09 May 2013

Slipping into another mind

One of the books that Nancy added to my Nook before it became a Christmas present was The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. What a great gift.

Elizabeth Moon
If you've read enough of these postings, you know I like stories. Usually that means a series of events. While there are events in this little book, it's really not a story. The book is about a person. Most of the book is an interior monologue or dialogue, if you'd rather.

The reason it's so fascinating is that the character isn't normal. He's autistic. He's several giant strides ahead of Raymond Babbitt, the charater played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, but nonetheless, he's not normal. Using the language of his therapist and boss, he calls the non-autistics the normals and wonders constantly how they know the things they do and how they know how to do the things they do.

If anyone were really paying attention, they would ask the same questions about Lou Arrendale, the primary character in  The Speed of Dark. Only a couple people come close to asking, but they do so too timidly and too late.

Most of the people Lou interacts with are other people with autism at work. They work in a special division, hired as people with disabilities. But they are valued as people with very special analytical skills by the company.

Lou also interacts with some "normals" in a fencing club and at church. He's threatened and attacked by a rival from his fencing club. He feels attracted to a woman in the group, but has no idea how to act on those feelings. He almost gets close enough to the couple who run the fencing club to get advice on acting on those feelings and the "hinge" of the story.

A new division leader is hired at work. He resents the accomodations provided to the little group of autistic analysts and he's anxious to make a big name for himself. His ladder to fame and fortune and a route to eliminating the workplace accomodations is to get these "not normals" into an experiment to test a procedure for curing people of autism. His attempts amount to blackmail and they're foiled by a supervisor.

Lou is recognizing some development in his mind as he processes the attack, works with a police detective, and tries to figure out why he's entranced with the bright reflections from the hair of one of his fencing opponents. He tries to decide whether to volunteer for the experimental treatment and wonders who he'd be if he became "normal."

Elizabeth Moon wrote this book when her low-functioning autistic son was a teen-ager. I have no idea how accurate her portrayal of a high-functioning autistic mind is, but it's fascinating. Her perceptions about his thought processes seem very insightful. The guy she describes is someone I'd like to get to know -- especially if he were as insightful as as Moon makes her character. Thinking back, I am sure I missed my chance to get to know people like that a couple times. (Metaphorically, I kick myself at this point.) Of course, I had enough trouble getting and keeping myself on a near-normal track. If I had spent the time and effort to get to know someone like Lou Arrendale, I ...  I would have been a different person. (Talk about a "hinge" event.)

I was entranced with Moon's character and the bits of story and dilemmas that surrounded the guy. I highly recommend this book.

Have you read The Speed of Dark? How did you react to it? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought.

If you're curious, Elizabeth Moon is a proflific science fiction writer and The Speed of Dark is set in a near future, so there's some science fiction projections in it.

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