Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book review: Elizabeth Moon's "Speed of Dark"

Bottom Line - This is probably my favorite of Moon's work, and it is every bit deserving of the Nebula it won.

More details:

- Although SF, this is not a space opera, like most of Moon's recent work. (I'm a little sad about that - I would like to read more space opera that grabbed me the way this book did.) Nor does it feature a female protagonist, again, like most of Moon's work.

- The novel has been compared with 'Flowers for Algernon'. I don't think that's fair to 'Flowers'.

- The novel's main character is an autistic man. Moon has an autistic son. The potential for an over-dose of author-insertion is there, but I believe that Moon avoids nearly all of this.

- A highly character-driven novel, 'Speed of Dark' struck me most vividly with how well each supporting character had been drawn. There are very few flat characters here, and everyone has a chance to grow - not just 'our hero.' I was especially pleased by how well the police and military characters came out. (Not surprising, given Moon, but still good to see.)

- Watch out for family values. If you're not careful, you'll get blind-sided by the emphasis on courtesy, family bonds, loyalty, and general decency.

- The story-telling was deft and the language vivid, and, despite the largely internal story, moved right along. I'm also reading a space opera by a different author, and finding myself far more frequently bored.

- This book has been out for nearly five years now. I feel silly for not reading it sooner.

More thoughts:

It's been a while since I read a book this heart-warming. Moon treats all the characters...fairly, I suppose, might be a good word. The main character is disadvantaged, to put it bluntly, in terms of dealing with mainstream society. But Moon does not let the reader think of Lou as a victim. (Lou doesn't either, more credit to him.) The 'normals' are not presented as oppressors, either - someone are rude so-and-sos, some are afraid, some are friends, some are well-meaning but clumsy. And some are very close to being saints. The humanity of the best of them is well depicted - in addition to showing the struggles Lou has in his day-to-day life, trying to navigate a confusing web of human relationships, Moon also takes time out to show how life is no picnic even for those who don't share Lou's handicap.

But it's Lou's work ethic, his unique outlook on the world, his honesty, his struggle to selflessly care for the people around him, and his tenacious problem solving that made the novel most appealing to me.

I'd like to see if Moon can bring this kind of writing to her space operas next.


Addded 5 April 09 - Another review of Speed of Dark here: Biology in Science Fiction.

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