[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

SFWRITER.COM > Novels > FlashForward > Intro to Italian Edition

Introduction to the Italian edition
of FlashForward

Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

In 2000, my Italian editor, Sergio Fanucci of Solaria, asked me to write an introduction to the Italian edition of my novel FlashForward. Here's what I had to say . . .

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that the three fundamental problems of metaphysics are "Is there life after death?," "Does God exist?," and "Do we have free will?"

Without it really being a conscious plan, I've ended up writing novels on each of those themes. My 1995 book The Terminal Experiment (for which I was fortunate enough to win the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award) dealt with a biomedical engineer who discovered scientific proof for the existence of the human soul. And my 2000 novel Calculating God attempts to use science to answer the question of whether or not God exists.

As for Kant's third conundrum, that's the province of FlashForward. There's no doubt that here in the western world most people do believe they have free will ... and yet many of us, myself included, are familiar with the experience of making a commitment, for example, to lose weight, only to find ourselves falling off our diets a few days or weeks later. Despite our best conscious intentions, our fate turns out differently than we intended, almost as if we really didn't have free will after all.

I've long been interested in classical Greek drama; Sophocles's Oedipus Rex is one of my favorite plays, and I had the privilege in 1977 of standing on the stage at Epidaurus and shouting Agamemnon's name toward the heavens. But Greek tragedy takes exactly the opposite underlying assumption: it believes that our futures are foreordained, that our destiny is unavoidable. My experience with dieting seems, on a smaller scale, like Oedipus's utter failure, despite his devout wish, to avoid fulfilling the prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother: regardless of either his or my best intentions, we ended up doing exactly what we'd vowed not to do.

Which worldview is correct? That of the Greeks, who believed our destinies were inescapable, or that of people today who insist that we are the masters of our own futures? I certainly find the modern idea more appealing, but mere appeal is hardly sufficient enough reason for a rational person to believe it to be true. Is there really any valid reason to accept our belief in free will as more valid than the Greek belief in predetermination?

As a science-fiction writer, I began to wonder what physics and quantum mechanics had to tell us about this age-old question. And, to my surprise, the answer is a great deal, and most of it, building on the work of Hermann Minkowski, points to the unsettling notion that the future is just as fixed as the past.

You're about to begin reading my novel ... but the ending of that novel is already fixed, typeset immutably on the last page of this book. You don't yet know how it's going to end, and, hopefully, the journey will surprise you along the way, but the conclusion is inevitable. Are our lives like that — a book that's already been written, with a happy or tragic ending already set in stone? Is "now" simply the page all of our minds happen to be contemplating? If so, what would happen if suddenly our minds jumped ahead a hundred pages or so, looking at a scene out of sequence, a chapter yet to come?

That's the premise of FlashForward — and I hope you enjoy reading it. Just do me a favor and don't peek ahead at the ending . . .

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