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Book review: The Speed of Dark - Phil's Rambling Rants
October 18th, 2005
10:44 pm

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Book review: The Speed of Dark
Today's book review is The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

This is a novel about autism, told in the first person by an autistic character, written by the parent of an autistic child.  Autism is a subject of some personal interest, since I see some of the symptoms of autism in myself.  It is somewhat challenging, but I find myself identifying with the viewpoint character early in the book, and being fairly caught up in the story.  It goes well through most of the book, but then comes to an ending that I really didn't like, which bothers me at the level of the characters and my identification with them and also at the level of the philosophical message.

This book does explore some interesting issues, going beyond the specific issue of autism to make the reader think about the meaning and value of personhood and about what it means to be a good person.  I can't say more without spoilers, but I really want to say more, so I will put the real spoilers behind a cut.

Most of the book seems to be consistently and objectively building up a message that autists like the main character Lou are good, worthwhile people, in fact, better than a number of the 'normal' people in the story.  It really bothers me that in the end, Lou chooses to go ahead with the experimental therapy, which makes major changes in his personality.  Even though the new Lou achieves things the old Lou only dreamed about, it feels like Moon spent the whole book saying that the autistic Lou was a truly worthwhile person, and then she basically has him kill himself to make room for the new Lou and his bright future, as if to say, 'You remember all that stuff about how the old Lou was valuable and worthy?  I didn't really mean it.  Getting rid of that horrible defect is more important than keeping Lou with his love and friends and all his brilliance.'  Maybe this is supposed to be a literary device to goad the reader into a more profound realization that autism does not cancel personhood, and perhaps it even works on that level, but it came close to ruining the novel for me.

A very good book except for the ending.  Interesting stuff to think about, stuff that more of us need to think about and understand more than we do.  Unfortunately, with the ending it has, I can't give it more than 6 out of 10.

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