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.
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