Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: The Speed of Dark

Finished reading The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Bottom Line: 4 out of 5 stars; recommended. Best suited for high school readers and up.

For a summary, see the Wikipedia entry here.

My review (includes spoilers):

Lou Arrendale, the autistic protagonist of The Speed of Dark, is very adept at noticing patterns. If he were to read this book, he might recognize a pattern that went something like this: extreme brilliance / kind of slow/ extreme brilliance / a bit dull / extreme brilliance / rather boring / extreme brilliance.

My brain doesn't recognize patterns quite as well as Lou's (or my son's, for that matter), but that was the feeling I had while reading TSoD, the 2003 Nebula Award winner for Best Novel. Elizabeth Moon has a son on the autism spectrum, which I'm sure provided her with a lot of source material for Lou's character, but she goes into a level of detail (on a variety of subjects) that just screamed "hundreds of hours of research." It was awe-inspiring, but also provided moments where I was able to exhale and comfortably put the book down for a while to take a break (my most favorite books are always the ones that I have to forcibly tear myself away from.)

Moon does an excellent job at painting a representative picture of how a person on the spectrum may behave and what they may be thinking. There were a lot of similarities between Lou and Joel Suzuki, the protagonist of my book, and whenever I noticed one, I thought, "cool, I was on the right track." At times, I felt like there were a little too many autism-isms, but that's probably because I'm already familiar with a lot of the characteristics that she was trying to illustrate.

Spoilers coming below!

The aforementioned moments of extreme brilliance are emotional and riveting. I looooved the part where Lou calmly disarms Don by noticing and following Don's patterns of movement. Also very gripping were the parts where Lou ponders whether "normal" people are actually any happier than folks on the spectrum.

I have a little quibble with the ending, which, to me, communicated that once Lou was "cured" of autism, he was then able to accomplish this glamorous dream of becoming an astronaut (leaving his mundane office job behind), and that he no longer felt the same attraction to Marjory. I understand that Moon did not want to romanticize autism, but I would have preferred it if Lou had stepped into the unknown of receiving the treatment, and then found out that he was still largely the same person after all.

Overall, the moments of brilliance far outweigh the slower passages, and my criticisms of the book stem mostly from my personal biases. TSoD is a moving, thoughtful, and powerful work that is well-deserving of its Nebula Award.

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