The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark

A Novel

eBook - 2004
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Thoughtful, provocative, poignant, unforgettable, The Speed of Dark is a gripping journey into the mind of an autistic person as he struggles with profound questions of humanity and matters of the heart.

In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Lou Arrendale, a high-functioning autistic adult, is a member of the lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the rewards of medical science. He lives a low-key, independent life. But then he is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental "cure" for his condition. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music--with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world--shades and hues that others cannot see? Most important, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings? Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.

Tenth anniversary edition * With a new Introduction by the author

Praise for The Speed of Dark

"Splendid and graceful . . . A lot of novels promise to change the way a reader sees the world; The Speed of Dark actually does."-- The Washington Post Book World

"[A] beautiful and moving story . . . [Elizabeth] Moon is the mother of an autistic teenager and her love is apparent in the story of Lou. He makes a deep and lasting impact on the reader while showing a different way of looking at the world."-- The Denver Post

"Every once in a while, you come across a book that is both an important literary achievement and a completely and utterly absorbing reading experience--a book with provocative ideas and an equally compelling story. Such a book is The Speed of Dark ."--Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"A remarkable journey [that] takes us into the mind of an autistic with a terrible choice: become normal or remain an alien on his own planet."--Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow

"A powerful portrait . . . an engaging journey into the dark edges that define the self."-- The Seattle Times
Publisher: [New York] : Ballantine Books, 2004.
ISBN: 9780345472205
Branch Call Number: E-BOOK
Characteristics: 1 electronic text.
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


From Library Staff

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Feb 22, 2020

An absorbing and thought-provoking book.

The sci-fi aspects of this story are very accessible and are downplayed so that even readers who don't usually read sci-fi should be okay with it. The writing is very smooth, consistent, and highly detailed without being tedious. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy novels that discuss philosophical issues of life as well as fans of soft sci-fi.

I don't agree with reviewers who find strong parallels between this book and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes; I find the circumstances in the two books are too different. In Flowers for Algernon, the main character becomes someone so advanced that he experiences his own subsequent decline the way someone with Alzheimer's might experience their inevitable decline: simultaneously aware and not aware of what he is losing. However, in The Speed of Dark,

**SPOILER ALERT**the main character starts out as highly advanced and subsequently becomes a different person, so unaware of how he has changed that the man he was before the change has essentially died.

This book has existential questions at its core about agency, the nature of self, and what makes us human, taking the philosophical discussion of those questions further than Flowers does.

Most of the book is narrated from the point of view of Lou Arrendale, an autist (to use the person-centered language that Lou prefers). At first it was very awkward because it felt very much like these are the language and thoughts that a non-autist would attribute to an autist, in other words it felt like the author's personal voice was impinging too heavily on the story and was too present. However, as the story progressed and I got to know the character better, Lou's voice felt more and more authentic, and the author's voice receded into the background. The uniqueness of Lou's voice is what really carries the book and the metaphysical discussion at its core.

This book does not pass <a href="">The Fries Test on disability representation in our culture</a>, a critique based on the (damaging, denigrating) ways that authors have used disabled characters in the past. Despite this failure, I do appreciate this book. Lou grapples with a decision he has to make -- it is a problematic dilemma with no easy or obvious answers. In the end, he chooses a path. It's great and important that Lou has the agency to decide for himself. I wish the author had put more emphasis on the problematic aspect of the dilemma, but perhaps that would have been overkill.

I kept thinking about this story for days after I finished, and I'm sure the character Lou Arrendale will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended reading.

IndyPL_SteveB Sep 21, 2019

Winner of the Nebula Award for science fiction, 2003.

Deeply thoughtful and emotionally affecting near-future novel, told from the point of view of a high-functioning autistic man. Lou is a talented computer programmer. He is also a hobby fencer, which provides most of his attempts at social interaction. His employer has hired several autistic programmers and has learned how to get quality work and have contented employees, while managing the non-traditional interactions.

But when a ground-breaking medical treatment is developed that seems likely to “cure” autism, a new manager tells the staff that the company will pay for the new treatment to make them “normal;” but if they refuse the treatment, they will be fired. Here is the heart of the book. Being autistic is part of Lou’s very identity. If he removes that, who is he? His world view is based on his individual quirks and his job is based on his superior programming ability. Would he even be able to do his job if he got this treatment? Could he lose both his identity and his job?

Popular science fiction writer Elizabeth Moon is also the mother of an autistic son. Writing this in the first person gives the reader a rare insight into the world of autism that few other people could write. It allows us to empathize with Lou’s dilemma. If you were forced to give up some important part of your personality in order to keep your career, even if it might give you advantages in some other ways, would you take that risk?

Mar 23, 2017

I really liked the first 3/4 of the book. Decent portrayal of an autist mind, interesting pattern overlays and took the time to have focus not just on interpersonal interactions. The ending... took the easy way out while also throwing away the original character. I'm still reeling from the ending, and feeling like the author's point is that autists are better off not existing at all. Which is just utterly revolting to me.

JCLLisaJ Apr 11, 2013

Set in the near future where it is possible to cure autism, Moon, the author and parent of a child with autism addresses the question “what is normal?” What happens to those who aren’t “normal”? The Speed of Dark is a powerful and thought provoking book which raises a lot of questions and provides insight into society and how we treat those who don’t meet society’s definition of “normal” and this future world’s solution. This is one of my favorites, but as a parent of a child with autism I have horribly mixed feelings about the ending and the main character’s choice.

While some may find it slow, it is written from the main character's point of view which provides great insight into how someone with autism may think and feel. Stick with it... you won't be sorry!

Apr 24, 2012

This is one of the best books I have ever read. There are other worlds out there and people live in them.

Oct 19, 2011

I found Moon's 'The Speed of Dark' to be a slow read. The premise centres on an experimental autism cure in the near future and whether the main character, Lou, a high functioning autistic man, should undergo the treatment. Unfortunately, Moon tries to create a first person point-of-view of Lou with a 'dialect' that is supposed to get inside the head of Lou and his speach patterns. This 'dialect' is repeatitious. It was often slow going which was not helped by a weak plot. The novel was OK.

Sep 22, 2011

Excellent! Engrossing.

Aug 06, 2011

Wonderful insights in the world of autism. Gives the reader much to ponder regarding their relationships with people with disabilities.

Celiza Apr 23, 2011

This book is an incredible depiction of what it is like to live as a person with autism. It is well-written, an entertaining read, and addresses the important question of whether a person would be the same person with and without a cognitive disability -- how does having such a disability contribute to who a person is. This is an amazing book.

Aug 24, 2010

This is one of the best books I have ever read. . . .a great novel that provides an accurate picture of what life is like for an autistic person.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings

OPL owns a similar edition of this title.

View originally-listed edition

Report edition-matching error

To Top