Friday, December 19, 2014

Elizabeth Moon - The Speed of Dark

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

The Speed of Dark is about Lou Arrendale. Lou is autistic, but is able to function in society. The book is sent somewhere in the (presumably) near future. Shortly after Lou was born, treatments were developed to prevent children from being born with autism. Lou was able to benefit from some treatments for adults, but still requires accommodations at his job, where he analyzes patterns for a large pharmaceutical company.

Pete Aldrin supervises Lou’s group. (All of the members of the group have autism.) He seems nice enough. The one that Lou has to worry about is Mr. Crenshaw, who seems to have it in for the group. He wants to eliminate the division or at least get rid of the special accommodations, stating that it would cut costs. No one in Lou’s group can figure this out, citing that most of the accommodations have been bought and paid for; the cost of upkeep is very minimal.

Eventually, Lou figures out that there must be something bigger going on and he’s right. Crenshaw is pressuring them to take an experimental treatment. Lou and several others don’t want to take part in the experiments. They also realize that it’s illegal to be pressured. (Crenshaw tries to choose his wording carefully, so as to hide behind technicalities.)

The new treatment makes up most of the plot, although Lou does have other problems to worry about like someone that’s out to hurt him. (The person actually plants a bomb in his car.) Most of the book is narration by Lou. It becomes obvious early on that Lou doesn’t use contractions, which is somewhat distracting. During the narration, Lou points out several things he doesn’t get, such as phrases that he takes too literally. He also doesn’t understand facial expressions.

I thought the plot was thin. Lou went between home, work, a fencing club and church, with the primary focus on work and the fencing club. The primary story line was the experiment; the stalker ended up being sort of a side note to reinforce the main point, which is that autism isn’t something that should necessarily be ‘cured’.

The procedure that Lou and the others were being coerced into taking would essentially eliminate any traces of autism while leaving the rest of their personalities unaffected. The procedure had yet to be tested on humans, which only added to the desire to resist. It was entirely possible that the procedure would fail on humans and have undesirable side effects or that the people performing the experiments would try to do more than just eliminate their autistic attributes.

The real focus of the book is to ask what normal is. Is it right to say that Lou would be cured of autism? Granted, there are those that have severe limitations, but is it right to change them? (Pete Aldrin had a brother who is very severe and under professional care; hopefully, the procedure would help him.) However, just as Lou has a rigid view of the world, there are those that have a rigid view of abnormal. 

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