I’ve just started reading FlashForward by Robert Sawyer — the novel the short-lived t.v. series by the same name was based on. And of course, even when I try not to compare the two different methods of telling a story, I do.

Usually, I find a novel does a better job of building character, especially when it’s written in the omniscient point-of-view, as this one is, but this time I find the characters less cardboard and more flesh-and-blood on the screen. Admittedly, I’ve had 22 episodes to get up close and personal with characters I can see and hear, compared to a few hundred pages of the novel, but there’s more to it than that.

Linda Aksomitis kayaking
Linda Aksomitis urban kayaking on the St. Mary River in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Photo by David Aksomitis.

One thing the novel does do better than the show, however, is put the scientific material to the forefront. Is everything I’m going to do in life already determined, because at some point further down the time line it has already happened, or do I have free will? While most of the characters stand on one side of the equation or the other, I can’t really see why both can’t be true. Surely, I can have free will right now, and the future me down the time line is shaped by these choices.

But of course, then the discussion becomes one of what happens if as a result of the flash forward, and knowing what my future will be, given the choices I’ve made/will make before those two minutes some time off in the future, that I change something.

Obviously throwing myself off a roof, as one character did in the t.v. show, in order to save the woman he was going to kill in a car accident, means that the “cause” has been removed so there shouldn’t be an “effect.” Or, as some maintain, the future isn’t that easy to change and something will still happen to the woman who was supposed to die.

Determinism or free will, which will it be? I for one am still reading and thinking, wishing that FlashForward, the show, would have been given another season for its characters to explore further. I can, at least, still finish Sawyer’s novel and see how it all ends up for the book characters.

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