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Probably the best known of many SF stories dealing with autism, this is a near-future novel told in the first person by an autistic man who is being pressured to try an experimental "cure" by his employers (who are in the right line of work to provide it to him).

The actual plot is pretty straightforward - there's an Evil Boss and an Evil Acquaintance who both have to be dealt with in fairly unsurprising fashion - but the success of the book is Moon's depiction of what it might feel like to be autistic and write down how your life seems to you. Of course, one must take this as it is - Moon is not autistic, and so this is a literary experiment inviting the reader to inhabit the author's impression of the uncanny valley of autistic experience rather than a clinical description of a real-life individual - but sf fans are used to authors asking them to inhabit imaginary worlds, imaginary cultures and imaginary states of consciousness, so it's not surprising that a book that pulls this off well, as Speed of Dark does, would appeal to readers of the genre.

On first reading, I felt that the ending of the book, when we discover what choice Lou makes with regard to the cure, somewhat undermined the rest of the book. On re-reading, I felt rather more comfortable with it: it seemed to me this time that the climax is signalled decently far ahead and that in fact Moon avoids the temptation of giving the book too pat an ending. There is an interesting use of the New Testament in reaching the conclusion, though I will grumble about inaccuracy in a comment to this entry.

Speed of Dark won the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novel. The others on the shortlist were Lois McMaster Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity, Carol Emshwiller's The Mount, Kathleen Ann Goonan's Light Music, Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads and Jack McDevitt's Chindi. The only one I have read is the Bujold and I will admit that it is minor; I don't remember hearing much about the others at the time let alone since. None of the shortlisted books was on the Hugo ballot, which is unusual and can sometimes mean a healthy strength and diversity and sometimes mean that the selection process generated a weak list. However, Speed of Dark is a worthy winner.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 24th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
There is an odd Biblical slip in Chapter 18, where there is an extended discussion of the gospel story of the paralysed man who needs someone to lower him into the healing waters from John 5. The parallel with Lou's own situation is not belaboured; it becomes a starting point for a couple of other discussions, with the intensity of Lou's own internal conversation contrasted with his lack of observation of his social surroundings.

The gospel reading is introduced as "the story of the man lying by the pool of Siloam". This is wrong; the pool of Siloam is where Jesus tells a different man to go in chapter nine of John's gospel, after healing him with mud made from Jesus' own spittle; the pool with the angel in chapter five is Bethesda, not Siloam. I suppose one sacred pool is much the same as another, but the original Bible texts are pretty clearly about different places.
Jul. 24th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
One thing I liked about it is that I felt that the solution was presented as a solution chosen by this autistic person as best for himself in his circumstances. I felt the book didn't try and universalise the solution as being the best for all autistic people in all circumstances.
Jul. 25th, 2012 08:43 am (UTC)
I found it a very touching book, and emotionally gripping, and also very funny in places: not laughing at the autistic man, but amused by his inadvertent outsmarting or puncturing of those who interact with him.
Jul. 26th, 2012 02:01 pm (UTC)
The Salt Roads is very good. (I read it after seeing other Hopkinson works recommended by Requires Hate.)
Jul. 26th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
I have Elizabeth Moon down as a writer of turgid "US marines in Space" military SF, so it is a bit preconceptions-challenging for me to hear that she has writting something a bit more interesting-sounding.
Jul. 27th, 2012 07:36 am (UTC)
She writes other stuff too (military fantasy in sorta-medieval world with elves), but SOD is definitely her best book IMHO. The change of pace only helped her, perhaps.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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