The Speed of Dark
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
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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Title: The Speed of Dark
Author: Elizabeth Moon
It was too far from here to Fitzroy Street for Monk to walk home, and a hansom was an unnecessary expense. The omnibus would do very well. There was no hurry because Hester would not be there. This was one of the nights when she worked at the house in Coldbath Square which had been set up with Callandra Daviot’s money in order to give medical help to women of the streets who had been injured or become ill, mostly in the course of their trade.
He was proud of the work Hester did, but he missed her company in the evenings. It startled him how deeply, since his marriage, he had been accustomed to sharing his thoughts with her, to her laughter, her ideas, or simply to looking across the room and seeing her there. There was a warmth in the house that was missing when she was gone.
How unlike his old self that was! In the past he would not have shared the core inside him with anyone, nor allowed someone to become important enough to him that her presence could make or mar his life. He was surprised how much he preferred the man he had become.
Thinking of medical help, and Callandra’s assistance, turned his mind to the last murder he had dealt with, and to Kristian Beck, whose life had been torn apart by it. Beck had discovered things about himself and his wife which had overturned his beliefs, even the foundations of his own identity. His entire heritage had not been what he had assumed, nor his culture, his faith, or the core of who he was.
Monk understood in a unique way Beck’s shock and the numbing confusion that had gripped him. A coaching accident nearly seven years before had robbed him of his own memory before that, and forced on him the need to re-create his identity. He had deduced much about himself from unarguable evidence, and while some things were admirable, there were too many that displeased him and lay shadowed across the yet unknown.
Even in his present happiness the vast spaces of ignorance troubled him from time to time. Kristian’s shattering discoveries had woken new doubts in Monk, and a painful awareness that he knew almost nothing of his roots or the people and the beliefs that had cradled him.
He was Northumbrian, from a small seaboard town where his sister, Beth, still lived. He had lost touch with her, which was his own fault, partly out of fear of what she would tell him of himself, partly because he simply felt alienated from a past he could no longer recall. He felt no bond with that life or its cares.
Beth could have told him about his parents and probably his grandparents too. But he had not asked.
Should he try now, when it mattered more urgently, to build a bridge back to her so he could learn? Or might he find, like Kristian, that his heritage was nothing like his present self and he was cut off from his own people? He might find, as Kristian had, that their beliefs and their morality cut against the grain of his own.
For Kristian, the past he believed and that had given him identity had been wrenched out of his hands, shown to be a fabrication created out of the will to survive, easy to understand but not to admire, and bitterly hard to own.
If Monk were at last to know himself as most people do automatically—the religious ties, the allegiances, the family loves and hates—might he too discover a stranger inside his skin, and one he could not like? He turned away from the river and walked along the footpath toward the nearest place where he could cross the street through the traffic and catch the omnibus home.
Perhaps he would write to Beth again, but not yet. He needed to know more. Kristian’s experience weighed on him and would not let him rest. But he was also afraid, because the possibilities were too many, and too disturbing, and what he had created was too dear to risk.
From the Hardcover edition.