Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon, is written from the perspective of an autistic man named Lou.  It takes place in the not-too-distant future, where autism has largely been "cured", and he and some other highly-functioning autistic folks work in an office that has been engineered to meet their specific needs and take advantage of their special skills.  Lou is a thoughtful,  accomplished person with a lot of friends and activities, but when the company pressures them to also under-go an autism "cure" they all grabble with the ethics and science of the proposal.  What Lou considers most of all is whether he will be the same person after the experiment as he is before.  So, the book has a Flowers for Algernon quality that I find rather appealing (I've always liked that story).  I should admit that some of the book dragged for me a bit - it felt a bit long at 340 pages (hardcover).  But, the language was beautiful.
I glance around my apartment and think of my own reactions, my need for regularity, my fascination with repeating phenomena, with series and patterns. Everyone needs some regularity; everyone enjoys series and patterns to some degree. I have known that for years, but now I understand it better.   We autistics are at one end of an arc of human behavior and preference, but we are connected. 
I'm going to lay down some spoilers here... don't read if you don't want to know what happens.


I'm serious...


OK, so, Lou decides to have the operation, way, way near the end of the book - and it's very powerful - for a while he's in a haze, and then he has to relearn everything - walking, talking, etc.  And, it's fairly heart-wrenching, because one becomes quite attached to Lou, and then it's like, Oh great, everything's gone to shit!  But, he relearns very quickly and then one of his friends, who happens to be non-autistic, comes to visit him, but you can tell from his reaction that Lou is not at all the person he was before.  Structurally, I love how Moon left all of that for literally the last 20 or so pages. Ultimately she  illustrates how conditions like autism create merely an aspect of the whole person, and that aspect is certainly not portrayed as a disability - at least anymore than most people are effected by distractions and interruptions (which is why I put the word "cured" above in quotations).  This book has a lot in common with the excellent The Colony, which I read recently - and would recommend both to anyone interested in narratives about the experience of people with disabilities.  Also, if you're interested in more  on the subject, there's a great writer over at Tiger Beatdown - s.e. smith.

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