The Speed of Dark (Review)

I recently finished The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon. This is a futuristic science fiction story with a twist I like: a sympathetic character who is nothing like me.

In writing school, they teach you that we identify with characters that are just like us. And that’s true; we do. That’s why when a writer comes along like Elizabeth Moon has and makes us identify with a character like Lou..

Lou is autistic. In our world, he could not live alone, hold down a job, or do any of the other things he does. But even in Lou’s world, he’s different than so-called “normal” people. And most normal people look down on him and everyone like him. How will Lou respond when his employer begins to pressure him and his coworkers to undergo an experimental procedure that could change them into normal people? What if he doesn’t want to be “normal”?

Elizabeth Moon has so artfully created this sympathetic character and woven him into the story around him. But even though probably none of us is autistic, we all can sympathize with Lou. And the reasons why are very predictable:

  1. Lou has human needs, human passions, human strengths and weaknesses, and human thoughts. Each of us can see part of himself in Lou, and part of Lou in himself.
  2. Lou just wants to be happy. What more noble goal is there than this? He wants to live his own life, free from violence. He wants to love others and be loved in return.
  3. But there are obstacles in his life that keep him from reaching his goal. Some of these obstacles are in society around him. And some of these obstacles are within himself.

These three properties are core to every sympathetic character. (Or at least every sympathetic character I can put my finger on.) Human passions, a noble goal, and an obstacle that prevents him from reaching that goal.



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