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English 11-12

4 Discovery Related Texts To Make Your Essay Stand Out

Struggling to find a related text for AOS: Discovery? Try these!

Discovery and related texts

Like Module C, it is a requirement of AOS: Discovery that you have a related text – a text that deals with the concept of discovery in a complimentary fashion to your prescribed text.

This should be an enjoyable, relatively easy part of your preparation for HSC Advanced English Paper 1, yet many students find it daunting. 

In this post, we will review four recent books that you can read and use for you AOS related text.


Grunt, Mary Roach. One World Books: London (2016)

What is it?: A non-fiction exploration of military science.

What’s it about?: Soldiers and combat. Mary Roach has used archival research, interviews, and field work to discover how science has been used for warfare and rehabilitation. Roach focuses on the quirkier and more human elements of the modern military’s use of science.

Rather than focusing on weapons and armour, Roach is concerned with looking at the science that supports the mundane, the odd, or the humanitarian. From the technology of military clothing and its rigorous testing to the medical science of maggots and diarrhoea, Grunt explores a very human side of contemporary war. This is a book focused on scientific discovery and its applications in the real world.

Why is it good for AOS?: Roach’s focus on the human side, most especially her investigation of the rehabilitation of soldiers who have lost limbs or genitals, makes this text compellingly human. This book doesn’t glorify war, quite the opposite it glorifies those who try to solve its problems or keep those who are forced to fight alive and those who put them back together when they are hurt.

Weaponry gets a look-in with the history of “stink warfare” and the science of bomb-proof vehicles, but it is the discussion of the science of everyday soldiering that is compelling. Many of the topics Roach investigates have civilian applications: the military research on maggots, for example, has practical uses in cleaning infected wounds in civilians and soldiers alike that are “far-reaching and transformative for the individual and broader society.” Grunt explores how the failures of science in the past, such as submarine technology, can be questioned and challenged to give us new insights and possibilities. The investigation into genital wounds and transplants is confronting and proactive, but it explores an important consequence of war that has a very human emotional consequence.

How would I use it?:

  • “Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history. Sometimes a chicken can save a man’s life.” (p.17)

Roach balances humour with pathos. In the above quotation. She discusses how scientific progress is incremental and is a consequence of careful planning made possible by “small triumphs and large hearts.” This demonstrates how careful progress can have profound consequences for humanity as answers are found in surprising places. Roach emphasises this further through the bathos in the analogy of using “a chicken” to “save a man’s life.”

Will this work with my core text?:

This text will pair nicely with Wrack, Away, Life of Pi, the poetry of Robert Frost and Robert Gray, and Go Back to Where You Came From.


The Underground Railway, Colson Whitehead. Fleet, London (2016)

What is it? Historical fiction. Whitehead’s novel explores the history of slavery and the early period of abolition from the perspective of second generation slaves.

What’s it about? Whitehead imagines the underground railroad – the smuggling system that helped black slaves escape the plantations and exploitation of the south – as a real railroad running underground across America.

The Underground Railroad follows Cora and Caesar as they flee the brutality and horror of plantation life. While they journey from one stop on the railroad to another, they are pursued by slave patrols led by Arnold Ridgeway.

Why is good for AOS? The Underground Railroad has two distinct narratives of discovery. One is the journey of Cora as she explores American society with fresh eyes and dangerous naïveté after her escape from the Randall’s plantation. The other relates Ridgeway’s dogged pursuit of Cora and Caesar as his brutal pursuit leaves a trail of destroyed lives and devastated communities in his wake.

Reading Whitehead’s novel is an emotional and at times harrowing experience as he explores the struggle of being black in early 19th century America. It is a powerful depiction of the ways slaves, free-women, and freemen were exploited in supposedly liberal towns as well as on the plantations. Cora’s strength and perseverance is profound and inspirational, but her experiences of physical and sexual assault are traumatic and terrifying reminders of how society used to treat women and minorities. Cora and Caesar’s discoveries are driven by necessity as they flee the slave catchers. This is a confronting and compelling text that explores how slaves attempted to perceive a future for themselves in a society that sought to control and exploit them for being a different colour.

How would you use it?:

  • “Cora didn’t know what optimistic meant. She asked the other girls that night if they were familiar with the word. None of them had heard it before. She decided that it meant trying.” (p.108)

Cora’s lack of education is a barrier that she doggedly challenges at every opportunity. When white society refuses to allow her and her peers knowledge, she seeks out her own definitions. Her decision that “optimism… meant trying” reflects the power of discovering something the first time for oneself. Cora’s situation necessitates openness to discovery and willingness to learn. Thus, her optimism embodies her struggle for survival.

Will it work with my core text?

The Underground Railroad will pair well with The Motorcycle Diaries, Rainbow’s End, The Tempest, The Poetry of Rosemary Dobson, Go Back to Where You Came From, and Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History.


The Boy on the Bridge, M.R Carey. Orbit, London (2017)

What is it? Carey’s dystopian novel is part thriller, part drama, and part horror.

What’s it about? Zombies! The novel relates the expedition of the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ as its crew journey across England to find a cure for the cordyceps fungus which has turned the human population into ravenous ‘hungries’ who crave human flesh.

Why is it good for AOS? The carefully planned scientific mission is at the mercy of personal desires and unexpected discoveries. The tensions between the military members of the crew – Foss, Carlisle, and McQueen – explore ideas of duty and independence and the tension that exists between morality and military discipline. The differing objectives of the scientific team – Dr Kahn, Greaves. And Dr Fournier – put contrasting human faces on the quest for scientific discovery.

Greaves must balance his unerring drive to know and understand the world with a sense of morality that his disability makes hard for him to understand. Kahn must reconcile her scientific desires with the requirements of her unborn baby. Fournier wrestles with his failure as a scientist and his moral choices as a politician. The ethical dilemmas of these discoveries have profound repercussions on the expedition and the remnants of human civilisation.

How would I use it?:

  • “The world is information. An endless torrent. Whatever escapes you becomes something you will never completely understand.” (p.97)

Greaves wrestles with his perspective on the world. Because of his autism, Greaves is bombarded with “an endless torrent” of information. This metaphor illustrates how for Greaves discovery is a necessity, not a choice. His need for understanding means that he must balance his scientific compulsion to let nothing “escape” with his idiosyncratic understanding of human emotions and needs.

Will it work with my core text?

The Boy on the Bridge explores aspects of discovery relevant to The Motorcycle Diaries, A Short History of Nearly everything, Life of Pi, The Tempest, the poetry of Rosemary Dobson and Robert Frost, and Go Back to Where You Came From.


Planetes, Makoto Yukimura. Dark horse, Milwaukie (2016)

What is it? “Hard” science-fiction manga (a Japanese comic).

What’s it about? Low earth orbit space trash collectors! Makoto’s manga follows the space sanitation crew of DS-12 “Toy Box” as they struggle to collect the manmade clutter of earth’s orbit. Makoto examines the relationships between the crew members and the difficulty of balancing their lives as astronauts with their families back on earth.

Why is good for AOS? Makoto’s powerful manga explores the tension that is created by a desire to discover and a need to belong to a community, especially individuals who come together from diverse backgrounds. Planetes investigates the environmental issues of space colonisation, but largely focuses on the ramifications of discovery on individual relationships.

Yuri is a widower who struggles with ideas of self-preservation, having lost his wife in a space-debris accident. Fee is the captain of the Toy Box. A hard-nosed and chain smoking leader, she struggles with the demands of her husband and son back on earth. Fee’s political anger sees her become a maternal figure of rebellion, while her struggle with motherhood sees her flee her own child. Hachi wants to own his own spaceship: he is haunted by his father’s successes as an engineer while he does menial blue-collar work. Tanabe is an idealist who believes that love and independence are the solutions to everything. The relationship that emerges between Tanabe and Hachi interrogates the difficulties of balancing emotional needs with career aspirations and future possibilities. While Hachi’s difficult relationship with his father drives him further into himself and towards Jupiter, his romance with Tanabe pulls him back towards earth. He learns to make emotional discoveries rather than scientific ones.

How would I use it?:

On page 297, Hachi confronts Tanabe with his belief that to succeed as an astronaut you must not only realise “that everything you know is useless,” “that gravity exists,” but also that she must “forget she is from earth.” The confronting nature of this discovery is captured by Tanabe’s hesitant response and the close-up that fills a third of the page. The long ellipsis of “… … … … Yes, Sir …” conveys the difficulty implicit in redefining what we know or who we want to be.

Will it work with my core text?

Planetes will pair with The Awakening, Wrack, A Short History of Nearly Everything,The Motorcycle Diaries, Away, and the poetry of Rosemary Dobson, Robert Frost and Robert Gray.


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Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons. 1st Class - Australian Literature) from USYD. His poetry, short stories, and essays have been published online and in print and he regularly reviews film and other media. Patrick is the editor of the popular Matrix blog and has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012.


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