Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Review: The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

2004 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Every once in a while, a book comes along that manages to achieve a special transcendent quality that lifts it above the pack. These books are certainly well written and excellently plotted, but it is something else, some indescribable quality, that resonates with the reader on a level greater than the sum of its parts that truly makes them stand out. Books like these are treasures when you find them, making one giddy with delight when discovered. Sadly, books like these are exceptionally rare. Fahrenheit 451 was such book for me, likewise American Gods, and I am pleased to say that The Speed of Dark easily joins their ranks.

The story is of a high functioning autistic named Lou. It is set in a near future world where scientific advances have led to cures for many diseases and handicaps. Among these is a process for early intervention in Autistics that "cures" them of Autism. Lou is too old to have received these treatments, but his unique perspective allows him to solve pattern problems for the company he works for and otherwise radically effects the way he views the world. Close to the outset of the story, a group develops an experimental treatment that will reverse autism in adults. Lou is given the chance to test this cure and his dilemma raises fundamental questions of identity and humanity. Does he want to try this cure? How much of what makes Lou Lou is part of his autism? Throughout the story, there are those who want Lou to change, and those who want him to stay just how he is. What decision Lou comes to, and whether it is ultimately up to him to change or not, I will leave to the reader to discover. Suffice to say you will not be disappointed with the journey you take in Lou's mind. Elizabeth Moon is a deft writer and her skill elegantly transports the reader into the mind of an autistic. Make no mistake, this is a journey that will change the way you see the world.

The book is written in first person, and really nothing else could convey Lou's mind so perfectly. It's rare for authors to write first person well, but in this Moon excels. Moon is the mother of an Autistic and has also done her research, these two facts help the perspective to come alive as a mind different, and yet oh so human.

This book has heart, humor and a clear understanding of the human condition and, ultimately, I think it should speak for itself. Believe me - read it. You'll love it.