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[Book & movie spoilers galore]

As this article points out, referring to Louise being able to see the future in the book:

    > "she is like an actor following a script, engaged in a
    > self-fulfilling prophecy, taking precisely the actions
    > necessary to bring about the future she sees. A
    > fictional example of this would be Paul Atreides in
    > Dune Messiah, whose prescience allows him to see
    > visions of the present and act despite being blind -
    > but only as long as he executes the actions which
    > bring about the vision, thereby keeping the visions
    > reflective of reality."
However, in the book her daughter dies in a climbing accident, not from disease. The underlying point of the book as I read it is that free will doesn't exist and we're all just helpless pawns doomed to play out the inevitable.

Reportedly Hollywood didn't like that interpretation, so instead her daughter dies from disease, so the movie doesn't have to explain why Louise can't just tell her daughter "JUST DON'T EVER GO CLIMBING YOU'LL DIE I CAN SEE THE GODDAMN FUTURE!".

I think as a result the movie really makes no sense. Seeing the future can really only make sense if events are either determinate or you can't or are unwilling to change them. Otherwise you wouldn't know what future you're seeing or how your actions would impact the future.

In a universe where you can alter the future her vision of General Shang at the end of the movie doesn't make any sense. How can she see what General Shang told her in the future, if the only reason he told her is because of information Shang sent to her from the future as a result of her current actions, which are only possible due to information Shang sent her from the future?

In the book it's not as if Louise sees a way to save all humanity and has to make the hard choice to follow that path like Paul Atreides in Dune. She just sees things pertaining to her family life, in particular that her daughter eventually dies in an entirely preventable climbing accident.

So there you go, a movie that really makes no sense, although they had the good sense to plaster over the more obvious plot hole with her daughter now that free will is a thing by making her die from an incurable disease instead.




> The underlying point of the book as I read it is that free will doesn't exist

I thought this was only in the Heptapod non-sequential point of view. Doesn't Louise say something to the effect of "if you think like a Heptapod, you see everything at once but don't have free will; if you think sequentially, like a human, you have free will but can't know everything at once. They are complementary points of view"? (or something like that, not an exact quote).


The money quote from the book is:

    > [...] What made it possible for me to exercise
    > freedom of choice also made it impossible for me
    > to know the future. Conversely, now that I know
    > the future, I would never act contrary to that
    > future, including telling others what I know.
I.e. her situation is completely analogous to Paul Atreides in Dune. She can see the future, she can change events, but if she ever did she couldn't see the future anymore. So she throws her daughter under the metaphorical bus to retain her powers.

I think it's a rather bleak story, "woman can see future events, prefers to live out the spoiler version of her life rather than changing anything and being surprised", but whatever, at least it's internally consistent.

What I'm pointing out is that the storyline of the movie makes absolutely no sense, because there she can see the future and is able to change events based on that information, not lose her seeing powers, and seemingly create time loops where people in the future only did certain things because she did them in the present, based on information they gave her in the future because she did that!

The movie tries to evade this problem with a slight of hand. They change the circumstances of her daughter's death to be inevetable, otherwise the audience would be up in arms at the obvious contradiction that she can change the future based on seeing what General Shang is going to do, but somehow can't tell her daughter not to take up climbing as a hobby.


I don't think precognition in Story Of Your Life/Arrival should be seen as a "power" - and certainly not one that Louise can choose to discard. The Heptapod perspective, which Louise gains, is "timeless": there is perfect symmetry between past and present, and therefore no free will (or if there is free will, then it must be a very strange kind of free will from our perspective, since one's choices affect the past just as they affect the future). Louise can no more change the future than you and I can change the past: it simply is.

    > now that I know
    > the future, I would never act contrary to that
    > future, including telling others what I know.
I think this should be read as "I could never act contrary to that future". She knows the future, unlike Paul Atreides who lives in a very different universe and knows only one of many possible futures. That her daughter will die in a climbing accident is as immutable as the fact that I was born where I was born. I struggle to even contemplate what it would mean for me make choices now that affect my past; it is the same for Louise with respect to the future.

The difference between the universe of Story Of Your Life and a generic deterministic universe is that in Story Of Your Life free will is not an illusion; it exists, but it can only be experienced from a certain perspective, which is complementary to the timeless perspective.

Very possibly there is a third perspective in this universe which is also equally valid. We could have a sequel (Departure?) where we meet the aliens do exactly what I struggle to imagine: they can observe only the future, and their choices affect only the past.


What I took away from the book, particularly when she talks with the other linguist who also acquired these abilities is that they simply can't choose to act against what they know the future to be. It's not so much they want to or don't want to, it's that they simply can no longer make that choice to do it or not.


You may be right. My reading of the quote I referenced "I would never act contrary..." is that she's choosing not to act contrary to the visions she sees.

But it could indeed be that the Heptapod language is some sort of brain virus and any information she gets from the future she's helpless carrying out like some automaton. See the sibling thread about a "memetic virus".

In any case, what I'm pointing out in this thread is that I think at there's no way to make sense of the storyline of the movie, since it's internally self-contradictory in how it treats time travel.

I don't have time to dig this up now, but there were some interviews after it came out where it was made clear that this change was purely made to make the movie more appealing to viewers, at the cost of internal consistency.


I think the key is that in the short story everything has to be explicable from both a linear and non-linear perspective, just like you can describe physics both ways. If Louise had called up her daughter and told her not to go rock climbing that would not be explicable from a linear perspective and is thus impossible.


I took a very different interpretation from that quote. I don't think the point of the story is that once she understood Heptapod B she started actually seeing the future, but that her perception of her memories and experiences changed. She is telling the story from the future, after her daughter has died, but she experiences all the events at once as if she is acting them out again.

The statement "I would never act contrary to that future" is, in my reading, equivalent to you or I saying "I couldn't change the past". Her memories aren't grouped into an ordered list of A causing B causing C, but a jumbled collection of events all happening at the same time, and all happening NOW, as she is looking down at her daughter in the morgue.


There's so many parts in that book that make it abundantly clear that it's not being written after the fact from the view of someone who knows Heptopod B, she can actually see the yet-to-happen future.


I think it's a rather bleak story, "woman can see future events, prefers to live out the spoiler version of her life rather than changing anything and being surprised", but whatever, at least it's internally consistent.

In theory Louise could have told her daughter not go climbing because she can see the future and knows her daughter would die but that would probably result in:

1. Mom getting written off as bat shit crazy and ignored.

2. Teens and young adults being teens and young adults tend to shrug off warnings and advice of their parents and she would have died anyway.


    > Mom getting written off as bat shit crazy and ignored.
Yeah let's write off mom, the premier expert in xenolinguistics on the planet when she tells you the aliens taught her to see the future. She doesn't even try.

    > Teens and young adults being teens and young adults
Her daughter dies at 25. She's old enough that Louise could have not only explained this to her, but fully taught her Heptopod B so she could see it for herself.


Not quite. If she prevented her daughter from dying, the result would be a paradox.

In the story, she knows the future, not a hypothetical, if-nothing-changes prediction of the future.


I seem to remember it's slightly implied Louise's desire to protect her daughter from heights (isn't there a scene with a staircase in the story, or did I dream it?) actually pushes her daughter into climbing. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy.


When does she ever change future events? Sure she needed knowledge from the future to make that future happen but that's just a time loop, not altering the foreseen future.


To be honest, when reading stories in this genre, you have to understand that if you push it to the limit, it won't make sense. There's a number of other similar stories where, for instance, quantum phenomena are taken up to the classical, human-observable level or something. The idea is to have fun and expand your brain, not push them to the limit of plausibility, because we only know of one system that is both complicated enough to host stories and completely self-consistent, which is precisely and exactly the real world. And even that is A: assuming it really is completely self-consistent and B: a system that at the moment we are very clear on the fact that we do not completely understand it.

It's OK to notice the issues, but if you want to read in this genre you kind of have to get used to just noting them and moving on. Asking an author to write something that can hold up completely has three problems. Nobody could write a non-trivial completely self-consistent story that deviates from reality that much, nobody would be willing to read the resulting story that proves it out because it would require a lot of words to prove that, and in many cases it may not even be possible to be self-consistent in the first place. (Witness the problem we have just coming up with one physics that is consistent with itself and the real world, let alone creating non-trivial new ones from scratch.) It would not be a net benefit to not write those stories.


I certainly don't think every discussion about any fictional work needs to be turned into some Simpsons comic book guy analysis of the most minute of flaws.

Most sci-fi or fantasy works have some "gimme" that you just have to accept, because it furthers the story. Fine, anti-gravity, time travel or whatever exists. Nobody's expected to explain how it works.

What makes for lazy writing is introducing some world changing concept that you base your entire story on, and then just conveniently leaving it out in the very next scene for dramatic effect. That goes beyond having a gimme, you're just assuming your audience is dumb at that point.

I think the book "Story of Your Life" is just fine. It's consistent with its premise. As my comment indicates it's the lazy movie adoption I have a problem with.

They depart from the book by making the character capable of changing the future based on her prescience, she's no longer just a puppet playing out future events. She's got a choice. Okey, fine, let's run with that.

But then she can see a future where here young daughter dies from some incurable disease at a young age, but decides to have her anyway. Her partner then leaves her because she went through with that without telling him.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the universe of the movie when they had that conversation. He was probably yelling at her that they could have just spent a couple of thousand dollars on sperm sorting & IVF and say had a boy instead of instead of having their young daughter die at an early age from some statistically improbable disease.


"I think the book "Story of Your Life" is just fine. It's consistent with its premise. As my comment indicates it's the lazy movie adoption I have a problem with."

My apologies then; while I stand by the general content of my message I would not have replied to your post with that had I caught that detail.


I think you misread both the movie and the novella. In both, Louise chooses her actions, despite knowing the consequences. In both, and especially in the novella, the overriding theme is that the journey is more important than the destination. It's not about where you go, it's how you get there. That is why Louise chooses to have her daughter, despite knowing she will die--because it is about the life her daughter will get to have.

The movie does a better job of showing the progression of Louise's perception of time. At the beginning of the move, she can see her daughter (i.e., the destination resulting from the first contact mission) but not the journey (i.e., her husband or intervening events.) By the time she calls General Chang, she can see the destination and part, but not all, of the journey leading to that moment (i.e., what he told her during the call). By the end of the movie and the novella, her perception of time has improved to the point that she can see her daughter's entire life (the journey) in the instant she chooses to make love to her husband and thereby conceive her daughter.

(Note that the movie goes with the illness rather than the climbing accident because it's easier to convey to mass audiences. The movie is about Louise's choices and perception of time, not her daughter. However, the novella devotes a significant amount of text to emphasizing the daughter's free-spirited ways, suggesting that the daughter would have gone climbing even if her mother had told her how and when she would die. People like that actually exist, see e.g. BASE jumpers as a direct analogy.)




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