Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Speed of Dark

I know a few people who just can't get into science fiction. I don't know if it is the underlying geek association or the frequent bad writing, paper thin characters and overemphasis on technology and action.

The 2003 Nebula award winner, Speed of Dark, is a science fiction novel for those who disdain the genre. There is little in the way of action, the writing is crisp and the characters, in particular the autistic Lou Arrendale, are fantastic. The science fiction elements are three. It is set in the future and assumes a few societal changes. It also assumes that some treatments have been developed to lessen the effects of autism. Finally, the story is one of alien interaction. The autistic and normal humans are different enough that they are effectively aliens and have the resultant communication problems.

The plot of the novel concerns a group of autistic people being given the option to completely eliminate the effects of autism. It is being forced as a cost measure upon them and this provides the overt conflict of the novel. The subtler conflict surrounds Lou's internal debate about whether he wants to stop being autistic. He likes his life and his condition is part of his identity. What's more, his brain wiring allows him to spot patterns, in chemical reactions and in fencing, that non-autistic people cannot see. So he has it helps at his job and in his hobbies.

Lou's character is amazing. The author, Elizabeth Moon, has an autistic son herself, which must have helped her develop and comprehend Lou. We constantly see how the autistic view certain forms of behavior. For example, the autistic do not do well with nuance. So if something is bad, it is bad, if it good it is good. When someone who is supposed to be good does something they shouldn't, it is difficult to process. Moon does a great job exploring human interaction through these uncomprehending eyes.

The ending isn't perfect, but I think it fits within the overall philosophy of the story. Even with an imperfect ending, the book is one of the best science fiction stories I have ever read.

1 comment:

Maddy said...

I like imperfect [ambiguous] endings. Glad you didn't give the game away though!