The Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon

Lou Arrendale and his autistic colleagues at a pharmaceutical company are in a special facility that costs too much, at least in the eyes of a new director. But wait, there's an experimental procedure that could make them "normal" - should Lou have this procedure?

This is another treatment of "what is normal?" and maybe even "what is human?" Not in the PKD form - but through the eyes of people that many consider slightly less than human. The main character, Lou, is an autistic (very high functioning) with high aspirations and extreme intelligence. The book is told, mostly, from Lou's perspective and gives a wonderful view in the mind of high-functioning autistics. It also asks us to evaluate what it means to be normal, and in my opinion, what it means to be human.

Lou and his friends from work all do advanced computer work - largely based on their unique abilities to recognize patterns that appear random to the bulk of humanity. They work at a large pharmaceutical company. We learn that they are provided special facilities to allow them to work - for example, a gym with trampolines and their own personal libraries of music. Their new director wants to cut costs, thinking that perhaps these supports are unnecessary. He also wants to use these folks as guinea pigs in an experimental procedure that may make them normal (this is likely his main motivation.) This is the main dilemma in the book, and it's a great backdrop for exploring the main themes, what is normal and what is human.

Why these themes? We also learn that Lou fences and hence has friends outside of work. He is connected to many people, but still, no one has been to his apartment. This connectedness is why I think this book explores the notion of what is human. We are defined by our relationships with others - we are not just our self, but the set of relations that we have. We are our group(s) and that is the defining characteristic of humanity and, to my mind, self.

Lou and the other autistics in the book connect at varying degrees - as do the rest of the people in the novel. Looking at these connections and the dilemma of choosing (or being forced) to undergo a procedure to become 'normal', or even 'human', provides a great backdrop for exploring the question "what defines an entity as human.'

_Speed of Dark_ is a wonderful book - and a very fun read.

Posted: Wed - July 21, 2004 at 06:32 PM