My life in outer space

The Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon (2002)

The Speed of Dark

‘Lou is different to normal people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.

One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.’

Blurb from the 2004 Orbit paperback edition.

A brave and moving novel, reminiscent of the recent ‘Curious Case of The Dog in The Night Time’. This is almost exclusively related by Lou Arrendale, an autistic adult in a near-future America. His world view is both funny and tragic, but treated with complete respect and empathy by Moon.
Thanks to advances in medicine and educational techniques, Lou and his fellow autistics have learned to live a reasonably normal life. Since the time he was born. subsequent autistic pregnancies have been spotted and the faulty DNA repaired, making Lou’s generation the last of the autistics.
A large pharmaceutical company employs Lou and his friends working in pattern analysis projects, since that is his special talent. For instance, using pattern analysis he has learned the art of fencing, and in a short time can analyse opponents’ patterns of play and therefore anticipate their moves and win.
Now, the head of department is attempting to bully the autistics into an experimental treatment programme which could rewire their brains and transform them into ‘normal’ members of society.
Although only borderline SF, this is a marvellous, moving and respectful novel, exposing society’s attitude to autism, and providing a rare, entertaining and well-observed glimpse into a world many people (though they may choose not to admit it) would rather avoid.

See also Alastair Reynolds’‘Redemption Ark’ and Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers For Algernon’

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