Book: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Speed of Dark Cover Image

TitleThe Speed of Dark
Author(s)Elizabeth Moon
Initially Published In2002
PublisherOrbit Books
Formats AvailablePaperback, Kindle, Hardcover

The Speed of Dark is a near-future story about a young autistic man, Lou. Lou is computer analyst, who is also a good fencer. The novel is a combination of science fiction and a thriller, often narrated from the autistic man’s point of view.

“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

The main character in The Speed of Dark has been inspired by the author’s own autistic son.

The World

The Speed of Dark is a futuristic story, where the world has found treatments to manage the condition of autism. This treatment is administered in very early childhood.

In this scenario, autistic children born before the treatment was available try to live ‘normally’ with their condition, and also work hard to be useful members of the society.

The Story

The protagonist of the story (based in the US) is an autistic man in his mid-thirties – Lou Arrendale. Lou has a job as a high-functioning autistic adult in a pharmaceutical company, along with a small group of similar aged autistic team. Lou uses his inherent ability to locate patterns to help his company improve their inefficiencies.

Lou lives alone, and manages his life with well-defined routines; he gets upset/ agitated when these routines are disturbed. Lou’s organization gets some tax breaks for hiring people with autism. The organization has also created specialized work environment (special gym, office decorations)  for the team to work effectively.

Lou also practices fencing with a group of fencing enthusiasts (non-autistic people), using his ability to locate patterns of his opponents to become an effective fencer. Lou is romantically attracted to one of fencers in his practice group.

Two changes disrupt Lou’s regular life.

A new senior manager becomes the boss of Lou’s team. He pushes the autistic employees to volunteer for human trials of a new potential cure owned by the company (tested on rats). The manager  hints that their job and special work environment may be at stake if they don’t volunteer. The manager also says that they are not to discuss the matter with anyone else, as there are issues of intellectual property and business secrets.

Lou and his colleagues are agitated, suspect that their manager may be doing something illegal/ unfair, but are unsure of how to proceed.

On his personal front, Lou is disturbed by small attacks (gradually increasing in their intensity) on his property (broken windshield, tyres slashed, etc.). Because of these attacks Lou has to now deal with the local police too.

The rest of the story is about how Lou (with some help from friends and well-wishers) gets through this ordeal.

Here are some interesting questions that Lou poses:

Just like light has a speed, does ‘dark’ have a speed? What is the speed of dark?

“If I had not been what I am, what would I have been?”

Elizabeth Moon is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. She also writes newspaper columns and opinion pieces. Her novel, The Speed of Dark won the 2003 Nebula Award. Moon has served in the United States Marine Corps.

Her work encompasses military science fiction themes, biology, politics, and personal relationships.

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4 thoughts on “Book: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon”

    1. It is a curious question that the protagonist (Lou Arrendale) poses many times to himself and to others – Just like light has a speed, does ‘dark’ have a speed? What is the speed of dark?


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