NESFA Members' Reviews

The Speed of Dark

by Elizabeth Moon

Ballantine, 2003, ISBN 0-345-44755-7

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

Set perhaps thirty or forty years in the future, this is the story Lou Arrendale and his coworkers--a "lost generation" of autistics born late enough to benefit from vastly improved treatment for their condition, but too soon to be truly cured. They have jobs they're really good at, that use the abilities that come from their disability in really valuable ways, in a work environment fitted out with the things they need to help them function well.

All's well, or seems so, until their peaceful routine is disrupted by the announcement that an experimental new technique may be able to cure autism in these "lost generation" adults. The company they work for has bought the research, and the new manager of their division, who has already made it clear that he regards as "waste" the money spent on their special accommodations, has decided that they are all going to "volunteer" for the first human trial.

This crew is autistic, not stupid, and they do have friends and resources; the coercion doesn't work, but they still have to decide what they want to do. Will it work? Will it fail? If it fails, will they be worse of than they are now? If it works, will they lose the particular talent for pattern-recognition that currently makes them so valuable? Do they even want to be "normal"?

It's not really the near-future setting that makes this sf; it's the trip inside an interestingly alien mind, as we get nearly all of the story from Lou's viewpoint. Forget anything cutting I've said about some of Moon's other work; this one is stunningly good.

Strongly recommended.

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