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!
My taste differs from kid books to gory horror books.
If you are one of those that like thinking and discussing space and what might be out there then, I believe this is for you. If you like Carl Sagan and listening to him pronounce Billions this book is down your alley.
God is in the title and the main character struggles with his non-belief, but mostly I found the book to be more about the universe and how it might have been created. Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould are mentioned several times in the book. While the question of God and Intelligent Design are mentioned often, Heaven, Hell and Souls are rarely mentioned and Jesus is never mentioned.
I found the book to be reminiscent of Asimov's writing, with some Greg Bear and Larry Niven thrown in and a Arthur C. Clarke ending.
90% of the first half of the book takes place in the paleontologist's office. The paleontologist and the alien discuss space, stars, nova's, planets, the big bang, intelligent design, God and other races. There was very little action. There are some moments in which you chuckle, but there are no John Scalzi LOL moments.
I liked the book very much, it took me back to my teenage years when I used to stare at the stars and wonder.
I liked to commend RS for writing about such a controversial topic and having the guts to go against the norm. As explained in his introduction, scientist these days seem to have become to rigid in there beliefs. One of my favorite things about science that I learned in the eight grade was that a Theory means unproved and so scientist should have open minds. I have always believed in evolution, yet it is still a Theory, and no one should be ridiculed for not believing.
This is my fifth book by Sawyer and I have yet to be disappointed. My favorite RS book so far is "Flash Forward".
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!
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.
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.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Having read three Sawyer audiobooks, I have sufficient sample size to draw conclusions that apply to Calculating God as well as his other books, that I would expect to find in books yet to be read:
1. Sawyer loves to examine the intersection of science and theology. His personal bias may be toward rationality, but he always gives religion more than a fair hearing, never forcing his own views upon his characters.
2. His research is impeccable. You can never criticize his background material, always fully explained. However: you may criticize him for explaining too much, from losing focus on plot and character development as he gets carried away explanation. Or it may just bore you.
In Calculating God, Sawyer tells you right up front what he's up to. What would the debate between evolution and intelligent design look like when presented with proof of the existence of god? In this case, if aliens arrived on Earth and presented such proof.
The first half has extensive detailed debates between the alien and a human paleontologist on evolution, intelligent design, god, physics, the nature of the universe. I liked it, but the level of detail may be too much for readers just looking for a good first contact yarn. Fortunately, the characters are well developed despite the weighty material, especially the alien.
The second half is more action, less science and theology, definitely more preposterous -- I deduct a star in my Story rating because the whole creationist terrorist, supernova, starchild threads strain my credulity (hard to suspend disbelief after so much time and effort has gone into presenting a basis that is both scientifically and theologically sound).
But my big problem with the subject matter is that Sawyer takes faith out of the debate. The argument is between random evolution and directed evolution, the latter by a god working toward scientific rather than religious ends. That kind of sidesteps the real issue, doesn't it? I think so.
Finally, there is controversy over the conclusions reached by the characters. Sawyer warns us within the story not to ascribe their beliefs to him. He notes that he was careful to make sure that the characters state them, not he as narrator, that both sides are presented equally. And he notes quite drolly that an author is not obligated to believe what he writes -- George Lucas doesn't believe the force is real just because he made Star Wars, J.K. Rowling doesn't believe in magic just because she wrote Harry Potter.
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.
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