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Is the future inevitable?
on October 2, 2000
Although this isn't among Sawyer's best, the issue he raises is one worthy of further discussion. 'Free will' remains one of the most compelling of human ideas. With geneticists demonstrating the impetus given our behaviour by our DNA, what is inevitable and what is left to chance? What actually drives our behaviour and how far into the future might we be able to predict? If we can garner a glimpse of the future, will that future necessarily be fixed? Sawyer gives us one means of assessing that question, although the technique he uses here is questionable. His resolution is far more mechanistic than anything even the sociobiologists have suggested.
It's fascinating to read critiques of Sawyer's characterizations. Depicting persona is easily Sawyer's finest quality as a writer. His characters may not be charming nor even heroic, but they are certainly real people in every sense of the term. Lloyd Simcoe [how Canadian!!] can be readily condemned for his waffling, but the description of his mental gyrations are portrayed with fidelity. Theo's obsession with avoiding an untimely demise is hardly far- fetched under the circumstances. Even Cheung, a man of vast wealth and power, while not an original figure, is certainly conveyed from genuine models. What person of his status wouldn't undertake the realization of immortality if the chance presented itself?
Those critical of Sawyer's scientific basis are simplistic. His science is sound, but shouldn't be taken as providing any final resolution to the many questions he raises. The issues remain open until we've delved much further into ourselves and the universe around us. The real problem with this story is Sawyer's ultimate acceptance of the Frank Tipler model of the future of humanity. Humans appear wholly incapable of envisioning that along with the rest of the animal kingdom we will go extinct. This is particularly amazing in view of the fact that we seem to be bringing that about ourselves. The Dyson sphere is a human-centred idea overlooking the diversity of life on this planet. A beautiful idea, but one dooming the remaining life on our world. Could we truly become immortal in such an environment?