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Book Review: A Brief History of Time & The Craft of Writing

September 27, 2018

“The universe doesn't allow perfection.”

A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking


I decided to revisit this book after almost a decade since I first read it. It’s definitely challenging for a non-scientist to follow along, but I remember being intrigued by some concepts when I first came across it; upon re-reading, I have not got any closer to really comprehending the concepts. Instead, I have more questions than before.


And that, I think, is good.


One fear I have is that I will be stagnant in my reading. I used to devour fantasy, since these are the genres I love writing for. However, sometime around 2014, I realized that I don’t read beyond my interests. If I were not a writer, this would not have been too much of a problem. Most people barely make time to read! But I am a writer, and to limit my own mind to familiar tropes and comfortable ideas is to limit my potential to grow as a writer.


Therefore, this is not going to be a regular book review. I do not know nearly enough science to discuss the topics raised. Instead, I read A Brief History of Time from the perspective of a writer, which allowed me to have fun imagining what a Supreme Creator would think or do. After all, are writers - especially fantasy and science fiction writers - not creators of worlds in the first place?


“What did God do before he created the universe?”

A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking


In many ways, the creation of a fictional world is similar to the (theorized) start of the universe. First there was nothing (or everything, depending on who you ask), and then it all came into being. A great rush of energy, speeding outwards in all directions; the universe building itself with millions and millions of collisions that generate new matter and antimatter. Ideas spawning ideas and some ideas cancelling one another out.


Then, over time (yes, I know), the pace of creation slows, and we approach a steady and predictable expansion. Early theories are formulated, tested, and replaced.  Potential futures collapse into certainty as we move through time, dragging Now along with us. A central narrative takes shape once we determine  a point of view; the universe starts making sense as we develop more powerful tools to observe and analyze its parts.


And we head towards a conclusion, the shape of which we may have guess at but no one has a clear clue. What happens at the end of Time? Will it restart? Is there a sequel to this universe?


There will always be a drive to understand a fictional world in its entirety, just as scientists are driven to find a unifying Theory of Everything. But there will always be space for interpretation and flaws in any creation.


So what did God do before creating the universe?


Perhaps They laid out the themes of the new world being built. Perhaps They  populated it with characters of all sorts, with different motivations and experiences. Perhaps They just had the germ of an idea, and decided to let it grow as it wanted.


Perhaps They read, and thought, and felt the excitement of making a whole new universe all over again.


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