Tag Archives: Free will in literature


This is a list of longer articles of a more scholarly nature, some are +5000 or even +10,000 words. Most touch on philosophical matters.

Frank Herbert

On Paul as a tragic hero, and determinism as the foundation of Dune, amongst other things.

A comparison between Dune & Dune Messiah, a part on Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence in relation to Messiah, and how that ties into Paul being a tragic hero and not an Übermensch. I end with a discussion on determinism & free will in Messiah.

For starters Alia as tragic figure, and a discussion about an important thing that remains unclear: Paul’s relationship to the Golden Path. After that, 4 specific subjects: how I think ‘change’ is the central concept of this book, the prevalence of a Nietzschean Amor Fati, the book’s relationship with Nietzsche’s morality beyond good & evil, and finally, free will and its relation to Leto II’s specific version of prescience. Over 10,000 words in total.

Starts with a regular review, and after that examines Leto as the most tragic character of the series & the conceptual knot. Also examines the nature of the supposed cautionary tale Herbert meant to write and the introduction of non-mechanical world building in the series, contrasting with its central theme of the absence of free will. Other topics are the mechanics of no-room shielded prescience, the Golden Path, change & creativity, and it takes a critical look at various inconsistencies in the novel. Over 8,700 words in total.

11,600 words. Among other things, the text looks at Herbert’s narrative bluff, and examines the Bene Gesserit’s motivations. It discusses love, heresy and variation as themes in the novel, and looks at how the book’s characters are permutations of those of Dune. I try the explain why I liked this book the most of the sequels, even with all its shortcomings. The most important focus of the analysis is on a major shift in the series, as in Heretics, under the influence of Einstein and quantum theory, Herbert casts prescience not as something passive, but as an active, shaping force. This sea change alters the ontology underlying the series drastically. I also look at an underlying principle Herbert uses: perception shaping reality.

Yoon Ha Lee

On the morality of writing & enjoying violent fiction.

Hilary Mantel

On the conflict between the two world views underlying the novel: pragmatism vs. Plato, and a wee bit on free will.

Kim Stanley Robinson

A lengthy, analytic review backed by lots of fragments from recent KSR interviews.

W. Olaf Stapledon

On the conceptual & philosophical content, and its science fictional relevance.

J.R.R. Tolkien

A detailed exploration of LOTR‘s most basic problem: its internal contradictions viz. free will, and Tolkien’s own messy thinking on the subject.

Gene Wolfe

5500 words on a reread of TBotNS, focusing on the narrative trap Wolfe has set, and my theory that his literary sleight of hand serves a religious/mystical goal, much more than it is the supposed puzzle for the reader to unravel. There’s also a short section on free will, and it ends with my overall appraisal of the book’s enduring appeal.

Not as long, but with a coda that is a response to Wolfe’s delusional reactionary politics as he expressed them in a 2001 essay on Lord of the Rings.


Consult the author index for all my reviews, the index of non-fiction & art book reviews, or my other lists.