Friday, April 12, 2013

What Hell Is Like (Spoiler Alert)

I'm taking a hard science fiction course--which is amazing. Hard sci-fi's kinda my thing. And it is perfect--we've got an excellent line-up of top-notch books, stimulating discussion, and an engaging atmosphere. I've been giddy every class. There's only one problem.

Twenty-five students share my class (it's my only shared-with-undergrads course), and each of them is expected to read a book and present for ten minutes on it. The principle behind this makes perfect sense: get students to practice public speaking, and expose us to more literature than we could possibly read in a semester.

However, the result is a dark series of spoilers--twenty-five of them to be exact. Twenty-five novels in my favorite genre laid bare by nervous students who rush through the author's carefully structured lingual finesse to summarize a plot and tell me the who-dun-it at the end.

For the duration of each presentation, my heart retreats to a dark place where it weeps softly.

 I tried shutting out the information, thinking about things that normally distract me against my will. But to no avail.

Some of the spoilers were downright cruel.

After three months of the torment, I finally had to prepare a presentation of my own. I'd read this novel, and loved it, and had to face ruining the end for a class full of devoted readers of science fiction. Though I was fairly sure none of them particularly minded, I was not at peace with myself. 

The day of my dark deed, an undergrad presenting on Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead went before me. He described the characters, the different races, the world, and gave a very brief summary of events. But then, he did something completely unexpected.

He broke the system. He broke outside of the established pattern and stood for what he believed in. Was I so cynical, so bent on pleasing the class, that I had let go of my values? I watched the brave young undergrad accept polite applause as he resumed his seat, stomach in self-loathing knots. I couldn't revise as I went--when I created my prezi, I had laid the seeds and committed my crime.

As I waited for prezi to load, I thought about my life. What circumstances had suspended my morals to the point that I would give away the ending to a perfectly good book? What changed me? Who was I, anymore? I wasn't even sure we were expected to spoil the end for our grade. In fact, I wasn't even sure I knew myself.

Finally, the equipment warmed up and projected my transformation into something less than a human. I'd betrayed my class and myself:


(for the record, not everyone dies. The worst spoilers are in very tiny letters so I won't hurt the internet like I did my class and my self-respect)