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Calculating God | [Robert J. Sawyer]

Calculating God

In this Hugo-nominated novel, 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, Hollus, asks to compare notes on mass extinctions with resident dino-scientist Thomas Jericho.
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Publisher's Summary

In this Hugo-nominated novel, 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, 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.

BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains how the creationism vs. evolution debate informed the writing of Calculating God.

  • 2009 Audie Award Winner, Science Fiction/Fantasy

  • ©2000 by Robert J. Sawyer; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (2450 )
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4.0 (1813 )
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4.2 (1800 )
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    ohmie 05-03-14
    ohmie 05-03-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Surprisingly Good"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Calculating God to be better than the print version?

    No idea but this audio version is fantastic.


    What other book might you compare Calculating God to and why?

    No idea but it must now rank as one of my all time favorite books. Robert J. Sawyer is brilliant, entertaining, insightful, and surprising. Sawyer yokes together scientific, religious, historical and philosophical concepts in an easy and wonderful way. This book will become an annual read for me.


    What does Jonathan Davis and Robert J. Sawyer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    They bring a lightness and vibrancy that one might not get reading on their own. Davis was very good and fun to listen to.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Virtually every moment but probably the moment i was hooked was when Hollis (sp? since I I only listened and didn't read) first appeared at the main desk of the ROM and asked for a paleontologist.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Terrence 04-29-14
    Terrence 04-29-14
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    "Not impressed"
    What would have made Calculating God better?

    From the buildup I expected more. Interesting concepts but the story was very simplistically written.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chuckc72 Arvada, CO 04-28-14
    Chuckc72 Arvada, CO 04-28-14 Member Since 2012

    Charles

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    "Altered perspectives"

    Aliens convincing scientists that god really exists. Very predictable and very sad, I couldn't imagine telling my son that I was dying. I really didn't care for the book but it did get me thinking about religion and my own personal beliefs from a different perspective.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    George 04-27-14
    George 04-27-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Pretty good."
    What made the experience of listening to Calculating God the most enjoyable?

    Story was exceptional with a good plot line. The narration made the book more enjoyable.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Hollis


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The initial meeting with an alien.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    N/A


    Any additional comments?

    N/A

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stas 04-27-14
    Stas 04-27-14
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    "Great concept for a book, Engaging story overall"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dhananjay 04-25-14
    Dhananjay 04-25-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Tedious polemic and narration"
    What disappointed you about Calculating God?

    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.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    It may be a book with a similar thesis, but written in a more entertaining way.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Jonathan Davis and Robert J. Sawyer ?

    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.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Calculating God?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Meg E Dobson United States 04-25-14
    Meg E Dobson United States 04-25-14 Member Since 2014

    Avatar by The Domestic Goddess at allavatars

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    "As thought provoking as the first time I read this"

    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.

    **SPOILER ALERT***

    Only book where the Greek God machine really does work in a satisfying plot conclusion.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karin W. Dublin, CA USA 04-24-14
    Karin W. Dublin, CA USA 04-24-14 Member Since 2008

    Fantasy and Romance Author

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    "Talky and kind of slow"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen 04-23-14
    Stephen 04-23-14
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    "A Must Read / Listen"
    Where does Calculating God rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Top 5


    What did you like best about this story?

    The writing / story telling is superb


    Which character – as performed by Jonathan Davis and Robert J. Sawyer – was your favorite?

    Holis


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Your God or Mine


    Any additional comments?

    This is a fantastic book - highly recommend!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jack Enzo San Diego 04-23-14
    Jack Enzo San Diego 04-23-14 Member Since 2013

    To live, to love, to leave a legacy.

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    "Using Science to prove God is clever."
    Would you listen to Calculating God again? Why?

    Yes. In fact, I'm almost sure to do so. The content stayed with me long after the last words were uttered.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    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.


    What does Jonathan Davis and Robert J. Sawyer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    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.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No. But that applies to any audiobook. I like to digest them over time.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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