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Widen the interpretation of darkness a bit further, and consider the speed of dark matter.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon - an infinity plus review

This mysterious energy makes up 80 percent of all matter in the universe. In a study, scientists determined that dark matter should have a speed of 54 meters per second, or feet -- slow compared to the speed of light [source: Armendariz-Picon and Neelakanta ]. Of course, dark matter velocity is theoretical at this point, as this matter has largely stopped moving, preferring to form haloes around galaxies throughout the universe.

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The 54 meters per second figure estimated its speed when the universe was first forming, extrapolated to how fast the dark matter could travel today if it were still in motion [source: Woo ]. Finally, consider what would happen if you extend the definition of darkness to include black holes, which are devoid of light. In , researchers determined that one massive black hole measuring more than 2 million miles 3.

How Black Holes Work. What if you traveled faster than the speed of light? Can information travel faster than light?

What are dark matter and dark energy? What is dark energy? And could we tap into it? While one's actually reading the book the plot elements become almost irrelevant, for here is a tale whose quite extraordinary strength of telling reduces all else to insignificance. Aside from a few brief interpolated passages, Arrendale is our sole narrator, so we see his world as filtered through the mind of an autist.


The author has a teenage child who's autistic, so one assumes the depicted perception is as valid as it can be. I attempted unsuccessfully to persuade a good friend of mine who suffers a form of autism to read the novel to see if my impression of this was correct, but he wasn't interested.

This might seem a daunting prospect, for Arrendale has painstakingly to work out situations that would be thunderingly obvious to us -- nothing more tedious than having someone laboriously spell out the mechanics of something you already know -- but in fact quite the contrary proves to be the case. Arrendale's narrative is utterly involving, engrossing to the point that his way of thinking takes over one's own, so that whenever one has reluctantly to put the book down one has to shake one's head a few times before one regain one's own natural mode of thought.

Again, this statement might lead to a false expectation of what it's like reading this novel. It might seem from what I've said that it depicts the world as if through alien eyes. Yet this does not prove to be the case. Instead, one's struck by how very similar Arrendale's perceptions are to one's own, how very like oneself he actually is, how much better his thinking processes are in so many respects than one's own. I never in my life thought I'd want to be an autist, but by the time I got to the last page -- and of course it was a huge and infuriating disappointment that it had to have a last page, that the book couldn't just keep going indefinitely -- I found myself at least halfway towards the formulation of that wish.

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And that, of course, is precisely as Moon has planned it should be -- for Arrendale's dilemma, faced with the prospect of a cure for his condition, is not one of giving up something paltry for the promise of emotional riches; they are riches that he's going to be giving up, and there's no guarantee at all that the rewards of a "normal" life will come close to compensating for their loss. As Arrendale approaches his momentous decision -- to take the cure or refuse it -- we're actually rooting for him to refuse it, because we know that his "curse" is really something treasurable.

The book's blurb makes comparisons with such works as Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon in an attempt to lure us into The Speed of Dark.

Visualizing video at the speed of light — one trillion frames per second

One can understand entirely why the publisher felt moved to do this, but at the same time it has to be said that the comparisons do The Speed of Dark a great disservice. One can empathize with or have strong fellow-feeling for characters like Forrest Gump or Keyes's Charly, but all of those emotions are experienced from the outside ; for example, one feels almost painfully sorry for Charly as he struggles from moronism to intelligence and then loses it all again, but still one's only a spectator to the tragedy being played out on stage.

Moon's triumph is that, by contrast, we become her protagonist Arrendale; we experience his drama from within him.

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The potential failure of Crenshaw's blasted "cure" is not something disastrous that might happen to someone else -- a close friend, perhaps. It's a threat to us , ourselves. Because Moon's track record has been in science fiction mainly military sf, so I confess I've never been induced to read it , and because the tale is set in the near future with one or two extrapolated items of medical science, The Speed of Dark will probably be marketed as sf. I've been reading an ARC in advance of publication, so I can't tell for sure.

This is a great pity, if so, because it will unnecessarily restrict the readership of this fine work of mainstream literature; to epitomize, it's a book that by all rights will carry off a Hugo, but really it should be at the very least a strong contender for something like the National Book Award. The title, by the way, concerns a conceit of the book.

Arrendale is of course perfectly aware -- he is extremely intelligent, something else that the Crenshaws of this world fail to perceive, blinded as they are by his status as an autist -- that the velocity of light in free space is a known, established quantity. But what of the velocity of dark? Dark, after all, forever retreats in the face of the invasion of light, so perhaps its velocity is actually slightly greater than that of light?