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Reading Group Guide
by Robert J. Sawyer
Many reading groups and book clubs have enjoyed novels by Robert J. Sawyer.
The following questions may help stimulate an interesting
discussion about Illegal Alien. (These questions
might also suggest essay topics for students studying the book.)
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Note that these questions reveal much of the novel's plot; to
preserve your reading pleasure, please don't look at these questions
until after you've finished reading the book.
- Illegal Alien clearly takes as its inspiration
the O. J. Simpson criminal trial (indeed, Simpson prosecutor
Marcia Clark even makes a cameo appearance in the book). In what
ways does "the trial of the Centauri" differ from "the trial of
the century"? Are the parallels only on the surface, or do they
run deeper? In the novel, defense attorney Dale Rice makes an
argument that the not-guilty verdict for Simpson was just. Do you
agree with his analysis?
- When Hask is being questioned by the forensic psychiatrist,
Dr. Lloyd Penney, he presents the Tosok party line about
religion, even though, as we subsequently discover, he personally
does not share those views, and even though no other Tosoks are
present. Why do you suppose he does this? Tosoks can tell when
humans are lying, because they see into the infrared. It's never
said in the book whether Tosoks can tell whether they are being
lied to by another Tosok. Does the evidence suggest that they
might have this ability? Is Hask deliberately lying to Penney?
- Who presents the more compelling case in Illegal
Alien, the prosecution (Linda Ziegler) or the defense
(Dale Rice)? How much does slick lawyering matter in the search
for justice? Hask is both a celebrity and a minority; the former
traditionally gets preferential treatment under the law whereas
the latter often gets poorer treatment. What does Hask get?
- The jury in Illegal Alien decides on jury
nullification: they deliver a verdict clearly at odds with the
law and the evidence presented. Real juries do in fact have this
power, although, as the novel explains, it is rarely made known
to them. Should juries have the right to disregard the law for
the sake of what they see as a higher justice?
- Tosok religion figures prominently in the novel. It includes the
proposition that the Tosoks themselves are the non-divine product
of evolution, but that divinely created beings must exist
elsewhere. Does the Tosok religion seem internally consistent?
Also significant in the novel is the unusual Tosok body plan,
especially the strong front hand and weak back hand. Does the
Tosok psychology Sawyer portrays seem reasonable given Tosok
religion and physiology?
- Sawyer is a Canadian author, and usually sets his novels in
Canada. But Illegal Alien is set in Los Angeles. Canada does
not have the death penalty, but the U.S. does. Would the novel
have played out differently if Sawyer had set it in his homeland,
and the only threat to Hask had been imprisonment, rather than
execution? Does the novel seem to take a position on the
righteousness of the death penalty? Does Sawyer's outsider's
view of U.S. justice seem fair?
- No dates are given explicitly in the novel, but it's possible to
determine when the book is set from the action portrayed. When
does Illegal Alien take place? (Hint: the solar
eclipse shown in Chapter 5 is a real one.)
- The non-human Hask stands trial during the book, and, at the end,
we learn that the other Tosoks will be tried by the Twirlers and
other aliens. We've read in the news recently of immigrants to
the U.S. being charged with assault after hitting their children,
even though that is normal parental discipline in their homeland,
and we've read about the outrage when a U.S. student was caned in
the Philippines. Is it in fact fair or reasonable to try members
of one culture by the standards of another culture?
- What did you think of the characters? Is Dale Race an ethical
lawyer? Did Cletus Calhoun seem like he'd make a good TV host?
Did Frank Nobilio adequately represent the needs of the American
people? Was Drucilla Pringle a fair and impartial judge? By the
end of the book, Hask was obviously pretty sympathetic but was
he so during the trial?
- When all is said and done, is Illegal Alien a
condemnation or a celebration of the legal system?
More Good Reading
Download this Reading Group Guide in Adobe Acrobat Format
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