Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time Enough At Last

"I hate Pilgrim's Progress. It's the only book I've ever put down without finishing."


"It's dull and poorly written. It's supposed to be a classic, but instead it's a poor allegory."

"Isn't that true of most classics?"

"I couldn't get past the 'Slough of Despond'. I don't even keep it on my reading list."

"Why would you?"

"I keep a list of books I've read, and a list of books I want to read. In between those lists I've wedged a 'partially read but not completed' list."

"Why don't you just put it way down on the bottom of that list? That way you can keep reading other books, but it'd still be on there."

"I'd be more prone to read every other book in existence first."

God pricked up his ears. Actually, it was his omniscience, but no one understood how that worked anyway.

"This ought to be fun."

Lou looked up from his paper. "What?"

"Dylan Ross just said he'd read all other books in existence before Pilgrim's Progress."

"Yeah, I know."

"Don't lie. So I'm going to hold him to it. Should be fun."

After a few decades of not aging Ross decided he had to 'go vampire' and retreat from the world. Watching Groundhog Day a couple of times he felt familiar enough to work through the steps. He was very happy with her, until the day she died.

But he was still around. He couldn't perform miracles, couldn't die, could love, could commit crimes and kill (he stayed clear of Nevada for a long time after that). He tried various religions: sat and meditated for a few hundred years as the world whistled by. His mind was fine and sharp, and his health didn't waver. Under various guises he did a lot of good: righting wrongs and earning karmic brownie points in case this was some sort of purgatory-thing.

He dwelt on all of his regrets and did everything possible to right them, in case one of them had been the tip in the balance. He kept busy reading new books and old books, and reserved the spot for Progress at the bottom. Eventually he began to notice that he was looking a little unevolved. One day, finally, cold fusion actually wasn't 'fifty years away'. The resulting cold fusion weapons threatened to destroy - oh, wait, there they went.

By now Ross had given up trying to figure out his purpose. Once everything on the planet, including the planet, was destroyed except him and millions of books floating in space, he got it.

"I see."

So he gathered them up as best he could, and read. Floating and reading, noticing the subtle galactic spin and shift. When he'd finish a volume it'd disappear. If he didn't read it thoroughly, or skimmed bits, it stuck around.

No longer interested in time, and with no means of measuring it anyway, eventually there was just one book left. He picked it up.

It was The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

"Wait, what? Did I read it without knowing? No - I'd have remembered. What the hell?"

He looked around very thoroughly, and eventually just read the Gladwell. When that was over nothing happened.

"Well... shit."

God chuckled. Lou shook his head.

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