BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains how the creationism vs. evolution debate informed the writing of Calculating God.
©2000 by Robert J. Sawyer; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.
"Is Sawyer Canada's answer to Michael Crichton? Very possibly yes." (Montreal Gazette)
"Jonathan Davis...is one of our very best narrators and this is a fine performance. I was rapt the entire time, and even near tears at one moment in the book." (sffaudio.com; named an SFFaudio Essential)
"Jonathan Davis portrays a thoughtful and quietly introspective Jericho....As the conversation with Hollus continues, Davis keeps a steady pace and reflects the intellectual engagement of both characters. He presents the alien's speech as lightly studied, a fitting style for a non-English speaker who coordinates his speech between two mouths." (AudioFile)
Story was exceptional with a good plot line. The narration made the book more enjoyable.
The initial meeting with an alien.
This book had strong reviews and an intriguing plot summary, so I bought it to see what the fuss was about. Overall, it succeeded in telling a compelling story about a man who has his fundamental understandings about the world challenged. Specifically, it guides us through the "spiritual journey" of an atheist in an Intelligently Designed world.
As other reviewers have emphasised, those who buy the book should understand it is fiction and engage with it as such. This book is not aimed at those wanting a real philosophical debate about the existence of god. In this fictional universe, "God" exists and the proofs for his existence are valid. That the narrator is an atheist rather than a theist is an interesting draw card, but no one should expect to leave this book with their faith changed. Theists and atheists alike can both take something from this book - an insight into someone else's mind and the conflict between faith and evidence.
The best parts of the story are definitely those centred in the Museum, between Jericho and Hollus. I must say that while great overall, the storyline about the Christian Fundamentalists was cringe-inducing. Sawyer's caricatured depiction of them seems to come from his desire to differentiate the alien Hollus' view of deistic creation from terrestrial human theology and fundamentalist Christian ideas about intelligent design. However, it felt forced, clumsy and unnecessary. Similarly, the narrative grew a little messy towards the end with secondary plots feeling very "tacked on" (particularly the last couple of chapters), not in keeping with the rest of the story.
I was hoping to be entertained and edified by the story. The story is about the dangers of ossifying any stage of scientific enquiry into a quasi-scriptural dogma. I agree about the danger. But the polemical writing was boring.
I paraphrase the author's preface: only radically close-minded evolutionists and intelligent designers on the opposite extremes would not like his book, everyone in the middle would take something from it. The author's point of departure is that an intelligent alien brings many as-yet-unknown-to-humans data. These that make an intelligent designer the most "Occam's razor" theory. I have no problem with this literary device. I read Terry Pratchett's Discworld series with great pleasure: in that series there is a world in which all evidence shows a flat world with "turtles all the way down". I can enjoy Terry Pratchett's scientific investigation stipulating the truth of a flat earth.
The problem with "Calculating God" is that there is chapter upon chapter of drearily written fictional advances in space travel, alien paleontology and quantum/particle physics that supposedly prove intelligent designer. While I was pretty much to accept the literary device from the very beginning, this droning polemic wore me down.
Instead of a fictional literary device to illuminate human nature and the fallibility of science if it is ossified, the writing was attempting to become a serious discussion about actual evidence, as though the alien were a Salviati to the human paleontologist's Simplicio in a new Galilean "Dialogue Concerning the Two Systems". The only difference is that Galileo's Dialogue only included non-fictional evidence. Which is why we do not hold Galileo to literary standards, but rather standards of logic.
Therefore, I found that I had stopped taking all the fictional evidence at face value, as expected in any other science fiction fantasy. Holding the dialogue to standards of serious argumentation, I found myself focusing on the mistaken usage of words from the probability theory, of the philosophical concept of Occam's razor, and so forth.
Then there is just plain slipshod storytelling. For example, the alien finds prior portrayals of aliens in popular culture lacking in imagination and overly mimicking earthly creatures. But then, the author's alien is some sort of a spider-creature, whose skin is of the sort that humans with only earthly experience automatically recognize as biological. That is just as poor and limited an imagination. For one moment, I went all "meta": I thought that the author was cleverly presenting the irony of his own limits. But there wasn't any more of that self-examining irony coming through. There was no ironic "meta" about this storytelling faux pas till as far as I had read before returning the book.
I was disappointed that a book that I was ready to like should turn out to be such a dreary argument.
It may be a book with a similar thesis, but written in a more entertaining way.
The narrator presents the alien as a motoric monotonous voice. This may be reasonable performace decision at some level, because the alien is in fact using a translator device. But the alien has a lot of dialogue. This flat tone of speech gets tedious. Perhaps the narrator could have tried to modulate the tone a little more, so it would seem motoric, but not become boring.
I read about half the book and then returned it. I would cut down the "evidence for a creator" that goes on for chapter after chapter, to just one or two well-crafted chapters.All we need to know is that the alien brings a whole lot of new data that changes the current state of scientific evidence.
Given how boring the arguments were, I think that the author's prefatory statements are hubris about is skill. It isn't only the extremes of the argument that will get annoyed with the book - some people who expect good writing, flow of storyline and character development will get annoyed too.
Avatar by The Domestic Goddess at allavatars
I delight in theological religious and scientific debate. This book does that in great depth and detail with wonderful Star Trek humor. An entertaining way for writers to get their (slightly outdated) science lessons.
It reverses the norm by having the aliens arrive in search of God while the human paleotologist plays devil's advocate. Sort of a modern Screwtape Letters in a way.
Not for action seekers.
Only book where the Greek God machine really does work in a satisfying plot conclusion.
Fantasy and Romance Author
I bought this book when Audible offered it for $3.95, and while I did finish listening all the way to the end, I'm glad that I didn't pay full price for it, or use up one of my credits.
It wasn't a bad book, and had a very interesting premise, but after an amusing first chapter when the alien Hollus shows up at the ROM, the bulk of the novel was basically a long philosophical discourse on evolution, intelligent design, religion, mortality, and ethics.
Which is fine for a work of non-fiction, but as a novel, this book definitely fell flat for me, mostly because the hero's journey from disbelief to grudging belief in a god proceeded at an absolutely glacial pace.
There was a rather clumsy attempt at creating some action via the introduction of two American Christian fundamentalist terrorists, but that came fairly late in the book and felt tacked-on rather than an integral part of the story (probably because the story switches POV to a police officer who is around for two brief scenes, then completely disappears from the narrative). Also adding to the tacked-on impression is the fact that the terrorists are targeting the museum's fossil exhibition, not the visiting aliens, and the main characters are caught up in the events purely by coincidence.
In between the alien's arrival and the terrorist attack, most of the chapters involve either long discourses between the alien and the paleontologist Thomas Jericho, or Jericho arguing with himself about whether he can accept the possibility of intelligent design, and worrying about his terminal cancer.
Honestly, this book felt like several episodes of COSMOS sandwiched in between a couple of chapters of actual science fiction.
The writing / story telling is superb
Your God or Mine
This is a fantastic book - highly recommend!
To live, to love, to leave a legacy.
Yes. In fact, I'm almost sure to do so. The content stayed with me long after the last words were uttered.
Hollis. Hollis was a black and white type character and deviated very little from her objective. I think all people need a Hollis, someone to tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear.
I think Mr. Sawyer has created something very special in this work. I think it will stand the test of time and one day be mentioned in the same breath as Bradbury, Dick, Asimov, and of course Clarke. If fact I think this work passes all but Clarke and maybe 451.
No. But that applies to any audiobook. I like to digest them over time.
I never read or for that matter listened to anything by this author. His knowledge of the subject matter was incredible and I imagine well researched as I did not validate any of it. The level of detail that exists in our universe is extremely complex to say the least and Mr. Sawyer sparred no detail. Does GOD exist? I think he/she/it exist's as much as a bird, a breeze, a whisper, a wink, a sigh, a yawn, a moonlight walk, or a falling sparrow does. Did the Universe Create God? Did GOD preserve what he was and create people? I don't know but for don't think, not even for a second, this is all a coincidence. Finally, I'd like to think that something like cancer is a fly in the ointment of creation. Sawyer tackles this with a very fascinating analysis. Well done Mr. Sawyer this Sir, must be your masterpiece, not sure what you do for an encore but I will tune in. Thanks.
I liked the concept but it did not have enough depth and seemed on sided. There were many scientific arguments given to the existence of a creator however the counter points were weak if they existed at all. Additionally only a cursory look was given to other moral and religious issues. I don’t think I would recommend it.
Listening time was well-spent, although I it was like sitting in church or a lecture at a Christian philosophy class.
I have already been tempted to download another of Sawyer's books.
My favorite character was the son, Ricky, as the most believable.
Calculating God was definitely worth the listen, but it is in danger of insulting both atheists (or agnostics) and fundamental, young-earth Creationists.
Sawyer's characters have a small view of the divine, where God is simply as a transcended created being(s) from an earlier universe.
The improbable setting and "Alien" stuff had me wondering in the beginning, but the story very masterfully has woven together science and religion in a both touching and inspiring journey.
The gun fight.
Fascinating to reflect on the reality of travelling at or near the speed of light. in 400 years he outlived his wife and son.
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