PW:The Speed of Dark, your latest novel, features Lou Arrendale, an "autist," and invokes comparison to the classic, Flowers for Algernon. Were you consciously inspired by it?
Elizabeth Moon: I'm sure that Flowers for Algernon influenced me in some way, but I hadn't read it in years and deliberately chose not to reread it (or read any other fiction involving disabilities) for some years before tackling this one. I didn't want to be writing a book in answer to another book, or commenting on another book—I wanted, as much as it's possible, to write the story the character told me, without any more influence than necessary. More direct influences would be Oliver Sacks's books on neurological issues, most especially his book on the deaf community and their perception of themselves as different but not in need of correction.
PW: How long did it take you to write?
EM: I had the idea, and played with it, quite a while before I got down to it seriously. At first I tried to do the conventional third-person narrative past (the way I've done all my other books), but that didn't work. It began to work only when I went into first-person present tense.
PW: Was this the most difficult book you've ever written?
EM: There's a reason novice writers are warned to avoid first-person present tense viewpoints. Balancing the need to give Lou's voice accurately with the need for readers to be able to understand his viewpoint was, I found, extremely difficult.
PW: Is a new treatment or "cure" for autism inevitable?
EM: Yes, I think so, and the research is proceeding so fast in neurology right now that I kept having to change the book to keep it at the front of the curve. When I started writing, things that had seemed eight to 10 years out suddenly began coming a lot nearer. As with any field, once you have enough data, the connections begin to be made, and then progress can be very fast. Funding matters, of course. But with the level of brain imaging we've got now, and the continuing rapid improvement in software and processing power in the upper-level computers, plus developments in pharmacology and the use of magnetic fields to "turn off" parts of the brain temporarily, I expect a serious and successful approach to autism in infancy and early childhood within the next 10 years, followed by a rapid cascade of possibilities for older autistic children and some adults over the next 20 years. And it could come faster if there's an unforeseen breakthrough idea.
PW: You've written 16 sf/fantasy books. This was more mainstream, although set in the near future. What's next?
EM: I honestly don't know... that will depend on how this one does. The one I just finished is not mainstream, but what was next on my contract. I don't have a title yet for the new one—the first book in a series... space opera... it's adventure but it was hard to get back to that sort of book, actually, after The Speed of Dark.
PW: Throughout the book, Lou reflects upon the "the speed of dark"—what inspired that?
EM: Exactly from my son [Michael, now 18, an autist]. We'd been working on a unit on astronomy. He was fascinated by the speed of light. He has always been fascinated by series. So if this goes one mile an hour, what goes two miles an hour? We finally got to the speed of light, and he turned around and looked at me and said, "If the speed of light is 186,000 miles a second, what is the speed of dark?" And I tried to tell him that dark doesn't have a speed, and he looked at me and said, "Are you sure?"