31 Jan 2008

The Speed of Dark

Last autumn, I read 'The Speed of Dark' by Elizabeth Moon, and just last week, I borrowed 'Daniel Isn't Talking' by Marti Leimbach. Both are works of fiction with an autistic character, but they are very different in style and tone, and I much preferred the former novel.

'The Speed of Dark' is set in the near future, and all genetic disorders are prevented or cured in early childhood. (This fictional future is like the realisation of all the fondest dreams of the wealthy organisation, Autism Speaks. Its co-founder Suzanne Wright has said she hopes for a future when autism is merely "a word for the history books."
(link: www.autismspeaks.org/sponsoredevents/new_decade_for_autism.php)
In a recent interview she said, "we try to stem the tide and ultimately eradicate autism for the sake of future generations. If we continue our current trajectory, we’ll get there in my lifetime." That'd be about 20 years from now.)

Our protagonist, Lou, is a young autistic man, born just too early to be cured of his autism so he and his work colleagues are among the last generation of autistic people alive. He underwent intensive training as a child to help him conform as much as possible to the non-autistic majority. He works for a pharmaceutical company, in a small section where all the employees are autistic, and where their autistic strengths, like pattern recognition and attention to detail, are used to benefit the company. A few work place accommodations including a trampoline in a recreation room and allocated parking spaces, help to keep these competent employees content and productive. However, the company is promoting a novel treatment for autism and is pressuring their autistic employees to opt for the surgery.

I enjoyed the insight into Lou's inner life, his friendships, enemies and interests. I cared about this character, though I didn't find some of the other characters so convincing, especially those depicted as all good or thoroughly rotten. The ending (and this is a bit of a spoiler) was horrific and chilling, to me anyway. It jolted with the rest of the book, but that may have been the author's aim. It certainly was not what I expected, and I found it just so upsetting. Others may differ and consider what was depicted as the best possible outcome.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book but I thought the ending was strange.

Lindsay said...

I really liked The Speed of Dark, too. I also thought Elizabeth Moon did a great job showing how Lou thinks, and how he experiences things.

The other thing I liked about it was the diversity of its autistic characters --- there were many of them, and they didn't all think in the same way, and some were more or less impaired (or gifted) than others.

(I also thought her vision of the future was kind of funny --- "normal" is really aggressively policed in her FutureWorld, such that even having a hobby like fencing, or listening to classical music, can brand you a Scary, Scary Deviant! I appreciated that, since that does seem to be the direction cultural attitudes toward autistic people are heading.)