Review of “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon

It’s not uncommon for me to be slow to warm up to a novel only to find myself writing a glowing review and recommending it by the end. (For some reason, these are the novels I’m most compelled to review.) It happened with Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It happened again with Douglas Coupland’s JPod. And, as you probably guessed by now, it happened most recently with Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark.

I started off loving the voice that Moon writes in which is that of Lou Arrendale, an autistic bioinformatic specialist. In fact, it was only on the second page (of the Kindle version, anyway) that I came across this fantastic quote (which, by the way, I think speaks for far too many of us “normal” people as well as autistics). But as I read on, I was disappointed to find that book was plagued by what I initially interpreted as cliches:

  • The ultra-evil executive at Lou’s office before whom all his minions tremble, and who is constantly on the prowl for cost savings.
  • The buffoon from Lou’s fencing class who reminds me of Clint from Chad Vador.
  • The girl who you are certain Lou is going to end up with by the end of the novel.
  • The prospect of Lou undergoing surgery to become “normal” and losing that which makes him special.

Confident that I had the book figured out, I read on only to find the story tilt and shift out from under me in unexpected ways (spoiler warning):

  • The executive in Lou’s office turns out to be way too over-the-top even for future corporate America, and is therefore unceremoniously canned.
  • The bully who targets Lou transitions from an annoying crybaby into a dangerous and borderline psychotic stalker.
  • Lou ends up entirely losing interest in the girl I kept waiting for him to finally muster up the courage to ask out on a date. No sappy tear jerking, after all.
  • After his surgery, Lou becomes neither better nor worse: simply different in a way that turns out to be impossible to judge.

I’m currently reading Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age which contains some wonderful and poignant passages on moral ambiguity, hypocrisy, and contradiction, all of which I believe are signs of sophistication in both worldview and art. The word “ambiguous” is exactly how I would ultimately describe The Speed of Dark . None of the characters reach the place you expect them to, and where they do end up is neither good nor bad. As in the real world, it just is.

2 thoughts on “Review of “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon

  1. I haven’t heard of this book. My friend has a son that is autistic. Maybe I will pick it up.


  2. You may be interested to know that there are now several “specialized staffing” companies starting up, with the goal of helping place autistic individuals into positions where their “common characteristics”, often referred to as weaknesses or impediments, are reframed as valuable skills. In Denmark, the company Specialisterne; in the United States, the non-profit Chicago company Aspiritech.
    More specific details can be found at including the observation that redefining conditions like autism as differences, rather than disabilities, is important for a developed economy.
    My particular comment is that it appears to be “time” for these business developments to happen. AND that if the corporate tax codes (as referenced in the book) for “specialized” employment incentives are NOT in place yet, it appears to be “time” for THEM to start happening too. Now, before the flood hits.


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