The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth MoonThe Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

The Speed of Dark

byElizabeth Moon

Paperback | March 2, 2004

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Tenth anniversary edition • With a new Introduction by the author

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.
 
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.

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
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 autis...
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Title:The Speed of DarkFormat:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.31 × 5.56 × 0.8 inPublished:March 2, 2004Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345447549

ISBN - 13:9780345447548

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye opening and overall great read!! This book was really great!! It made me think differently about autism and it really gives you an idea of how people with autism think. You really get to know the mair character, and really connect with him. I cried at the end. My friend has it now...I would recommend it to anyone!
Date published: 2004-12-10

Read from the Book

CHAPTER ONE   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.

Bookclub 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 sciencefiction novel at all? Why or why not?3. Lou Arrendale is the novel’s main character, and most of its events arerelated in his voice, through his eyes. Yet sometimes Moon depicts eventsthrough the eyes of other characters, such as Tom and Pete Aldrin.Discuss why the author might have decided to write this story from morethan one point of view. Do you think it was the right decision?4. In the accompanying interview, Elizabeth Moon states that she wantedto avoid demonizing autism in her presentation of Lou and his fellowautists. Does she succeed? Does she go too far in the opposite directionand romanticize it?5. What is it about damaged characters like Lou that makes them sofascinating to read about? What other novels can you think of thatfeature main characters or narrators who are damaged or in some way“non-normal”?6. Compare the author’s portrayal of characters like Mr. Crenshaw andDon to that of Lou. Are their portraits drawn with equal depth andbelievability? Why do you suppose the author might have chosen todepict 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 itconfer 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? OfDon? Of Tom and Lucia?9. How did reading The Speed of Dark change your own concept of whatit means to be normal?10. What reason does Lou’s company give for wanting him and hisfellow autists to undergo the experimental treatment? Are they beingtruthful, or is there some other reason?11. Does Lou decide to try the experimental treatment because hebelieves what the company has told him, or for reasons of his own? If thelatter, what are those reasons, and do you find them believable? Do youthink he makes the right decision? Discuss in terms of the reading fromthe book of John that Lou hears at church, about the man lying by thehealing pool in Siloam.12. Do you agree or disagree with Crenshaw’s contention that Lou andthe other autists are a drain on the company and that their “perks” areunfair to “normal” employees? In your opinion, are special needsemployees, whether autists or those with other mental or physicaldisabilities, given too many workplace advantages under current law?13. What do you think accounts for the personal hostility toward Loudisplayed by characters like Crenshaw and Don? At any point in yourreading, did you find yourself taking their side? Why?14. Why, despite his sensitivity to patterns, does Lou have such difficultyaccepting the possibility that Don may be the one behind the vandalismof his car? Once Don is arrested, why does Lou have misgivings aboutfiling a complaint against him?15. Given what is revealed of Marjory’s personality and history, do youthink she is genuinely attracted to Lou?16. One of Lou’s biggest difficulties is interpreting the motivations ofother people. Yet this is something almost every reader can relate to.Similarly, many readers can identify with other aspects of Lou’s characterand behavior: his appreciation of music or his sensitivity to patterns, forexample. Were there any facets of his character that you found totallyalien 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 achievedhis 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 hashe changed? What has been gained? What has been lost?18. The treatment offered to Lou features a combination of geneticengineering and nanotechnology, two of the hottest areas of scientificresearch today. Some diseases and conditions are already being treatedwith gene therapies, and scientists expect that more will soon follow. Theprospect of cures for such scourges as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, andautism is exciting. But what about genetic therapies to raise IQ orprogram developing fetuses for certain physical, mental, and emotionaltraits? Are we moving too fast into this brave new world? Have we takensufficient account of the dangers and ethical considerations? Do humanbeings have a right to tamper with nature in this way? Where would youdraw the line?19. If you were offered an experimental drug to improve your IQ orsome area of your mental or physical functioning, but with a possibilitythat you would no longer be the same person, would you try it? What ifit were offered by your employer and tied to a higher salary or betterbenefits package?20. Imagine that you and the members of your reading group are highfunctioningautists like Lou and the others. Now go back and discuss oneof the previous questions from this new perspective, based on behaviorsand ways of thinking presented in the novel.

Editorial Reviews

“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