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An Act of Faith

I was recently in Waterstones buying The Last Dark, the final book in the long running Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson. I found it on the table where they'd put their favourite science fiction / fantasy books. Being the final book it necessarily tied up all the loose ends in the long story and performed the ritual farewells required by readers of such a long series who were leaving the world that he had created, but that is all by the way.

While at the table I also selected another book there, exercising simple faith in the bookshop's choices. This was relatively hard science fiction, allegedly thought-provoking although I suppose that depends on how much one thinks without provocation. I have just finished reading it and was interested by the way that it ended with sections entitled Acknowledgements, Notes and References. I suppose that these titles were advice to the reader to re-engage their disbelief following the fictional portion of the book, so I did just that.

In his notes the author mentioned that many authorities claim that free will does not exist, so many in fact that it would be a waste of his time to debate the fact. It occurred to me that these authorities must out of necessity apply their deductions to their own conditions and if that is so then the only reaction that one can have is to say that "they would wouldn't they?" Presumably by their own admission they couldn't contest this view. I always get edgy when a writer steps out onto his own stage in this way at the end of a performance of his work. A novel is a work of fiction, no more, and however hard the science in it is there must be other forums where that can be debated. Nowadays a simple reference to the writer's website (He has one.) would suffice. Anyway, despite all his thought-provoking and controversial observations and my apparent lack of free will I appear to have omitted to mention here the names of both the book and its author.

Of course WF is a forum where writers can legitimately air their views and their scribblings, so I can freely mention that the last book in my own trilogy, as yet unwritten, also ends with a comment on the nature of free will, but in a very different form from his. In my book the reader is merely informed that the story has ended although a further unconnected chapter follows for those who wish to continue reading. Whether they do is a matter of free will, isn't it? It is therefore left entirely up to each reader how they address the issue, just as it has been all along for the characters in the story.

This item started with an act of faith in a bookshop, so now I'll end with another expression of faith, a far more interesting subject than free will -- or are they too closely connected to state that? What follows is of course fiction.

A wise man and his acolyte were out walking when the acolyte picked up a stone and found an inscription on it.

"Master, this stone has wisdom," he said. "It states I think therefore I am. Should I keep it because it teaches us philosophy?"

"No," said the wise man, "throw it away because it teaches us to tell lies."

The young man did as he was advised but further along picked up another stone and saw on it the inscription I am without thinking.

"Master, this stone is stupid," he said, " but should I keep it because it teaches us to tell the truth?"

"No," said the wise man, "keep it because it teaches us faith."


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