Robbie turned things around a bit for me today with in English class. He always seems to have a knack for knowing the right thing to say, the topics he covers always seem to hit home perfectly.
“There’s a lot of talk around the school about something that happened to one of our students this past weekend,” he said. “I’d like to read you a scene from a novel that might help us talk about it.”
“The book I’m about to read not only has to do with the Sudbury area, but is written by a man known as the Dean of Canadian Science Fiction. He has won the Hugo, the top international science fiction award, the Nebula, the “Academy Award” of the sci-fi genre, is the only writer in history to win the top SF awards in the United States, Japan, France, and Spain, has one of the most extensive and content rich science fiction web sites available, has made countless media appearances over the years, had an ABC television show made which was based on one of his novels and is known far and wide as an all around great guy.
“I’m talking about Toronto writer Robert J. Sawyer.
“For those of you looking for a connection between Sawyer and one of the other authors we have discussed in class, Sawyer, the generous person that he is, is one of the authors who gave Mark Leslie a very positive review blurb for Leslie’s short story collection One Hand Screaming. And for those of you who have read that collection, you might note that in the notes, Leslie mentions losing an Aurora Award nomination to Sawyer for Best Short Story English, but that he couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy. And for those of you who like their connections in threes, an additional connection between the two is that Sawyer wrote the introduction for a horror anthology called Campus Chills that Mark Leslie edited a few years ago.
“Now for Sawyer’s connection to the Sudbury area. Sawyer wrote a trilogy of books called the Neanderthal Parallax. While preparing to write the first book in the series he came to Sudbury, stayed for a few weeks and did research at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. The science in this trilogy explores the concept of a parallel world in which Neanderthals survived and Homo sapiens died off, and what happens when a portal opens between those worlds and a Neanderthal appears in the Neutrino Observatory. Sawyer also received an honorary Doctorate at Laurentian University.
“Sawyer has a strong proven track record for using grand “What if” concepts in his writing, often based on cutting edge advances and discoveries in the scientific world. He is not a scientist -- his background is in media -- but he thoroughly researches his books, and that work shows through in his stories. And if you want to understand the scientific principles he explores in greater detail, I suggest you get Mr. Nelly or Mr. Gravante to bring them up in your science classes with them.
“Because in my mind, the real strength, the true beauty in Sawyer’s writing stems not so much from the scientific concepts he explores, but from the characters and character struggles that occur.
“Case in point: Mary Vaughan, one of the main characters from the Neanderthal Parallax, becomes a rape victim in Chapter 6, within one of the very first scenes that we meet her in the first book in the trilogy, Hominids. I’d like to read you a scene from that chapter and talk a bit about it.”
Robbie went on to read the scene to the class. Wow. It was disturbing and terrifying, and it really hit home to a lot of students. A few of them actually started to cry. And I don’t just mean the girls. I was one of the guys who had tears in his eyes.
When he finished the reading, Robbie talked a bit about the concept of rape. Asked the class questions like was rape about sex, or about power? He explored the reaction that Mary, an intelligent and professional woman, a professor at a Canadian University, had to being a victim of rape. We tried to understand her state of mind after such a brutal attack and explored the reasons why she didn’t want to go to the police. We talked about whether or not the scene itself was gratuitous. Then we discussed the idea of the rapist as behaving in a stereotypical Neanderthal way. He asked several males in the class how the scene made them feel -- both about themselves as well as about males in society in general.
The class was so involved and moved and eagerly participating in the discussion, that Robbie had to wrap up the class without the whole thing seeming to finish. Several of the students requested more, wanting to keep talking about it. Robbie handed out pamphlets with a toll-free number to a kids-line help group in case anyone wanted to speak in detail about how this incident made them feel.
And he gave us another one of his cool homework assignment. He wrote the link to Sawyer’s website (www.sfwriter.com) on the blackboard and asked us to do some research there. Some of the research questions he threw out were: How was Sawyer able to write a rape scene from a woman’s point of view? Where does a science fiction writer get his ideas? If a story is about characters, how important is the actual research into the science?
I’m only realizing this after the fact, of course, but Robbie has accomplished two things with today’s lesson. He not only addressed a frightening and difficult to broach issue and gave us the means to talk about it openly, but he also put a spin to it that has allowed us to enjoy the writing of yet another phenomenal author, and issued a task that will help keep us occupied, interested and learning; not just dwelling on the horrors of what happened to Monica.
I still feel terrible about what happened to Miss Hamilton. But I can’t imagine this class anymore without Mr. Robinson teaching it.