How normal are normal people?

The Speed of Dark - CoverAfter seeing a reference to it in a comment to a blog somewhere last week, I picked up Elizabeth Moon‘s novel The Speed of Dark and read it over the weekend. The novel, set in the near future (30 years or so), is the story of Lou Arrendale, an autistic man presented with the possibility of being cured, his contemplation of what his decision – either way – would mean, and the consequences of his eventual decision.

I need to process it a bit more before writing a full review, but the short version of the review goes something like this: If you haven’t read this book yet, go out and buy it now and read it tonight.

As I pull together my thoughts for the full review, I’d like to share some key passages that really stood out to me as relevant to my own contemplation of autism, neurodiversity, and a cure (among many other things). This is the first of three such posts, my goal is to have a review done by the end of this coming weekend.

Some of Lou’s general thoughts on being normal:

I do not think everyone else is alike in every way. She [Dr. Fornum] has told me that Everyone knows this and Everyone does that, but I am not blind, just autistic, and I know that they know and do different things. The cars in the parking lot are different colors and sizes. Thirty-seven percent of them, this morning, are blue. Nine percent are oversize: trucks or vans. There are eighteen motorcycles in three racks, which would be six apiece, except that ten of them are i the back rack, near Maintenance. Different channels carry different programs; that would not happen if everyone were alike.

And some of his thoughts based on a specific situation:

Sometimes I wonder how normal normal people are, and I wonder the most in the grocery store. In our Daily Life Skills classes, we were taught to make a list and go directly from one aisle to another, checking off items on the list. Our teacher advised us to research prices ahead of time, in the newspaper, rather than compare prices while standing int eh aisle. I though – he told us – that he was teaching us how normal people shop.

But the man who is blocking the aisle in front of me has not had that lecture. He seems normal, but he is looking at every single jar of spaghetti sauce, comparing prices, reading labels. Beyond him, a short gray-haired woman with thick glasses is trying to peer past him at the same shelves; I think she wants one of the sauces on my side, but he is in the way and she is not willing to bother him. Neither am I.

Next up: What it means to be “me”.

8 thoughts on “How normal are normal people?

  1. I read Moon’s book recently and loved it, though there were a few plot points that could have been developed better. It has become part of my thinking about “normality’ and like Lou, I wonder more and more exactly what is meant by “normal.”


  2. Hey Brett,

    My comment is peripherally related.
    I’m an editor at, and I know that a few months ago you wrote a blog about our debate “Are Autism and vaccines linked?”
    Well, we have a brand new debate. It’s “Can Autism be cured or managed?” You can find it here:
    Check it out if you’re interested.
    I would’ve told you through e-mail, but I couldn’t find an address on the blog.
    Anyway, thanks for your time!



  3. @Catana,

    As you can probably tell from the short version of my review, I loved the book as well. I’ve seen other reviewers say they would have liked more plot development, or more character development of some of the main characters. I think, though, that the lack of detail in those plot lines or those characters is well suited to Lou’s point of view. Most of that development would probably have been “social” in nature, things that Lou would not have thought important (though it may have added more ‘food for thought’ in his decision process.


  4. @Edgar,

    Somehow I got an e-mail notification about the new debate this morning. (I’m sure I signed up for notification of future autism debates.) I’ve taken a quick peek but haven’t had a chance to weigh in yet. I need to absorb the existing arguments a bit first.


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