A thought provoking journey of Austism, technology and ‘what ifs’.
Sometimes books aren’t just companions for just a few days or to get you through a few commuting hours. I read this novel at the suggestion of fellow ninja-book-club reader +Lisa Watson (incidentally a fellow
exile Kiwi) and I’m still thinking about the hauting situations that play out, months later.
Lou is different to ‘normal’ people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.
One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.
Lou himself narrates the novel, and it’s wonderful to experience life through him. He is a ‘high-level’ operating autistic adult; he is as normal as you or I. He holds down a job, drives himself around, has friends and interests (which include fencing). There is a wonderful cast of characters around him, from his workmates with their own unique mannerisms, his neighbours, his fencing club friends and a love interest in Marjory.
“Sometimes I wonder how normal normal people are, and I wonder that most in the grocery store.”
This spoke to me so powerfully; my Mother was a teacher-aide to autistic children, and to seem them struggle to become ‘normal’ in a world that isn’t understandable to them is tough to see. The novel is set in the near future, and raises the question of making things ‘better’. Who says they are ‘better’? What is ‘normal’?
At it’s heart, the book is a Sci-fi/drama, but the way that Lou lives his life and sees the world turns it into a real world story. The ladies in the book club also flagged in Speed Of Dark
the author (who dedicated the novel to her own autistic son) subtly raising the question of other multifaceted prejudices and the place that genetic modifications could have in the coming world.
When Tom (his friend and fencing instructor) says “He was an extraordinary man… I hope he will be again”, Dr Hendriks replies, “He will, at least, not be autistic.”
Will Lou take the treatment? Will it change him for the better?
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