The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
A nerd geneticist went looking for a wife using the latest scientific advances. Yes, the story involved DNA analysis. The Rosie Project skulked through the dark recesses of the human mind where behavioral genetics loomed even more fantastic than sci-fi. The protagonist, Donald Tillman, PhD reminded me of Spock and Data from Star Trek, and Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of Doc Brown in Back to the Future, but with less empathy. Don projected innocence with his strict adherence to data based, rationalistic ethics and morals, his health and environmental consciousness, and his constant avoidance of behavioral “objectification” of other humans, especially persons of the opposite gender. Unfortunately, many of Don’s close associates lacked his moral compass, leading Don into conflicts.
Don came into sharp focus when he delivered a seminar on the genetics of Asperger’s Syndrome to a group of parents in the company of their Asperger’s Syndrome children. The facilitator complained that Don’s presentation was too technical, meanwhile the children understood and probed with sophisticated questions. The facilitator described Asperger’s Syndrome as a “fault,” prompting Don to respond (in the voice of Christopher Lloyd), “Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage.” The seminar ended with the children standing on the chairs and tables with raised fists, shouting “Aspies rule!” Don became their hero. The parents were less enthralled.
Admit it! Deep down inside, you know you’re not normal. Really, no one wants the “average” label. Don was neither normal, nor average nor conventional. He and we all have something that makes us different from the norm and therefore uniquely valuable. Thank God!
The bulk of the novel described Don’s hunt for a suitable life partner, using the best scientific tools available. This may sound far fetched, but several recent statistical analyses have described successful approaches to maximizing the predictive value of on-line matchmaking services. Don’s adventure flew him the equivalent of twice around the world and he literally climbed a wall in quest of his “impossible dream.”
The author, Graeme Simsion earned tremendous credit for his faithful description of the university environment and the complicated skill sets the author had first to master to a degree where he could convince his readers of Don’ performance levels. Simsion bids us to reflect on ourselves and our idea of “normalcy and convention,” inviting us to appreciate the vast diversity within ourselves and other Homo sapiens. In the Rosie Project, he reminded his readers that they each have something special to offer and that they can work with their uniqueness, including their quirks to contribute to society, while maintaining their identity. Simsion extolled the value of good friends to whom Don was both a blessing and a burden. In particular, Simsion raised awareness of Asperger’s Syndrome: especially that this form of autism, although a variation from the norm, is neither a disease nor a defect. Actually it has tremendous benefit to society if it is understood and maximized.
A brief scene from the novel was set in the subway station depicted above.
Simsion, Graeme. The Rosie Project. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013.