I am having trouble figuring out how to write about The Speed of Dark, so I will start with the most important part: this book is very good and very powerful. It is literally mind-changing, in that it takes you and puts you into the mind of Lou Arrendale. There are sections written from the viewpoints of other characters, and these sections are important in how they provide context, give us a break from Lou’s viewpoint, and recognize plot in ways that Lou wouldn’t be able to. But these sections aside, the book largely focuses on Lou: how he sees the world and other people, how other people see him, and how he interacts with the world, and all of it is extremely absorbing.
Reading often has an influence on how my mode of thought for a few hours: read a collection of speeches by American presidents, and my thoughts will be longer, wordier, more eloquent. Read a chapter of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and my thoughts will be more clipped, casual, slang-y and strange. After reading The Speed of Dark, my mind would occasionally slip into Lou’s pattern of thought, and it would jerk me back to thinking about the book, how Lou sees the world and what he would make of the situation before me. That is powerful.
It is also worth noting that The Speed of Dark is a novel, not a series of vignettes describing one person’s life. There is a fully fleshed out plot that is believable, gripping, and compelling, with multiple subplots woven into the mix. The question of whether Lou would accept the cure or not had me biting my nails in suspense, and the ending was extraordinarily emotional.
The book shatters preconceptions. Sure, Lou is autistic, but he still has a life, still has a job and hobbies. He does not understand social interactions the same as others do, but he is hardly the picture of inappropriate social behavior, a stereotype often associated with autism. As one character says in the story, Lou manages far better than many people who don’t have a recognized mental disorder. In the end, what matters isn’t how labels apply to people or how people fit into various categories, but who the person is and how they see the world.
That said, The Speed of Dark does take place in the future, with some regulatory and medical developments that constrain the effects of disability. This is one way the book purposefully limits its depiction of autistics to functioning autistics, rather than depicting those who are more severely hindered by autism.
Cover Art Review: I think this cover set the mood for the story pretty well. It is dark, haunting, and uncertain.