Tag Archives: Elizabeth Moon

Review: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth MoonThe Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey Books Mass Market Edition, 2005)

Spend some time in a high-functioning autistic man’s head, and you may be surprised at how much you relate.

Lou Arrendale is in his 30’s, employed with a small group of other autistic people in the computer division of a large pharmaceutical company. He works at pattern analysis, although he likely couldn’t tell you the purposes of the patterns he creates from what’s on his screen.

The time is our near future. Other than people using “handcomps” (hand-held computers – tablets, anyone?) the main evidence of technological advance is that many health issues, including autism, can now be treated at birth, and that people who can afford it can have life-extending treatments. Oh, and there’s more funding for space exploration again.

Lou was born before the new treatments came about, but far enough into our future that good therapies and alternative learning approaches were in place. He has learned the “rules” for social interaction. He sums it up on the first page of chapter one:

“Everything in my life that I value has been gained at the cost of not saying what I really think and saying what they want me to say.”

Now he has the opportunity to try an experimental procedure that may reverse his autism. He’s content with his life, except for the way some people react to him. Should he submit to this opportunity? Does he want to? What if he’s “cured” but loses who he is?

The Speed of Dark is a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of someone who’s in some ways not so different from us “normal” people. Author Elizabeth Moon has an autistic son, and I assume the realistic feel of the book is based on her observations and research.

Lou and his autistic friends have been trained to act as normal as possible. Normal is happy. Normal is good. It doesn’t frighten people. Nobody told them that not all normal people are happy, good or un-frightening. Or that not all normal people like the same music or activities.

His work, his fencing practice (with “normals”), his research into the experimental procedure, all shape and grow Lou. He discovers that most of his brain really is the same as everyone else’s – that in fact he’s gifted at pattern analysis and capable of university-level learning. But he doesn’t like those things that act as barriers to his relationships with those around him.

This is a mainstream novel, with mild (and one instance of major) profanity. It also includes a scene in Lou’s church where the priest talks about one of Jesus’ healing miracles (John 5:1-15) and echoes Lou’s own question. Does he want to be healed? Even if the healing doesn’t look like he wants it to look? [The novel places this miracle at the Pool of Siloam instead of the Pool at Bethesda, but the priest’s theology is sound.]

Not just for science fiction fans, The Speed of Dark is for anyone interested in the search for identity and who at times feel they don’t fit in.

Elizabeth Moon also writes classic science fiction (I thoroughly enjoyed the Vatta’s War series) and fantasy. The Speed of Dark won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novel. For more about the author, visit her website: www.elizabethmoon.com

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Tips and Links on Writing Fiction

I took in as many writing workshops as I could at this year’s Hal-Con science fiction/ fantasy/ gaming convention. Many of the writing tips apply across fiction genres, so I thought I’d share some of my notes:

From C. S. MacCath: a great overview of open-source (or minimal cost) software for things like organizing notes, story creation, mind mapping and backups. See her Technology for Writers page on her website.

From Matt LeDrew and Ellen Curtis of Engen Books:

  • Sometimes, instead of a villain, you need a foil for the main character.
  • Find out who your characters are outside of the story.
  • If your characters are too similar, let that type be your main character (MC); designate another to always agree, another to always want to prove MC wrong, and another to have yet a different quirk. (Not to create plastic characters, but to train yourself to write with variety. You can edit any stiffness out later.)

From Elizabeth Moon (who was not at the convention, but whose novel, Engaging the Enemy, I slipped off to read between sessions):

  • Two characters had different strategies to understand their enemy. Both points made good sense for a writer presenting a character:
    • “What he does tells us who he is, what he’s really like.”
    • “What he wears tells us who he thinks he is.”

From Brandon Sanderson:

  • Revolve your plot around conflict.
  • Don’t make your main character an observer; make her the centre of the conflict. She needs to make the plot move, although the story opening can be a call to action where she’s pushed into the plot.
  • Story structure needs to maintain a good sense of progression on multiple levels; the reader’s feeling of movement is what keeps him turning pages.
  • What does the character want, and why can’t he have it?
    • what does he want = larger than this story’s plot
    • why can’t he have it = plot
    • Be intentional in your story opening about the promises you make; fulfill them.
      • genre/ feel/ style
      • make sure your ending wraps up what your opening raised
      • Nest multiple plot threads by priority (start the most important first, end it last)
      • Videos of his 2012 writing lectures are posted at Write About Dragons.
      • He’s one of the team at Writing Excuses (podcasts and news updates). I love their tag line: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Random bonus photo: Hal-Con’s mascot, Nelson, with my Adventure Sheep, Acton, at a Hal-Con fundraising barbecue hosted by the fine folks at Giant Robot Comics.

Hal-Con's Mascot, Nelson, with Acton the Sheep

Hal-Con’s Mascot, Nelson, with Acton the Sheep