Pointing out a Dead Horse

The August issue of Asimov’s is out now, with “Dead Horse Point” in there somewhere. Tangent Online called it “a poignant tale of love and desperation.” Full Review.

(I’m just stoked to be on the same cover as Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker — my hero — and good friend Jack Skillingstead. It doesn’t get any more fun than that.)

Gabriel McKee has an interesting discussion of the story in SF Gospel, his blog focused on “explorations of religion in science ficiton and popular culture.” He raises the point that concept of space-time in the story is similar to Augustinian eternalism. I would have mentioned eternalism in the story, except I didn’t know about it until I read McKee’s blog. I should really read the reviews commentary before I write the story—that would save time and make me look smarter.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Pointing out a Dead Horse

  1. As an aspiring writer myself, it’s rather intimidating writing a comment on a published writer’s blog (an act which I have never, until now, indulged). But, needless to say, I find myself somewhat unnerved.

    In any case, Mr. Gregory, I just finished reading your story, “Dead Horse Point,” and I thought it was absolutely brilliant and heartbreaking; the ending had a sense of inevitability, as well as surprise, and, as with most fiction writers far beyond my skill, it was humbling.

    I was wondering, however, if you knew where the joke about Jehovah’s Witnesses comes from; I’d never heard of it before, and I was wondering about its origins. Coming from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have to say that they actually do not believe in Predestination.

    Even in their own literature, they deride the very concept, stating that God has given mankind free will, freedom of choice. Wherever the joke comes from, it’s terribly misinformed about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.

    Anyway, here ends my first comment on a published writer’s blog, and I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I will be looking forward to more stories from you.

  2. Hi John-Mark,
    Sorry I didn’t see your comment before now — I don’t think the mail alerts are working as they should.

    I did see you blog, and your post on the Asimov’s board. To save time I’ll paste what I wrote there:

    http://www.asimovs.com/discus/messages/4134/7577.html?1184610494

    Hi, John-Mark,

    I tried to respond on your blog (you’re Praetorian, yes?), but it seemed to have swallowed my comment without posting it. Thanks for posting here.

    I heard the joke as featuring a Jehovah’s Witness, probably because the church has the history of announcing the exact year of Christ’s return (which has been periodically revised), and knowing the exact number of the anointed, which seems close enough to predestination that it’s probably why the joke got passed on that way. I should have looked into this further. Knowing what I know now, thanks to your blog and the post above, I would have changed it to John Calvin. (And I apologize in advance to any Calvinists in the audience.)

    On your blog you said that it’s hard to separate the character from the writer, which is true. But let me be clear that the character who told the joke is not to blame — he had no choice in the matter. I put the words in his mouth of my own free will.

  3. Thanks for responding, Mr. Gregory — I only just now noticed your response, so I can share in some of that guilt as well. Indeed, I am “Praetorian.”

    Just to reiterate, I enjoyed “Dead Horse Point” immensely, and it had me searching for other works of yours, but the segment of the story with the joke about Jehovah’s Witnesses had me a little baffled, merely because its premise was false. I wasn’t sure if I was simply misunderstanding something.

    Although they do not do so anymore, Jehovah’s Witnesses do indeed have a history of predicting precise years for Christ’s return (1975, being a prominent example), but that, to me, is no different than a great many examples throughout history which have tried to predict “the end of the world” — that is to say, at least as far as the Bible is concerned, the beginning of God’s Kingdom on earth.

    I can’t help but call to mind a scripture in Matthew, in response to a great many false predictions:

    “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)

    When I think of Predestination, I automatically call to mind predestination with respect to individual human destiny, or having your entire life already written in some unseen book, without you having a choice from moment to moment — this the kind of predestination is what Jehovah’s Witnesses flat out reject. But as far as the future of the human race as a whole is concerned — the ultimate realization of God’s Kingdom and dissolution of sin — then that indeed has already been “predermined.” I don’t think any Bible scholar would disagree with that.

    It’s an interesting topic, and your wonderful story has had me doing further research on the matter.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, John-Mark, and your kind words about the story.

    You’re right, predestination is all about the individual, and theologians trying to reconcile God’s omniscience with free will. After all, if God knows the future as well as he knows the past — every sparrow that falls and all that, to draw another quote from Matthew — then time in both directions is locked down, set in stone. There is no such thing as indeterminancy, probability, or “free” choice. Just because humans don’t _know_ what their next decision is going to be doesn’t mean that they’re free to make a decision different than what God has foreseen. It just means that humans (along with Jesus and the angels, as per your quote) are being kept in the dark.

    Which is one reason why I can’t believe in an omniscient God. And why quantum mechanics — and not the superdeterministic flavor expressed by the Julia character in the story (though that was fun to write about, especially because I was tired of parallel universe stories), but the ol’ spookily probablistic flavor of QM that allows for free will — is my explanation of choice for why my experience of the universe feels like it does.

    In other words, if free will turns out to be an illusion, I KNOW I won’t be happy about it.

    Any way, good luck in your writing career, especially with your first submission to Asimov’s! It’s playing around with ideas like these that makes SF so much fun.

    –d

  5. “Which is one reason why I can’t believe in an omniscient God. And why quantum mechanics…is my explanation of choice for why my experience of the universe feels like it does.”

    That reminds me, I just finished reading the Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker story in the August issue — hilarious throughout, and it reminded me of the example Brian Greene used in “The Elegant Universe” about the ants, with respect to the six dimensions that are too small for us to perceive.

    As far as God vs. quantum mechanics, it’s a matter that I have also pondered long and hard about — I suppose something inside me doesn’t want to give up on the possibility that they simply must be mutually exclusive.

    “Any way, good luck in your writing career, especially with your first submission to Asimov’s! It’s playing around with ideas like these that makes SF so much fun.”

    Thanks!

  6. “But let me be clear that the character who told the joke is not to blame — he had no choice in the matter. I put the words in his mouth of my own free will.”

    This made my day! Luckily the people who share may office were out today so I didn’t have to explain my outburst.

Comments are closed.