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)
I read all the time, or nearly. I always have, I guess, since I was very young ... and now, getting older, more audio than any other medium.
Robert Sawyer, the avowed and usually stridently atheistic author, reverses his previous position and writes a book proving that a theory of "intelligent creation" is not incompatible with a belief in evolution and science ... a position I have always held. I know that today's political climate demands that you take one side or the other, but I have never felt that the two positions were inherently antithetical. And so, reversing his position 180 degrees, Sawyer puts forth a fine case for intelligent creation.
I would have given it five stars, but the end of the book seemed a bit out of left field to me ... and didn't feel like it "fit" with the rest of the story. But I'm picky and maybe it won't bother you.
Regardless, I really enjoyed this a lot. It's much more of a personal essay as science fiction than any of his other books, but I loved his reasoning, his characters -- human and alien. Make sure to listen to the author's introduction.
No matter which side of the God-Versus-Science you are on, this is a thought-provoking and well-written book. Agree or disagree, it's definitely worth your time!
Avid book lover and listener. Nuff said for this purpose.
I really liked this book. It's the first Sawyer book I've listened to and was pleasantly surprised. Being a scientist myself and familiar with gene sequencing, DNA, evolution and the master design theories, etc. I have to say Sawyer did a great job.
Add the Aliens to the mix and you have a great vichyssoise!
If you are a 'thinker' or let's say are able to think for yourself that which others think you should think similarly, you too will enjoy it. If you are a steadfast follower of some ideology that leaves no room for personal interpretation I suggest you don't bother.
It makes a nice change to have a science fiction book written as an antithesis to most others in this genre and do so without imposition. The book isn't trying to change your mind or for that matter your beliefs, it simply offers a rather unique viewpoint between people of Earth and other planets, and not one that one might think initially.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wasn't crazy about Jericho's illness...that bit was sad but also part of life isn't it. But it worked for this book. Sawyer is somehow in the stew pot with Crowley, Hawking, Darwin, and Pope Francis. It's up to you to figure how what you think of the taste. Me? I thought he got all the condiments just about right.
I believe I will now try another of his dishes: Hominids!
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The alien, looking like a giant spider and speaking English stereophonically out of his two leg-mouths, arrives at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto and asks to see a paleontologist. The alien explains to Dr. Thomas Jericho that his name is Hollus, that he is a Forhilnor from the third planet of the star Beta Hydri, and that he came to the museum to study earth fossils like the ROM's current special exhibit of the Burgess Shale fossils from the Cambrian period. Hollus is "a visiting scholar" traveling through space with a handful of fellow scientists and seeking intelligent species on other worlds, not to prove the existence of god (which they've already done to their satisfaction), but to find out why he/she/it has been tinkering with sentient life forms in the universe.
Hollus shares plenty of "evidence" for the existence of god. The fact that the five mass extinctions of species in earth's history have occurred on Hollus' world and that of the Wreed, another sentient species the Forhilnors encountered before arriving at earth, all at the same relative times in the histories of their worlds, is too unlikely to be coincidental. Moreover, each of five forces (gravitation, electromagnetism, weak nuclear forces, strong nuclear forces, and repulsion over distance, the fifth one that humanity has not yet discovered) is necessary just as it is for stars, planets, and life to exist. Hollus tells Jericho that the chances of the chain of parameters all happening just right in just the right order are less likely than winning the lottery every day for a century. So someone has fine-tuned the universe. Indeed, Hollus has trouble understanding why Jericho is so stubbornly set in his atheism. That said, the Forhilnor believe that god takes no interest in the doings of any particular individual, so they have no religion and do not pray.
The novel consists of Jericho's first person journal covering his time spent with Hollus discussing things like the history of the universe, evolution, life, and the existence of a "master designer." Into this Jericho interweaves his relationships with his wife, adopted son, and fossils in the context of his treatment for terminal lung cancer. Into all this Sawyer (or whoever is editing Jericho's journal into the book we're reading) introduces a pair of fundamentalist Christian abortion clinic bombers who would like to introduce the aliens to the Son of God: "The aliens may believe in God, but they haven't yet found Christ."
Calculating God is a novel of ideas. For one thing, there is the conundrum as to why sentient species in the universe at a certain technological stage of development tend to destroy themselves or abandon their home worlds. For another, the Wreed have no concept of mathematics because they have 23 fingers, a prime number, unlike the human ten and the Forhilnor six. The Wreed believe that God has been calculating the future of each individual in the universe by photons, like playing chess several moves ahead, spend half of their lives trying to communicate with him/her/it, and base their morality on intuition rather than on logic. They also believe that because cancer is part of the fabric of life in the universe, it must be part of God's plan, whatever that is.
But Calculating God is more than a debate between designers and evolutionists and more than a tear-jerking cancer story, because it packs plenty of humor. Sawyer satirizes the dumbing down of contemporary culture via the ROM, which has become ever more "user-friendly," to the degree that the museum is promoted as being "run by an eight-year old," which means closing the planetarium, producing Star Trek events, and making hands-on displays. More comically, Hollus's experience with American TV shows about aliens leads him to appear on earth as a holographic projection while his real body remains safely aboard the Forhilnor star ship, to joke about not capturing humans for anal probing, and to humorously prevent a pair of Canadian FBI equivalents from taking him into custody for interrogation etc. Also amusing are Jericho's many popular culture references: The Day the Earth Stood Still, X-files, Star Trek, Star Wars, Inherit the Wind, and so on.
In his preface, Sawyer mentions that his novel has upset both atheist evolutionists and fundamentalist creationists, and I can see why that is. His god-believing advanced alien species whose worlds and DNA share so much with earth and humanity may seem like too much designer deck-stacking, while his exposure of Stephen J. Gould's theory of evolution by "punctuated equilibria" as a slick play on language may seem off-putting, and his focusing on "intelligent" life forms to prove intelligent design may seem exclusive. On the other side, devout Christians may not want to be linked to clinic-bombing, museum-hating ignoramuses, and may not appreciate Sawyer setting up "god" as a super alien without any connection to Jesus. Finally, while I enjoy the play of ideas in the book and like Hollus and his relationship with Jericho, I feel that Sawyer spends too much time on the crazy creationists plot strand, which at one point turns Jericho's journal into a suspense-action movie.
Jonathan Davis gives his usual professional and appealing reading of the novel, doing cool alien voices (the Wreeds' voice via computer translator is particularly neat).
Calculating God does what good sf does, explore what it means to be human (here, to be fragile), and it has interesting things to say about language, morality, and love. People who like Star Maker and Childhood's End would probably like this book (though those books are more affecting and less humorous).
As a student of theology and philosophy, I appreciated all the various views on the subject of God. I couldn't imagine a novel on the topic, and while I come to a different conclusion than the author, Sawyer pulls it off... and it was enjoyable! Sawyer creates an environment inside the story that is safe for all the beliefs about God to be expressed and tested. The back and forth between characters regarding their views was nicely done. Although the story is 100% sci-fi, the ideologies discussed really exist. The story also forces you to consider death, what it means to really live and what is Gods role in it. I found a couple of things that I don't feel added to the story. There were some Southern religious right-wing characters named J.D. and Cooter (a reference to Dukes of Hazzard?) that didn't feel necessary to address the narrow mindedness issue. There was also an attempt to ground the eternal life issue by saying the other intelligent beings had uploaded their consciousnesses into a super computer program to pull it off. That wasn't a necessary item to me and it had a relatively small part in the novel. And the physical description of the creator also limited the imagination of the reader. That could've been left out. Over all, it is worth a credit if you like philosophy and theology and can enjoy various views on the subject without getting bent out of shape. The narration is well done and you can listen comfortably at 2X speed. Sawyer also has a book out on writing techniques that is good. Hope this helps. Later.
This novel wrestles with the issue of whether there is a God by having an alien who believes in God come to earth and argue for intelligent design. The novel's protagonist, and the sparring partner for the alien, is an atheist paleontologist. The intellectual exchange between the two is intriguing for those who are interested in these things. Thus, for the core elements of the book, this novel can be highly recommended. What seriously detracts from the novel is that Sawyer could not resist interjecting his own opinions on politics, movies, etc. all along the way. The novel is almost jingoistic in its "I love Canada" theme (like many Canadians, Sawyer revels in his love of Canada mostly by sneering at the USA). The book is cluttered with Sawyer's opinions on the policies of the former Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris (all of which makes the book about as relevant today as election campaign pamphlets from 1993). For modern readers, he might as well be commenting on the policies of Mackenzie King (a former Prime Minister of Canada). He also deals with Young Earth Creationism by interjecting into the novel a pair of yahoos (from the USA, naturally) who want to blow up museum fossils (something that these people, to my knowledge, have never done). It would have been better for him to deal with the issue intellectually, answering their arguments, instead of via this caricature. Sawyer plainly has the ability to do that, but he chose, it seems, instead to indulge his fantasies about what he would like to see happen to all such persons.
The narrative was often too descriptive, which slowed the story to a crawl
The book started off very well and I thought this book is going to offer a very objective evaluation of arguments in favor and against existence of God by means of a story. However, the arguments seemed a bit biased right from the start. At times the performance seemed a tad too slow. Still, over all a good enough book to listen.
Started in a pretty interesting way and went down hill from there. The author did not seem to know where he was going and thereby made it up as he went along. In short, not my taste.
Don't think so.
Not at all
I was expecting a lot more, but all the book does is giving you hundreds of examples of argument from authority. The fictional alien believes in a God, therefore there must be one...
"A Thoroughly Good 'Read'"
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. I found it to be well constructed, thought provoking, well paced with many unfolding layers and contexts. The story begins simply enough with an alien landing on earth to talk to a palaeontologist. The focus of the collaboration between alien and human is initially about whether or not God exists and the creation of the Universe. The early part of the story recounts the debates that develop between the two parties, each maintaining an opposite point of view. As the story unfolds however, the focus subtly and gradually shifts from this a discussion, to an exploration of the relationships between the characters in the book. We learn about the palaeontologist, his world and family, and about the alien's world and family. We witness the bond of friendship growing between both individuals. The story continues to expand, and weaves in as a part of the plot, some of the current forces which are occurring in our society. The development of the plot in this way adds a real thriller element to the story, as well as maintaining the interest and pace of the book.
Overall the book explores some fascinating hypotheses about life and it's existence, the rise and fall of species and civilisations, the structure and nature of civilisations depending on what their thought structure is based upon, life and death of an individual at a personal and an inter-relational context. It also throws in some fascination facts about the Universe in which we exist.
A most thought provoking, interesting and engaging "read". In essence it is a real 'human story' with an unexpected twist at the end. I still find myself thinking about some of the ideas, concepts and hypotheses presented in the story.
"a good, or is that god, thought experiment"
I really found the idea of this book interesting at first so decided to give it a go. If you have ever thought much about evolution and creationism I think you will find it entertaining. There was almost a retro feel to the aliens in this book, not sure why, but they just seemed like that? But for the price it was certainly worthwhile and really quite enjoyable. I will be getting a few more of these titles.
"Enjoyable read, but..."
Skip the first 2' 45'' or so. The authors introduction, in my opinion, takes away from the story.
"Starts at a Gallop. Ends in a Canter"
Great start. Wastes no time getting stuck in. The premise is intriguing. The main alien is a hoot. Ultimately just fizzles out but takes a long time doing it.
"enjoyable, informative and makes you question"
I bought this after having listened to other books by this author.
If you try to explain the story to anyone they will think you are mad for listening to it and that it must be a boring book, but the story line is not only entertaining but also informative. Sawyer is very clever in the way he weaves true science into his stories and I find myself wanting to know and understand more about the science. At times I go back to listen to to certain areas again and I think I would now like to actually read the book.
I am writing this review before I have finished listening to the book, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am enjoying the story, the science and the questions it makes me ask myself. It is based on creationism but Sawyer makes you question eveything and deosn't preach. I am enjoying the book so much that I bought the actual book for a friend who is a staunch catholic because I wanted her ideas to be questioned.
All I would say is listen with an open mind and try to follow the science rather than being put off. It is deffinately a book I will listen to many times and that is very unsual for me.
"I don't regret listening to it, but..."
The story is well written, and well read, and some of the details of alien biology / behaviour I thought were brilliant. I commend the author for writing this book, I am glad it exists, and would recommend it!
BUT, and for me this is a **massive** but, the main human character - the paleontologist - is rubbish at his job! He is likeable and quite a decent person, decently enough written etc, but he seems to not actually know much about evolution! I feel he is quite poorly researched, granted the book was written in 2000 and I am inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt that the information we have at our disposal these days was not available to a lay audience back then... though I suspect I am just trying too hard to defend him, because I did like quite a bit about the book.
I think anyone armed with a copy of Dawkins' books, The Greatest Show on Earth, and God Delusion, would blow the vast majority of the arguments out of the water (see spoilers below for more detail) AND be left with a better knowledge of evolution than the protagonist!
And the early misuse of the Occam's Razor made me cringe!
Overall a good book, just seriously hindered by the author's research, or lack thereof
Potential spoilers below - but important clarifications
I said that Dawkins' books would blow the "majority" of the arguments out of the water, because some, indeed the only good ones are based on alien knowledge, ie the author's imagination.
Also the Paleontologist seems to have an intellectual crisis over whether or not evolution is true, even though what the alien tells him is compatible with evolution by natural selection! The 'god' the alien has 'proof' of is not one I recognise from any bible passage I have read ;)
I also suspect that the research regarding certain astronomical events is also lacking, but I know less about that area.
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