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Calculating God Hardcover – June 3, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Creationists rarely find sympathy in the ranks of science fiction authors--or fans, for that matter. And while Robert J. Sawyer doesn't exactly make peace with evangelicals on the issue, Calculating God has to be one of the more thoughtful and sympathetic SF portrayals you'll find of religion and intelligent design. But that should come as no surprise from this crafty Canadian: in the Nebula Award-winning Terminal Experiment, Sawyer speculated on what would happen if hard evidence were ever found for the human soul; in Calculating God, he turns science on its head again when earth is invaded by theists from outer space.

The book starts out like the setup for some punny science fiction joke: An alien walks into a museum and asks if he can see a paleontologist. But the arachnid ET hasn't come aboard a rowboat with the Pope and Stephen Hawking (although His Holiness does request an audience later). Landing at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the spacefarer (named Hollus) asks to compare notes on mass extinctions with resident dino-scientist Thomas Jericho. A shocked Jericho finds that not only does life exist on other planets, but that every civilization in the galaxy has experienced extinction events at precisely the same time. Armed with that disconcerting information (and a little help from a grand unifying theory), the alien informs Jericho, almost dismissively, that "the primary goal of modern science is to discover why God has behaved as he has and to determine his methods."

Inventive, fast-paced, and alternately funny and touching, Calculating God sneaks in a well-researched survey of evolution science, exobiology, and philosophy amidst the banter between Hollus and Jericho. But the book also proves to be very moving and character-driven SF, as Jericho--in the face of Hollus's convincing arguments--grapples with his own bitter reasons for not believing in God. --Paul Hughes

From Publishers Weekly

Sawyer (Flashforward; Factoring Humanity), a Canadian, is one of contemporary SF's most consistent performers. His new novel concerns the appearance at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto of a spiderlike alien paleontologist named Hollus. The alien has come to Earth to study the five great extinction events that have hit our planet over the eons, the best known being the asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs. When the museum's head paleontologist, Tom Jericho, consults with the alien, he is shocked to discover that Hollus has proof that her own planet and that of another alien race suffered a similar series of five catastrophic events at virtually the same times as Earth did. More surprising still to a 21st-century disciple of Darwin like Jericho, both alien races see this synchronicity, along with other scientific evidence, as proof of the existence of God. Much of the novel is relatively cerebral, as Jericho and Hollus argue over the scientific data they've gathered in support of God's existence, but Sawyer excels at developing both protagonists into full-fledged characters, and he adds tension to his story in several ways: Jericho has terminal cancer, which gives him a personal stake in discovering the truth of the alien's claims, and lurking in the background are a murderous pair of abortion clinic bombers who have decided that the museum's Burgess Shale exhibition is an abomination that must be destroyed. Finally, there's the spectacular, if not entirely prepared for, climax in which God manifests in an unexpected manner. This is unusually thoughtful SF. (June) FYI: Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment won the 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (June 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312867131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312867133
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (246 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert J. Sawyer -- called "the dean of Canadian science fiction" by the OTTAWA CITIZEN and "just about the best science-fiction writer out there" by the Denver ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS -- is one of eight authors in history to win all three of the science-fiction field's highest honors for best novel of the year: the Hugo Award (which he won for HOMINIDS), the Nebula Award (which he won for THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT); and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won for MINDSCAN).

Rob has won Japan's Seiun Award for best foreign novel three times (for END OF AN ERA, FRAMESHIFT, and ILLEGAL ALIEN), and he's also won the world's largest cash-prize for SF writing -- the Polytechnic University of Catalonia's 6,000-euro Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficcion -- an unprecedented three times.

In 2007, he received China's Galaxy Award for most favorite foreign author. He's also won twelve Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras"), an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, ANALOG magazine's Analytical Laboratory Award for Best Short Story of the Year, and the SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE Reader Award for Best Short Story of the Year.

Rob's novels have been top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada, appearing on the GLOBE AND MAIL and MACLEAN'S bestsellers' lists, and they've hit number one on the bestsellers' list published by LOCUS, the U.S. trade journal of the SF field.

Rob is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences, teaches SF writing occasionally, and edits his own line of Canadian science-fiction novels for Red Deer Press.

His novel FLASHFORWARD (Tor Books) was the basis for the ABC TV series of the same name. He enjoyed spending time on the set and wrote the script for episode 19 "Course Correction."

His WWW trilogy, WAKE, WATCH, and WONDER (Ace Books), is all about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness.

Next up is TRIGGERS, April 2012. Set in Washington D.C., TRIGGERS is a science fiction political thriller about the nature of memory.

For more information about Rob and his award-winning books, check out his web page:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 66 people found the following review helpful By B Singh on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
CALCULATING GOD is a terrific book. Sawyer's research is wonderful and far reaching. He has clearly gone beyond just popular science sources. The main character's struggle with cancer is the perfect subplot, for one does wonder how such injustice can exist. All Sawyer's characters come off well, alien or otherwise. I thought at first that the two fundamentalists were going to be given an unfair treatment, but they were seen being very competent at what they set out to do. And, as a Sikh, I must applaud Sawyer's use of a Sikh character in a nonstereotypical role. Very well done! I enjoyed the aliens very much, from the affable Hollus to the almost incomprehensible Wreeds. I do not know the Royal Ontario Museum, where Sawyer sets his book, but I do know the politics of other museums and what he writes has the ring of real truth about it. A fresh and welcome contrast to the ridiculous portrayal of how a museum really works in for instance THE RELIC by Preston Child. CALCULATING GOD should be enjoyed by science fiction readers (I loved it) and by those who don't read sf (my wife loved it as well).
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Format: Paperback
Robert Sawyer's CALCULATING GOD is an encounter between science fiction and philosophy of religion. One fine day an alien lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum and asks to see a paleontologist. The creature tells Dr. Mark Jericho that his planet and one around a neighbouring star saw mass extinction events at the same time as Earth's history. For the alien, it's obvious that these events were the hand of God, and his race is amazed that Earth scientists doubt the existence of a creator at work.

Most of the novel consists of Jericho and the alien sitting in the office, day after day, talking about the basics of philosophy of religion: the cosmological and design arguments, theodicy, mind-body dualism, etc. Now, I love philosophy of religion, but Sawyer's story is reduced to long, didactic conversations that can't compete with a general introduction to the subject. The remaining plot of CALCULATING GOD is pretty lame, with a couple of violent Christian fundamentalists looking to wreak havoc and some museum administration drama. Now, this isn't the kind of sermon that one might expect: Sawyer's vision of God is deist, with the creator setting the universe in motion and on rare occasions nudging it towards mysterious goals, but not maintaining any personal relationship with creation.

Having read classic works by Wolfe and Silverberg, it's getting increasingly more difficult for me to handle a science fiction novel that can't stand as a work of literature independent of the futuristic concepts within. The writing in CALCULATING GOD is highly mundane, like something you'd see from a vanity press.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dory Mackenzie on May 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I am always leery when I see the word "God" in the title of a science fiction book .... but I like Sawyer, so I bought this .... and like it too! The theme of evolution vs. creationism is a very touchy one .... but Sawyer handles it very very well. I liked the characters a lot too. The alien Hallus, the human being Jericho .... both were very believable and very sympathetic. And Sawyer knows his evolutionary science and palaeontology .... any book with the Burgess Shale fossils in it is fine by me! You won't be disappointed by this one.
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50 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Eneasz M. Brodski on July 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is basically two characters talking about whether or not God exists for a few hundred pages. Unfortunately it's done extremely poorly.

The smarter character, the alien, basically recites standard apologetics for the existence of a deistic god. If you ever spent a few hours on the internet you've already heard them all. Fine-tuning argument, irreducible complexity, etc. They are presented as tested and correct by the alien's more advanced science. The author is also apparently unaware of the standard atheistic replies, displaying that he never bothered researching past the point where he could comfortably declare his own theological views justified.

The dumber character, the human, is supposed to be an atheist. He is, at best, a straw-man atheist and one is led to believe the author has never met an actual atheist in real life. His part of the conversation is to bring up the weakest possible "objections" to god's existence and then quickly capitulate that the alien is always right.

This is especially pathetic when they discuss morality, as it's glaringly obvious the author has never read a serious book of ethical philosophy in his life. Not one that was published in the last 200 years anyway. Turns out the alien's morality is always correct because they can "feel it" better than humans can.

The worst part of all this is that the atheist isn't just a strawman, he's also a Scully Skeptic. The alien (with his advanced science and measurements) basically demonstrates the existence of a god-like-being in the first 10 pages of the book. Any real atheist at this point would say "Oh, yes, the universe was created by an intelligence. This is amazing! We should try to find out more about this creator being and contact it if possible!
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