June BOTM: The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Kamakhya, Jun 2, 2004.

  1. Kamakhya

    Kamakhya Seeker of Stuff

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    I saw that a couple people at least were reading this book. What did you think?

    I hate to say it, but I did not manage to get a copy yet. I so want to read this book and have been looking for it for months, but so far, no local chain stores are carrying it. Weird.
     
  2. lemming

    lemming New Member

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    I've raved about the book in a few other threads... I really loved it. Apparently, and I'm basing this on book reviews, it's a breakthrough work for this author and all her other work is well below the level of this one. I haven't read anything else by her, so I can't say, but would encourage people to not be put off by having read her other work, as this would seem to be a different style entirely.

    Though nobody's attacked its genre yet (on this thread), I'll also throw out that is comfortably within the boundaries of speculative fiction. From the outset it includes speculative autism treatments that haven't been invented yet, not to mention other advances in biotechnology that we're nowhere close to (LifeTime the life extension treatment). The idea of treating autism in an autistic adult is something we're decades away from achieving.

    The strength of the book is definitely the characterization of the main character rather than either the plot or the scientific advances necessary for the plot to occur, but to me that's not really a weakness--more just that that particular characterization is stunning and no other aspect of the book happened to be able to outshine it. The plot and things were fine.

    Its weakness, in my mind, was the shallow characterization of the bad guy, Mr. Crenshaw. His anger and meanness are a little too unrealistic and his motivations, the personal ones that just have to be simmering in there somewhere, are never given. It's strange, because everyone else in the book--disabled or normal--is so incredibly human. However, aside from Mr. Crenshaw, it's a near-perfect piece of work in my opinion. Really leaves you thinking about what it is to be human, and "normal", and how your mind works. (A good comparison can be made with Flowers for Algernon.)

    It very much deserved the Nebula, IMO.
     
  3. emohawk

    emohawk Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it

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    I pretty well share lemming's comments, including his enthusiasm for this fine novel, so I won't bother reinventing the wheel. Even though I've read the past two month's books I've been too lazy to post, so it's probably time I got my butt into gear and contributed to this month's.

    To my mind this is best Nebula winner in years, though that's not saying much when you consider some of the dubious choices of the last 15 years or so.

    I'll take lemming's comments about the weaknesses a little further to say that in addition I also thought Don's deterioration from largely just a selfish pig (pretty typical of most males I'd say) into a bomb making, gun wielding psychopath pretty abrupt and unbelieveable. I don't recall Moon fleshing out Don's character with enough background to suspect he'd be capable of creating such an elaborate bomb (even flawed as it was). I couldn't make such a bomb, why should I believe that supposedly below average Don could? It's a small thing but such assumptions bug me.

    My only other disappointment, tying back in with lemming's comments about Mr Crenshaw was that he really didn't have enough motivation in my mind. Tom and his wife make a comment when they're discussing it that the company may be using them as test subjects for a new procedure to make people able to concerntrate more in space but nothing comes of this. She could have (and should have - why mention it otherwise?) done more with that subplot imo, which would be been a sufficient reason for Mr Crenshaw to act the way he did if he had alteria company motives. Mr Crenshaw just seemed to be there to be an object of conflict and when he was no longer needed as a plot device he was quickly and neatly disposed of. Much too quickly and neatly for my liking.

    Apart from those points though I loved this book and hated to put it down when I had to. As lemming said I've heard Moon's other books are pretty average and this one was exceptional, but it is definately worth the read.
     
  4. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    I liked this book but thought it was not up to the level of writing that is usual for Elizabeth Moon.

    While her other books are just standard military/space opera and lack the intellectual and literary (and PC) designation of this book, they are better written. Her prose flows and she sucks you into the story. I found reading this book to be like riding over one speed bump after another.

    Her strength besides her writing has always been her characters and eventually some of that came through, but it took most of the book. Her POV is just not in the same league as Charlie from Flowers for Algernon or Tim from Tim in terms of creating a disabled character that I really cared about. I found him borderline boring and annoying for much of the book.

    In terms of her bad guys I agree it is a weakness that she has. All the other characters seem fleshed out and the bad guys are much more stereotypical.

    My complaint was that the book changed pace at the end and went for the cheap emotional kill. We followed the POV closely for most of the book. We got a lot of details about what he thought, and felt, and what his life was like. At the end I found it very artifical that he ended up in space and had blown off his previous friends and activities. It was all summarized in a few chapters as though she had run out of pages. It was too drastic and too fast.

    I realize that his changing was a risk of the procedure, but for him to change so much, yet still retain his yen for space seemed like it was set up to provide a tragic ending with a silver lining:

    the limited person (can't remember his name) has died, but the new person has a chance to live a full life doing what he loves.

    I felt manipulated at the end because I wanted to see how he got from the surgery to there.

    I enjoyed the brief part in the hospital and at home later when he was trying to integrate 'old him', and 'new him'. I would have liked to have read more of that, following him as he returned to his old life with both old and new perspectives. It would have been interesting to find out what worked and what didn't; what was better than before or than he expected, and what wasn't.

    I also really liked the part just before the surgery when it seemed that he was changing and growing on his own. He no longer needed the Center, he was able to deal with authority figures, and his whirlies didn't work for him anymore. I thought that could have been explored and been just as interesting as the surgery.

    For me it was an Ok read that got better as it went on. I agree that it is probably one of the better recent Nebula winners.
     
  5. emohawk

    emohawk Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it

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    Agreed. Considering most of the book is about how Lou interacts with different people, to have the book ending with "7 years later, Lou is in space" felt very rushed. Another 50 or so pages taking us through how the "new Lou" interacted with "old Lou" friends would have been much better, especially considering it was the whole point of the procedure - changing autistics so there can interact with "normal" people. I got the impression that Moon may have tried to write a ending similar to that (it's a pretty logical progression to my mind, and the signs in the book point that way) but couldn't manage it, so just settled on a "happily ever after". I can't imagine that the ending that she has was always her first choice.
     
  6. Kamakhya

    Kamakhya Seeker of Stuff

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    I finally got a chance to read this fine novel. I'm going to have to put it on my list of 100 best novels.

    At first, the lead character annoyed me, but as I began to understand his disability, I couldn't put the book down. I was amazed by the detail with which Moon painted everyday life without getting too boring. Little things that you and I take for granted, can be enormous tasks for a disabled person. The autistic mind, specifically, being so literal was just fascinating.

    I understood how Don took out his grief on someone he perceived as weaker than himself. I also understood how he became more and more enraged over time. While, it was a bit farfetched to have it end in attempted murder, I think Moon's point was a necessary one. That disabled people are vulnerable to attack and that their perceived privileges are not something we "normals" should deny them of.

    The biggest weakness for me was the ending. It was flat, anti-climatic and seemed rushed. I also was baffled why Moon set up for using the operation as a means of worker control and then totally let the issue fall with barely a further mention. The whole coroprate hieracrchy thing was amusing, but not terribly realistic, imho.

    All in all, just a stunning read that reminded me why I like SF so much. It was engaging, well-written, thought provoking and definately a must read for anyone with even a remote interest in Autism or the like.
     
  7. Soon Lee

    Soon Lee Registered User

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    Just read this and was very impressed. The ending was a bit rushed but that is a minor quibble.

    Given that it was told from Lou's (an autistic) POV, I didn't find Don or Mr. Crenshaw's actions far-fetched or abrupt. That Lou didn't perceive & report all that was going on around him didn't come across as unreasonable; even 'normal' people don't perceive all that goes on around them. There were a few occasions where the POV shifted from Lou but I found it distracting though it was needed for story development. I guess more of that could have been done to detail the motivations of Don & Mr. Crenshaw but I don't think it would have improved the book that much.

    In general, I agree with the tenor of the comments in this thread; a very fine book indeed.

    I would recommend this book to others.
     
  8. LordBalthazar

    LordBalthazar Registered User

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    Just finished this book (and have finally reached the halfway point of books covered in this forum) and agree with most of you. The character of Lou was incredibly well-drawn and the main reason The Speed of Dark now ranks among my top five favorite book club selections. While I agree that the characters of Don and Mr. Crenshaw felt one-dimensional, particularly in comparison to the very believable supporting characters who were given even less narrative time, I did buy their motivations (though not the means by which they went about achieving their goals). Overall, a very well-written book that drew me in from the get-go although, as some of you have already remarked, the ending did feel abrupt.

    Ultimately, a poignant, character-driven story whose scifi elements are secondary to the story. But I didn't mean.
     
  9. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    I have to ask: you didn't mean.... what exactly? ;)
     
  10. LordBalthazar

    LordBalthazar Registered User

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    Damnit! Mind. I didn't mind. I keep doing that. I think I'm losing my mean.

    LB