring the economic and social ramifications of such a remarkable change.This becomes even more apparent at the climax, which is rushed and inauthentic. The character growth is almost entirely skipped over, and the whole thing takes place over a few short chapters. Compared to the rest of the book, which is an internal, step-by-step presentation of a fairly different mind, and the sudden, convenient, external ending is a poor fit.The denouement following the climax is particularly tidy, with the emotional progression of the end of an 80's college movie where we learn through super-imposed text that "Barry went on to win the Nobel prize" to the strains of Simple Minds.The rest of the book was interesting, as it showed the psychological workings of autism. Moon researched this disorder much better than Mark Haddon in his 'Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time'. It also had a part about fencing, except it didn't resemble fencing as much as weird SCA dressup. Not that I have anything against SCA dressup (or do I?).It's an alright read, goes pretty quick, and it might give you some insight into how brain disorders, but doesn't use this as a way to tie human experiences together; which is really a shame, because a sci-fi book with this topic could have asked some very difficult and profound questions about how the future of technology might change the way we deal with thought, the mind, and the different ways people process information.Actually, a book did take that theme and tackle those issues, it was called 'Flowers for Algernon' and was written sixty years before Moon's less profound attempt. You'd think we'd have something more to say after sixty years of neurology and psychology, but apparently not.This book was light and fluffy, especially given its subject matter, and is more likely to make soccer moms feel proud of themselves for reading something so 'different' than actually inspiring anyone to change the way they think about humanity, the mind, or the possibility within us.
Karlstar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good book about a man with autism. Based on the author's personal experience, this is about a slightly future world where most autism has been cured after birth, leaving only older cases. Lou and his friends work and live among us 'normals' and struggle to understand how they fit in, especially when radical cure is offered. I found this hard to put down.
nilchance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book, recommended reading for anyone connected to a person on the autism spectrum, and especially for those on the spectrum themselves. A vivid illustration of life with those who can't adapt to your needs, and the social model of disability. HOwever, I was disappointed by the ending.
amanderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a really interesting science fiction novel set about 40-50 years in the future. Shades of Flowers for Algernon, but rather philosophical. Lou, the protagonist, is an highly intelligent autistic man who fences with "normals" as a hobby and works for a tech company doing pattern analysis in a unit of well-paid autistic staff. They are the last generation of autistics, as now a cure can be given to autistic babies. Now a new boss threatens the unit, because he doesn't believe they deserve the special work environment, with a gym where they can bounce to chosen music to calm themselves, special allocated parking spaces, etc. He tries to force them to undergo an experimental medical procedure to become "normal", in exchange for keeping their jobs. Will they succeed in fighting back, given how difficult it is for them to communicate with "normals" and advocate for themselves, and is the procedure something they want to try regardless? The details of what it is like to live as an autistic person is very educational, and Lou is a very appealing protagonist. Recommended!
jenreidreads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It completely changed the way I look at the world. The questions it asks are great¿is something really a change for the better if it completely changes who you are? Is the definition of one's self in the way one perceives the world? Is all progress good? Truly thought-provoking. Highly recommended.
Kamile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this was an elegantly written novel. I enjoyed every twist and turn of it and found it vivid and captivating. Perhaps I just liked the repetitiveness of it because I'm autistic myself. I found it to be an accurate portrayal of autism. However, the author paints a picture of Lou as very repressed individual in terms of the expression of his autistic traits. He is also quite knowledgeable about social interactions and is very intellectually advanced. In fact, all of the autistic characters in the book seem very verbally fluent. This gives something to think about, as I sometimes wonder whether those on the spectrum who speak very little, despite being perfectly capable of doing so, hold themselves back out of a fear caused by the confusion of non-autistic social interactions, which are laden with implied nuances. I did not find most characters to be one-dimensional, aside from Mr. Crenshaw, Lou's higher-ranked boss. Although Emmy seemed like a one-dimensional character, too, I can actually imagine someone with a developmental disability acting like that in real life, based on my own encounters with such individuals. I got only slightly depressed throughout reading the book due to thinking about discrimination, accommodations, and that there are lots of people out there who would simply refuse to make the extra effort. However, the ending came as a complete shock. When Tom was trying to convince Lou that there is nothing wrong with him and when he came to visit Lou after the treatment, I burst out crying. And afterward, I couldn't stop thinking. Considering that the majority of the autistic employees of the company did take the treatment in the book, would this pattern be the same if something like this happened in reality? What is it exactly that made Lou want to take the treatment? I didn't quite understand his reason for it. While I think there is really no right or wrong path for him to take, I wanted to know what happened to his ability to do the work that he did and to be able to fence the way he did. I'm not quite sure what other people would think once they finish the book - would it reinforce their disposition toward a cure, or would it make them realize that neither remaining autistic or becoming more "normal" is the right answer? The only thing that is very worrisome about something like this happening in real life, where children are treated from birth and then adults are treated, is that for those who have chosen to stay autistic, it would be much more difficult to make their way in the world. So, in a way, they might end up being forced to take the treatment as well by their life condition alone, which, to me, is unethical.In sum, this book, especially ending the way it did, definitely gives a lot to think about, with some quite depressing thoughts.
ehines on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A coming of age story in a way, with some very interesting twists. First the protagonist, Lou, has no family, he is independent, intelligent and well-balanced. A remarkable man, as one of his friends calls him.But he is autistic. One of the last generation of autistics, since early intervention can prevent its development and, as the story begins, it can now be cured. Or so it is hoped.So Lou faces a choice between a good and fairly fulfilling life as he is and the prospect of normality and whatever opportunities that might bring him.The whole story is handled deftly and is well thought-through, and there is no absolutely right answer to Lou's dilemma: as Moon so very well depicts, there is loss and some reason for regret no matter what he does.