Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Speed of Dark

I never post two blogs in a row praising books. This is partly because I seldom read two books in a row that I want to praise, and I don't mention the others (which are, alas, many). However, the last few days I read Elizabeth Moon's 2004 Nebula winner, The Speed of Dark. I can't stop thinking about it.

The Speed of Dark is (mostly) first-person narration by a high-functioning autistic man. Lou, along with several of his fellow autists, is offered the chance for an experimental brain operation that may cure his autism. This sounds reminiscent of "Flowers For Algernon," and it is, but author Moon develops her own characters, plot, and outcome. Most of all, she develops Lou's voice: precise, confused by colloquialisms and social interactions, earnestly memorizing endless rules for what is "appropriate," fascinated by patterns of all types, decent and fundamentally innocent. Elizabeth Moon is the mother of an autist, and although she takes pains to explain that Lou is not her son, obviously she drew on her considerable first-hand experience in creating the voice. When I finished the book, I found myself seeing the world around me in new ways.

It's not a perfect book. Moon mixes first- and third-person narration, which I found jarring. And the ending feels both abrupt and out of sync with the rest. But it's a powerful and affecting story, and since it's near-future, I don't know why it didn't find a widespread mainsteam audience. It seems like the sort of book that should have done so. This is one that should have transcended our little SF ghetto.



Unknown said...

It's sorta gotten out of the ghetto, it just hasn't gotten hugely popular. B&N shelves it among regular fiction rather than SF&F. When I worked there a couple of years ago as a shelver, it caught my eye because I was shelving it in regular fiction but the cover had "Nebula" prominently placed on the cover. It made me wonder if it was something that might have some mainstream appeal. I'm always looking for SF books I can recommend to my non-SF friends. This is easily one of them.

Athena said...

The first time I read the book I threw the book across the room when Lou made his decision to be "cured" or not. I was so mad at his decision.

Later, I reread the book and sorta understood the decision. The book is one of the few books I like to reread.

At the time I read this book, I was working at a telephone call center and loved the idea of the trampolines! I would love to talk to my boss while jumping on one or just taking a break!

Athena (long time lurker, first time commenter)

Steven Francis Murphy said...

I remember reading that novel and thinking of the Greg Egan short story, Reasons to be Cheerful. In fact, I think I read both at roughly the same time.

I think the Speed of Dark is one of the better novels SF has produced this decade. Too bad it isn't discussed more often.

S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

Mark said...

Judging by Athena's reaction Speed of Dark must be powerfully written. Now I must look for it & make time to read it myself.

Nick A said...

To compliment _SOD_, see the indie movie "Adam", which is just released. It is a very accurate portrayal of high functional autism.