Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon

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Speed of Dark

I love reading books that feature autistic characters and so ordered Speed of Dark the moment Judith mentioned that it was one of her favourite books set in the future.

Speed of Dark is set in the near future, at the moment they find a cure for autism. The book follows Lou, a man with autism, who works in a department specially set up to enable autistic people to maximise their ability to analyse data. The department provides trampolines, soothing music and other comforting objects that enable the group to work as efficiently as possible, but cutbacks are forcing the company to re-evaluate the amount of money they spend on these facilities and so, in an effort to reduce costs, they try to persuade their employees to undergo surgery to remove their autism. The book follows Lou and his colleagues as they decide whether or not to become “normal” citizens.

Speed of Dark reminded me of Flowers for Algernon in that the premise of the book is whether or not people are happier when they match the majority of the population, but whilst I found Speed of Dark interesting, it wasn’t in the same league as Flowers for Algernon.

Speed of Dark accurately captures the autistic mind, giving the reader a real sense of the difficulties they face. The problem is that it isn’t necessarily pleasurable to see the world through their eyes. There were times when I became bored by the excessive detail of some descriptions and I found the continual confusion over the simplest incidents repetitive and dull.

He did not say he was sorry I had four flat tires. That is the conventional thing to say, too bad or how awful, but although he is normal, he did not say either of those things. Maybe he is not sorry; maybe he has no sympathy to express. I had to learn to say conventional things even when I did not feel them, because it is a part of fitting in and learning to get along. Has anyone ever asked Mr Crenshaw to fit in, to get along?

The sad thing is that I know this is what they have to go through each day and so I feel guilty for admitting that I found simply reading 400+ pages about it too much. I think this book would have benefited from being 200 pages shorter, but perhaps that wouldn’t have given such a complete picture of their frustrations.

On a positive note, this book did raise some interesting questions and I loved the debate about whether or not we should remove autism from society. I am still thinking about what all this means for my own son, but whilst I’m not hoping that they find a cure for autism, I am hoping that employers come to realise the benefits of autistic staff and begin to provide the wonderful facilities mentioned in this book.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in autism, but everyone else should read Flowers for Algernon first.


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  1. Beth F says:

    I read Flowers for Algernon so long ago I barely remember it, except that I liked it. I’m not sure this one is for me, though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, Sounds like it is time for you to re-read Algernon ;-)

  2. JoV says:

    I finished Flowers for Algernon two hours ago on London train and I was closed to tears. It is definitely a life defining book for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, Yes, Flowers for Algernon is a life changer. I’m pleased that it had that impact on you too.

  3. So glad you enjoyed this book! I haven’t read “Algernon” but it’s on my wishlist.

    I think I was on the side of the main character, thinking he should not change as he is special in his own way and what really IS normal anyway?

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I had a lot of sympathy for Lou too. I felt so sorry for him and was really hoping that he’d realise how special he was.

      I hope you decide to read Flowers for Algernon, as I’m sure you’ll love it. :-)

  4. Robbie says:

    Sounds like another fantastic read Jackie. I too love books with autistic characters. I have a brother that lists autism, along with many other things, on his list of disabilities, so I always love hearing about stories like this!

    1. Jackie says:

      Robbie, I hope that you enjoy reading it :-)

  5. Biblibio says:

    What a bizarre and fascinating premise for a sci-fi book. I’m not sure how effectively it can portray the autistic mind (how can any novel accurately display what we “normals” can’t understand…?), but it sounds like an interesting setting for a book with the potential for some excellent idea development.


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