The book's main character, Lou Arrendale, is a 35 year old autistic man, born at the turn of the 21st century. He is part of the last generation of autists who were not essentially "cured" in vitro or during infancy.
He works for a pharmaceutical company, along with other high-functioning autists, as a code pattern recognition analyst - a profession in which he and the other autists are exceptionally successful.
The primary plot conflict in the book involves the pharmaceutical company's attempt to force the autists to undergo experimental treatment to "cure" their autism (and the why's and how's of this procedure). Secondary conflicts involve Lou's interpersonal relationships.
A dry recitation of plot details does not indicate what an extraordinary work this is. Through the mechanisms of the plot conflicts, Lou struggles with grand questions of identity and language, philosophy and religion, intellect and emotion, and, of course, light and dark.
The first person perspective of a fascinating and complex man whose brain functions very differently from those of "normals" creates a work that is so engrossing it is nearly hypnotic.
This report prepared by Shannon Fallow
Ballantine, Jan 2003, 23.95, 352 pp.
Though Lou Arrendale suffers from autism, he refuses to allow that condition from stopping him from living a fruitful “normal” life. Lou works at a pharmaceutical company and has many friends. He has adapted to the troubles his condition causes him in a non-autistic society by adopting polite mannerisms such as shaking hands and using salutations. Lou tries very hard to behave “normal” when he is in the urban wilderness.
However, the CEO of his firm wants to cut costs by firing the autistic work force that needs special assistance to perform. Lou is given an option of taking an experimental drug that will allegedly turn him into a normal, but he hesitates. He worries that if he becomes normal is he Lou? Adding to his dilemma is his deep feelings for Marjory Shaw, a normal who probably will never love the present Lou. Would the revisionist Lou still love her? Before he can decide what to do, Lou must hide from a stalker who wants to harm him.
THE SPEED OF DARK is an incredible novel that captures the essences of an intelligent autistic person struggling to independently survive in a constantly changing world. Though the stalking angle adds suspense, the excitement of the subplot takes away from the powerful themes of focusing on autism and the ethical issue of chemical cures to the mind and body changing the essence of the person. This strong tale with powerful characters will remind the audience of Flowers for Algernon and Rain Man as Elizabeth Moon takes the reader inside the soul of the hero.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner