Reviewed by De Gevallene, November 2021
Mr Watson, Maurice Mickelwhite, the pair of you are messing with my head.
I must get a grip.
Probability does not remember.
The dice may be loaded, but probability does not load them.
If you throw six sixes in a row, you are exactly as likely to throw yet another six as you were the first second third fourth fifth and sixth time. You are no more or less likely – even if the dice are loaded – to throw a six this next time as you were all the others. In life most dice are loaded, so if you throw six sixes then you may well suspect it, but loaded or otherwise, the odds don’t change.
Probability does not care.
And yet, and yet… being human we yearn for order, we yearn to predict, we yearn to control the terrible mindless randomness of the numbers that almost certainly are the one deep truth in this universe – determining each twist of our life as improbably and inexorably as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil may determine the occurrence of a tornado in Mississippi. Personally, I have always suspected that numbers may be as close to God as we can get – with the additional advantage that, abstract though they are, numbers almost certainly do ‘exist’, whereas God almost certainly doesn’t.
And I’m pretty sure they care about Maurice, and you, and me, exactly as much as God does.
Nil. Nada. Nothing.
And yet, and yet… we go on looking for god, for meaning, for our own unique number in the universe. As if to know it would be to have the ability to change it, or to foresee where it takes us, or even grounds for appeal…
Poor Maurice. Poor aviators of the battle of Britain. Poor lost souls in all of the human race. Poor us. Poor God.
This is a remarkable, deep, perspicacious little book. I’m not surprised. Miles Watson is an author I have long admired, and in this book there is the questing, restless passion for understanding that characterises all his writing. You can read it as a thriller or as a meditation on the human condition. You can read it as a book about the nature of warfare, the randomness of war’s victims. Worth a read however you read it, and it will repay you.
(I’d bet on that one, anyway. I’d give you good odds…)