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The Speed of Dark


The Speed of Dark Cover

ISBN13: 9780345472205
ISBN10: 0345472209
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Reading Group Guide

In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Unfortunately, there will be a generation left behind. For members of that missed generation, small advances will be made. Through various programs, they will be taught to get along in the world despite their differences. They will be made active and contributing members of society. But they will never be normal.

Lou Arrendale is a member of that lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the awards of medical science. Part of a small group of high-functioning autistic adults, he has a steady job with a pharmaceutical company, a car, friends, and a passion for fencing. Aside from his annual visits to his counselor, he lives a low-key, independent life. He has learned to shake hands and make eye contact. He has taught himself to use “please” and “thank you” and other conventions of conversation because he knows it makes others comfortable. He does his best to be as normal as possible and not to draw attention to himself.

But then his quiet life comes under attack. It starts with an experimental treatment that will reverse the effects of autism in adults. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music–with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world–shades and hues that others cannot see? Most importantly, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings? Would it be easier for her to return the love of a “normal”?

There are intense pressures coming from the world around him–including an angry supervisor who wants to cut costs by sacrificing the supports necessary to employ autistic workers. Perhaps even more disturbing are the barrage of questions within himself. For Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.

Thoughtful, provocative, poignant, unforgettable, The Speed of Dark is a gripping exploration into the mind of an autistic person as he struggles with profound questions of humanity and matters of the heart.

From the Hardcover edition.

1. Why do you think Elizabeth Moon titled her novel The Speed of Dark?

2. Is The Speed of Dark a typical science fiction novel? Is it a science

fiction novel at all? Why or why not?

3. Lou Arrendale is the novel’s main character, and most of its events are

related in his voice, through his eyes. Yet sometimes Moon depicts events

through the eyes of other characters, such as Tom and Pete Aldrin.

Discuss why the author might have decided to write this story from more

than one point of view. Do you think it was the right decision?

4. In the accompanying interview, Elizabeth Moon states that she wanted

to avoid demonizing autism in her presentation of Lou and his fellow

autists. Does she succeed? Does she go too far in the opposite direction

and romanticize it?

5. What is it about damaged characters like Lou that makes them so

fascinating to read about? What other novels can you think of that

feature main characters or narrators who are damaged or in some way


6. Compare the author’s portrayal of characters like Mr. Crenshaw and

Don to that of Lou. Are their portraits drawn with equal depth and

believability? Why do you suppose the author might have chosen to

depict some characters more realistically than others? What effect, if any,

did this have on your enjoyment of the novel?

7. In what ways is Lou’s autism a disadvantage in his daily life? Does it

confer any advantages?

8. What does it mean to the various characters in the book to be normal?

How do Lou’s ideas of normalcy compare to those of Crenshaw? Of

Don? Of Tom and Lucia?

9. How did reading The Speed of Dark change your own concept of what

it means to be normal?

10. What reason does Lou’s company give for wanting him and his

fellow autists to undergo the experimental treatment? Are they being

truthful, or is there some other reason?

11. Does Lou decide to try the experimental treatment because he

believes what the company has told him, or for reasons of his own? If the

latter, what are those reasons, and do you find them believable? Do you

think he makes the right decision? Discuss in terms of the reading from

the book of John that Lou hears at church, about the man lying by the

healing pool in Siloam.

12. Do you agree or disagree with Crenshaw’s contention that Lou and

the other autists are a drain on the company and that their “perks” are

unfair to “normal” employees? In your opinion, are special needs

employees, whether autists or those with other mental or physical

disabilities, given too many workplace advantages under current law?

13. What do you think accounts for the personal hostility toward Lou

displayed by characters like Crenshaw and Don? At any point in your

reading, did you find yourself taking their side? Why?

14. Why, despite his sensitivity to patterns, does Lou have such difficulty

accepting the possibility that Don may be the one behind the vandalism

of his car? Once Don is arrested, why does Lou have misgivings about

filing a complaint against him?

15. Given what is revealed of Marjory’s personality and history, do you

think she is genuinely attracted to Lou?

16. One of Lou’s biggest difficulties is interpreting the motivations of

other people. Yet this is something almost every reader can relate to.

Similarly, many readers can identify with other aspects of Lou’s character

and behavior: his appreciation of music or his sensitivity to patterns, for

example. Were there any facets of his character that you found totally

alien to your own experience of living in and perceiving the world?

17. One reviewer called the ending of The Speed of Dark “chilling.”

Another termed it a “cop-out.” What’s your verdict? Has Lou achieved

his dream of becoming an astronaut, as it seems? What price has he paid?

Is he still the same person he was before the treatment? If not, how has

he changed? What has been gained? What has been lost?

18. The treatment offered to Lou features a combination of genetic

engineering and nanotechnology, two of the hottest areas of scientific

research today. Some diseases and conditions are already being treated

with gene therapies, and scientists expect that more will soon follow. The

prospect of cures for such scourges as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and

autism is exciting. But what about genetic therapies to raise IQ or

program developing fetuses for certain physical, mental, and emotional

traits? Are we moving too fast into this brave new world? Have we taken

sufficient account of the dangers and ethical considerations? Do human

beings have a right to tamper with nature in this way? Where would you

draw the line?

19. If you were offered an experimental drug to improve your IQ or

some area of your mental or physical functioning, but with a possibility

that you would no longer be the same person, would you try it? What if

it were offered by your employer and tied to a higher salary or better

benefits package?

20. Imagine that you and the members of your reading group are highfunctioning

autists like Lou and the others. Now go back and discuss one

of the previous questions from this new perspective, based on behaviors

and ways of thinking presented in the novel.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

flared0ne, December 8, 2009 (view all comments by flared0ne)
If you are searching for ways to make sense of the personal world of an autistic individual, OR just interested in experiencing reality from a different viewpoint, this book has something to offer. It gives an reasonably realistic "view from the inside" of a life given to struggling toward a "main stream" of "unimpeded" functioning. Except, in a very real way, Lou's adaptations to adult life do seem fairly functional (if a bit lonely) and a meaningful component of his "personality" and "identity". A VERY good case is made for redefining conditions like autism as differences rather than disabilities, for "commonly interpreted as handicaps" being reframed as significantly useful "strengths" (in this case a strong focus on pattern recognition).

Notice that this book DOES postulate a reasonable mechanism for at least a small portion of the observable symptomology of autism: a combination of neural processing "delays" and "thresholds" such that things happening too quickly are just not perceived -- things like consonants, and facial expressions, etc.

AND, if you trust in "the invisible hand" of the market, it appears to be "time" for the fictional case presented here to appear in the real world -- an article on under health-mental_health (can't give the actual link due to review restrictions, apparently) gives the full text, which boils down to noting that several "specialized staffing" companies (in Denmark, the company Specialisterne, and in the United States, the non-profit Chicago company Aspiritech) are starting up to help enable productive lives for autistic individuals in high-tech environments.

This book describes a reality which is entangling more and more people, while offering insight and even some productive "direction" forward into real life.

Note, too, that perhaps it is also "time" for those corporate tax codes and incentive structures (mentioned in the book as significant plot elements) to start to appear as well. Now, before the flood hits.
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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Moon, Elizabeth
Elizabeth Moon
Fiction : General
Fiction : Technological
Fiction : Science Fiction - High Tech
Medical novels
Autism -- Patients.
General Fiction
Audio Books-Literature
Audio Books-Science Fiction and Fantasy
Literature-A to Z
Science Fiction and Fantasy-A to Z
Publication Date:

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » Adventure

The Speed of Dark
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 368 pages Random House Publishing Group - English 9780345472205 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A remarkable journey...[that] takes us into the mind of an autistic with a terrible choice: become normal or remain an alien on his own planet."
"Review" by , "Splendid and graceful... A lot of novels promise to change the way a reader sees the world; The Speed of Dark actually does."
"Synopsis" by , Journeys inside the mind of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man, who is asked to undergo a new, experimental treatment designed to cure autism, as he struggles with the question of whether or not he should risk a medical procedure that could make him "normal." Reader's Guide included. Reprint.
"Synopsis" by , An exploration into the world of an autistic man who is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental 'cure' for his condition. He must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world, and the very essence of who he is.
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