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Friday, April 13, 2007

Joe Haldeman, God, and physics

Joe Haldeman is an honored science fiction writer. His The Forever War, about a meaningless, destructive war fought over several centuries in the future, and the human cost of that war, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, which seldom happens.

I recently read his Forever Free (New York: Ace, 1999), which, says Haldeman, is a sequel.

I usually try not to give away the plot of literature I mention here, but in this case, I will summarize. William and Marygay Mandella, veterans of the Forever War, have been shunted off to an out-of-the-way planet, after peace has been made with the Taurans. They decide that they want to escape their situation (which includes being dependent, and in communication, with an undesirable society on earth) and escape in time, as well as space, hoping to return after millenia have passed behind them, with, perhaps improvements in the situations they want to leave behind. So they, with help, capture a ship that has the capacity to go nearly as fast as light, hoping to come back, after many years, to see what has happened to humans on their planet, and also to humans on earth.

They don't get far. Suddenly, the anti-matter that powers their ship disappears. They escape back to the planet they left, only to find that no one is alive there. Clothes and other artifacts have been left behind, as if everyone was suddenly vaporized, or something. The Mandellas, and others, go back to earth, to find the same situation. Some of them are beginning to think that perhaps their attempted journey caused the disappearances. OK, so far, but I was surprised by the resolution.

It seems that a god, or gods, had been doing an experiment on our galaxy for millenia, but, when these particular "rats" decided to escape, prevented it, and terminated the experiment. However, a representative god appears to tell the Mandellas about this, and agrees to bring everybody back. (All the people on earth were put in suspended animation in Carlsbad Caverns, and those on other planets are in similar situations.)

William Mandella has been a physics teacher, and he, and others, decide, as the book ends, that they should check out basic physics, and physical constants, because at least some of these are part of the experiment, and not really natural. They find that some of these are, indeed, not the same as they were before.

(In case you don't know it, some physical properties of the universe appear to have been fine-tuned, such that, if they were only slightly different, we wouldn't be here.)

My opinion is that Haldeman should have stuck to science fiction, and left theology out of it, but I'm not a famous writer. Thanks for reading.

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