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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 (2482 )
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  •  
    Daniel 02-16-13
    Daniel 02-16-13 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating journey with great narration"

    I am not religious nor am I an atheist. But the book gave me much to think of within the constrains of it’s Universe.

    A critical thinker gets all the “facts” he demand to question whether or not there is a God in Calculating God. I really appriciated the journey and the thought experiments.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marilyn 05-12-12
    Marilyn 05-12-12

    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.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The author as devil's advocate"

    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!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ron Sydney, Australia 04-01-09
    Ron Sydney, Australia 04-01-09 Member Since 2012

    Literary graduate and published columnist turned glorified grease monkey.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Brilliant"

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was a bit sceptical at first but was quickly converted to an avid listener. I found myself sneaking away from work to continue the story. Sawyer manages to give both a subjective and objective argument on creationism versus evolution from the point of view of both a human AND an alien. I can understand there might be some ideas that could upset some people, but I loved the idea of an alien scientist bringing us some form of proof that God exists. And I'm an aetheist!!!
    Yes very well written, and very well delivered.
    A must read for all thinkers.

    37 of 46 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darryl Cedar Rapids, IA, United States 11-23-14
    Darryl Cedar Rapids, IA, United States 11-23-14 Member Since 2008
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    "finally a thought provoking SF concerning "god""

    this was a very well researched and scientifically based exploration of what first contact might mean and the possibility of a "creator", but it's not the silly biblical mythology but a much more thought provoking debate about evidence and purpose on a universal scale, not a tiny earthly point of view. 2 other friends really liked that aspect as well and I've recommended it to a 3rd and will others. nice to think about these things intelligently and not superstitiously.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson 11-19-14
    Jefferson 11-19-14 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "You Can't Choose th Ways in Which You'll Be Tested"

    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).

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    General Zod Springfield, IL 04-14-14
    General Zod Springfield, IL 04-14-14 Member Since 2013

    Kneel Before Zod!!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Makes you think, and that's a good thing."
    Where does Calculating God rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Easily in my top 10 favorite books, possibly top 5 so far.


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

    It's really hard to say because it's so original and thought provoking.


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

    Hollus was my favorite


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

    The conversation's between the alien and atheist about religion.


    Any additional comments?

    My favorite quote from the book was, "Honor does not have to be defended."

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aunt Ruthie Burnsville, MN, United States 04-10-14
    Aunt Ruthie Burnsville, MN, United States 04-10-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Something for atheists, agnostics, and believers"
    Would you listen to Calculating God again? Why?

    I do listen to it about once a year. Very engaging characters and it comes at an issues in such an unexpected way and treats most involved respectfully.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Calculating God?

    SPOILER alert When the protagonist realizes Hollis is female.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jan Helsingborg, Sweden 03-27-14
    Jan Helsingborg, Sweden 03-27-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Interesting and unusual"

    There are some books that take me a bit by surprise. Their beginning is not what I expected, and that is true for both of the books I have read so far by Robert J. Sawyer including this one. And I have liked the endings as well. A good sign!

    The beginning of this book sounds like the beginning of a joke: An alien walks into a museum in Canada...

    And yes, the book has its funny moments, but that's not the central theme. Instead, we get a different kind of perspective through the eyes of a human being, whose life changes when he's face to face with a visitor from another world – with a surprise or two. Fully enjoyable and very interesting.

    Some SPOILERS below.

    I read some reviews of this book before I read it myself and half expected it to be Intelligent Design propaganda or at least leading the reader to believe in a god. And yes, god and design are parts of the story, but not in a way that makes in unbearable. Rather, they made sense. The only thing that bothered me was the main characters refusal to see what was obvious, as if the author wanted to show us that atheists will not accept a proof of god, no matter how scientific it is.

    Does there exist a god? Did he/she/it create the (current) universe? The book implies it, but it's not a god of the Bible or the Quran. So don't mistake this book as an advertisement for any particular faith.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D Indian Wells, CA, USA 01-02-13
    D Indian Wells, CA, USA 01-02-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Intelligent yet goofy"
    Would you try another book from Robert J. Sawyer and/or Jonathan Davis and Robert J. Sawyer ?

    Yes


    Would you recommend Calculating God to your friends? Why or why not?

    It's a good read and provokes thought in a direction I don't normally go


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

    I enjoyed the variety of characters and dialects


    Do you think Calculating God needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    Sure. It's a good topic to explore. But the whole end of the universe may be a challenge.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RH BRENTWOOD, TN, United States 12-27-12
    RH BRENTWOOD, TN, United States 12-27-12
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    "A most unexpected treat"

    Aliens have come to Earth, not to destroy us but to...compare notes about God? If you think this is a crazy and untenable basis for a novel then you probably aren't familiar with Robert Sawyer. This book is a fascinating, action-packed, though-provoking romp that is simply too good to spoil in a review. Spend the credit and find out for yourself!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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