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Well Read Wednesday: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Isn’t Elizabeth Moon a perfect name for a science fiction writer?  And I am a science fiction fan.  I’ll read fantasy, but give me a good, hard-core scifi novel any day. Even more than good scifi, though, I want a good story.  Something thought provoking with characters and situations that I care about and help me think about other people’s experiences.  The Speed of Dark does all of that beautifully.  Moon develops her main character and supporting cast so well I could say I know these people personally.  Lou Arrendale, described as a high-functioning autistic adult, is faced with a dilemma.  Lou’s employer wants him to undergo a treatment that may fundamentally change who he is as a person.  Although the treatment might “cure” his autism (and Moon is careful to show how Lou’s autism impacts his life on a daily basis) the treatment might also erase Lou’s elemental qualities, his persona.  Not only that, Lou is forced to struggle with inevitable change.  Regardless of his decision his life will change.  The author invites us to consider the nature of contentment.  What is it that defines a person as content versus merely existing or going with the flow? I recently read in another book that “happiness is about taking risks.  If you’re not scared you’re not doing it right.”  Is that true?

Moon walks us through Lou’s life and introduces us to his friends and his passions never straying into preachy lectures or pontification.  Instead the reader comes to know and care about Lou, understand his employer, and relate to Lou’s friends on a level not available in daily, superficial interactions.  Because Moon so carefully crafts her story we are able to struggle through the decision making process with Lou.

So, I said this was a science fiction novel, right?  It’s set in the near future.  Because in this near future world people with autism have been recognized for their talents working with patterns, Lou is able to be employed at a pharmaceutical firm in an environment his employer has worked hard to make comfortable for him and his colleagues.  In all other respects we will recognize the settings and situations as familiar.  Only a small leap of imagination is required to follow the story.  For this reason I believe the novel has broad appeal.  In 2003 The Speed of Dark won the Nebula Award and was an Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist.

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