Whatever Limits Us, We Call Fate

Whatever Limits Us, We Call Fate

I recently finished a book titled To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. It’s not really about a dog, though there’s a dog in the story; it’s really more about time travel … and fate.

I’ve read one other time travel book by the same author called Doomsday Book, which was heavy both in tone as well as in weight, but this book was lighter, more fun, and humorous — and it made me think about Fate with a capital F. I don’t even remember seeing the actual word in the book, but everything in the book — the nature of the space-time continuum, the unbreakable laws of time travel, the consequences of making changes in history, however slight — they all pointed me to the idea of Fate.

In the book, history can’t be drastically changed. The time traveling historians have tried killing off Hitler, changing the outcome of Waterloo, and various other significant things in the past, but they found that it was impossible. The “net” that allowed time travel would take them somewhere else or close off entirely in any such attempt, and if they did succeed in making a small change that would later snowball into bigger changes, the “net” would cause “slippages” in other time travels in a move to fix the “incongruity” and make other small corrections to make sure that bigger and more significant events still come out the way they were supposed to — because if things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to, the whole space-time might collapse.

It’s like that movie Serendipity, where the John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale characters were always meant to be together, and even though Kate keeps testing that Fate by doing things that could potentially cause them to lose each other in the crowd and never be with each other, the little things in their lives — the minor coincidences, the close calls to bumping into each other, the slightly off timing — eventually conspire to bring them together again anyway, as they were meant to be.

It’s a concept that boggles my mind because when you think about all the major historical events, it’s usually a number of little things that make it happen. The Titanic sank beyond all odds because they were going too fast, the water too still, and they swerved to avoid hitting the iceberg head on, allowing the iceberg to tear the hull across multiple compartments instead of one, causing the water to fill the ship like it was a too-shallow ice cube tray, and voila. You tweak one thing to try to change the course of history, but so many other little things conspire against you instead — like Fate was out to get Titanic, and that … is … that.

So I have to wonder. What if Fate had a plan for each of us? For me? If I make a wrong life choice somewhere, will the space-time continuum conspire to fix that and lead me back on the right path by making tweaks here and there? Is my Fate a good one or a bad one? Regardless of what my Fate is, is it worth trying to change things? Should I sit back and let things happen? Or does the space-time continuum count on me to act the way I would if I were the master of my own Fate? Are ANY of us masters of our own Fate?

When told by a fortune teller that he’d kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus Rex did what he could to avoid that end. He left his parents and travelled to another kingdom. On his journey, he killed a man and ended up marrying the widow. What he didn’t know was that he was adopted. His biological parents, having heard the same prophecy after he was born, had abandoned him to die, and that was how his adopted parents found him. The man he killed? His real father. The woman he married? His real mother.

See? When his real parents ditched him to avoid what was supposed to happen, the space-time continuum fixed the incongruity by making sure Oedipus survived, was adopted, and later heard the same prophecy that would compel him to travel towards his ultimate Fate.

It’s just the sort of thing that makes you wonder.

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2 thoughts on “Whatever Limits Us, We Call Fate

  1. How much is free will, and how much is unavoidable. Plaguing questions that will puzzle philosophers for ages to come.

    On an unrelated note, I found this today. Yes today if you can believe it.


    I’m the writer of Eyeballs in the Carpet. I know this is ten years late, but I didn’t have the internet back then. I want to thank you for an amazing illustration that captured the essence of the short story.

    1. Well, HI, Jason! Nice to finally “meet” you! 🙂 And thank YOU for giving me something interesting to illustrate; I remember how long that one took me. I hope you are still writing stories!

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