Review: Elizabeth Moon’s “The Speed of Dark”, by Lee Battersby

Review: Elizabeth Moon’s “The Speed of Dark”, by Lee Battersby

Sometimes you find pleasure in the most unexpected of places. Picture this: your noble reviewer, striding along the aisles of his local bookstore, vainly searching for a book to review. His search appears hopeless. Blinded by the never-ending rows of wood pulp smeared with the tie-in of whichever role-playing game is popular this year and endless spines with titles containing the word ‘Trek’ or ‘Wars’, he verges on despondency. Of the few genuine Speculative Fiction titles that he notices, all but one are reprints of near or actual classics. Bar one. Better yet, it is a current novel, and with a theme that won’t result in our noble reviewer having rocks thrown at him by the editors for being an illiterate hoi polloi. Grasping it to his chest in relief he makes for the check out counter. Now, if only the book turns out to be any good….

So is it? Well, according to the books inner pages, Ms. Moon has been responsible for a trilogy, two series with the word ‘Legacy’ in the title, and two collaborations with Anne McCaffrey. As far as being a book suitable for an Ideomancer audience, things weren’t looking up. However, the plotline looked promising (I suppose I should pay it at least some service before my normal blathering rant). In theory this was a high-concept thriller about an autistic man in a near future where full autism is rare, and partially treatable. Written from the point of view of Lou, the partially-autistic narrator, it promised a unique view into cognitive processes that are as close to alien as we’ve experienced.

Now, if you don’t know already, I’m a single parent. I have a thirteen-month old child. She’s been teething these past two weeks, teething horribly. It’s the side teeth and boy, do they ever cause some pain and distress to the little goober. Most nights she wakes up anywhere between three and six times, needing a cuddle or some teething gel just to ease the pain. Consequently I’ve been hitting the sheets at a time when most adults are pushing themselves away from the table and reaching for the TV remote.

The first night I read I settled down at seven and decided I’d read for half an hour before I put the light out, just to get into the book so I could pick it up again tomorrow. At 7.30 I thought to myself, “I’ve not heard a peep from Erin, I’ll give it another little while.” At 9.30 I ordered myself to put the damn book down and get some sleep. Erin woke up 3 times that night. I was a rather tired little soldier the next day. I went to bed at 7. My first act was to pick the book up. At 10, after having got up to a very unsettled daughter three times already, I put the book down and turned the light out. She woke up 4 more times. By the afternoon of the third day I was so tired I had to have a two-hour nap just so I was awake enough to drive to the daycare to pick my daughter up.

I finished the 400-plus page book that same night, at 9.30, after getting up twice to see to Erin.

I needed that sleep. I needed to be in bed early and getting as much rest as I possibly could. But the book wouldn’t let me. Moon’s characters make for compulsive reading, and she layers each level of interaction with enough conflict and suspense to keep your mind turning at a rate slightly higher than that of the fingers turning the pages. What minor faults there are with the book are insignificant compared to the tight pacing, careful plotting, and fully rounded and believable characters Moon has created. In Lou, partially-autistic narrator with a truly unique voice and vision of the story happening around him, Moon has developed a tool by which she can create the dream of any thriller writer: to have the reader genuinely unsure as to the import of each event, and guessing as to the effect upon the story’s development. It’s been a short year so far, but Speed of Dark stands high as the most original and interesting work I’ve read since I started reviewing for this magazine.

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