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)
This book had a lot of interesting ideas, but I think some reviewers have misrepresented it significantly.
Firstly -- SPOILER ALERT -- this book does NOT argue against evolution. It doesn't even argue for the existence of an omnipotent or omniscient God. In fact, the aliens specifically believe that "God" is neither all-powerful nor all-knowing. So the book is almost as likely to annoy the religious as the non-religious, assuming that they are paying attention.
I don't agree with all the arguments in the book, but it does discuss interesting questions. For instance -- if there is a God, what is his/her nature? If God did design the universe, then WHY did he/she do so? Why does God allow evil (disease, death, etc.) to occur? And so on. You don't have to believe the same things as the characters in order to enjoy thinking about the questions.
IMHO the narration and tone of the book were excellent -- light enough to not be maudlin, serious enough to feel the suffering, humorous enough to avoid taking itself too seriously. The book isn't perfect, but it is quite an enjoyable listen.
There are a lot of critisisms of this book in these comments, first let me just say that I enjoyed it, simply that, I didnt love it, hate it, agree or disagree with its ideas or plot. It is a very well written book, with some surprisingly simple and yet very indepth characters, in other words, these people could be real, they are not special in any way, they are normal, and that lends the story its credibility. I read other reviews disagreeing with actions taken by extremists, agencies, offices, and commitees in the book, and I just want to say, while the actions seem dumb, unreal, or just outside the realm of what you would expect smart people to do stupidly, please just remember the line from "Men in Black" - ""Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."". I would recommend this book very much, I got it looking for the absurd, and the comedic, I found neither of those things, I found intelligence and understanding, both terrestial and non, mostly from it's author.
I'm a software engineer working out of Toronto Canada. I enjoy science fiction but have started to drift into other areas.
Robert Sawyer's Calculating God was a runner-up for the Hugo Award in 2001 and, having listened to this audiobook version, I again am forced to wonder why it didn't win. The story is not typical SF; a scientist is confronted by advanced aliens who have proof of God's existence. In less capable hands this story could have become a farce, but Mr Sawyer delivers a story which deals with very human issues of faith and mortality. It is compelling and, in several respects more than a little disconcerting.
The reading, as with all of the Audible Frontiers stories I've heard, is excellent. Robert Sawyer's introduction is interesting although probably would have been a better epilogue (he gives away a few things). The reading by Jonathan Davis is well paced and clear throughout.
If you're not familiar with Robert Sawyer's writings (and there are many now available on Audible) this would be a good story to start with.
First off, I did enjoy this book. The reading was very well done; Jonathan Davis is a very talented reader. The premise of the book is also tantalizing and interesting: Aliens visit our planet and lo and behold, they advocate a form of Intelligent Design instead of the commonly (on earth) accepted theory of Darwinian Evolution.
The idea is a great one, but the execution was less so. One of the reasons I love science fiction is that it invites you to think outside the box and imagine new realities and different ways of thinking. However, beyond superficial aspects, I didn't find the primary alien race to be all that interesting or 'alien'. They might as well have been Michael Behe. There was no real indication as to how their beliefs shaped how they did science, how it influenced their society, what religious significance they attached to their scientific pursuits, nothing. It seems that Mr. Sawyer was intent on following the ID mantra of "It's all about the science, and we aren't going to discuss other implications." That's all fine and good, but honestly it didn't make for very compelling or interesting story. The Spider People didn't really seem 'alien', they were just ID advocates with access to information we don't have. The 'Reeds' were a better attempt at describing alien thought, but their appearance is so brief, and the discussion about their moral intuition so hilariously bland and boring, that they feel like an opportunity wasted.
Honestly, the most alien creatures in the whole novel don't come from outer space, they come from the Southern USA. They appear in the form of horrifically stereotypical 'fundamentalists' bearing the names of JD and 'Cooter'. These characters and their actions have no real impact on the story or its final outcome, and seem to exist so that Mr. Sawyer can demonstrate in no uncertain terms that his book is not a subversive attempt to introduce creationism. As a creationist myself (though, I confess, I now have doubts about my sincerity now as I've never killed an abortionist or destroyed fossils with a submachine gun), I wasn't offended by the portrayal of these characters as much as I was annoyed at another missed opportunity. I'm sure rednecks like these exist, but someone who at least 'tried' to be scientific might have made for a more interesting antagonist. I would have been interested to hear the aliens rebut the creationists and correct their 'primitive' conceptions of god with a more enlightened view. But Mr. Sawyer went the boring, unimaginative route instead, unfortunately.
I also wonder if Mike Harris ran over Mr. Sawyer's cat. There are so many negative remarks directed to provincial elected officials that it almost seemed personal. It was very odd and frankly, distracting.
In closing, I don't really regret listening to this book. There were stimulating passages, and it did pick up toward the end. However, I have a nagging disappointment in this book that it didn't challenge me or live up to the potential suggested by the subject matter. It's a good book, but you probably won't be changed by it.
I am an Atheist. I do not believe there is any real evidence for "Intelligent Design". I absolutely loved this book. There are some minor missteps (one dimensional creationist terrorists, far too specific and date-able Canadian politics to name the most obvious), but the overall story is fascinating and perfectly narrated. This book tells the story of an Alien who comes to earth with evidence of "God". Fictional evidence yes, but evidence that if given today, would definitely make most people think twice about the possibility and motives of a creator. It does not argue for a perfect God, nor a personal God, nor a deity that gives a damn about how you pray or whom you have sex with. In my opinion, this book is a reminder to all "dogmatic Atheists" that humanity does not know everything and to always keep your mind open--just a crack. To theists who might believe that this book justifies Creationism or Intelligent Design, think again. Even in this fictional tale, evidence is paramount.
"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." --Lemony Snicket
I don't normally delve into the Sci-Fi & Fantasy genre, but took a chance on Calculating God and really enjoyed it. (And by 'took a chance', I mean it was selected by a member of the Audible book club I was in at the time, so I felt I had to listen to it.) But Jonathan Davis' performance really blew me away here, and I was completely absorbed in Sawyer's smart, funny, and thought-provoking storytelling.
It was interesting, thought provoding (over and over again), creative and captured my interest right away. I found myself wondering what new idea or concept he would introduce next.
There were so many. Perhaps when the main character considered his options for extending his life.
My favorite character was probably Hollis. Robert uses our visiting Alien to easily introduce many new ideas and ways of looking at things. I love getting to know him (her :) and all of her human / non-human qualities.
The final moments when Holis and the main character go their separate ways I realized
Sawyer does a wonderful job of educating (with interesting facts and observations) and also creates a mileau in which we find ourselves somewhat confortably questionning many, perhaps long held, assumptions about god, evolution, other forms of life. This book was so interesting, creative, stimulating and full of rich and varied feelings that my wife and I plan to listen to it again.
I am a fan of Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax, so I went into this with an open mind, but also high expectations.
I will not admit to being swayed from my personal belief that there is no God. However, Sawyer makes a really interesting case for the possibility -- with a lot of math/science backing him up. He also helped me to understand how science and faith might find common ground.
I doubt believers will be satisfied with Sawyer's logic, but I think it could make the non-believers think twice. I suspect many more of us will read this book anyway.
Sawyer takes care to wrap personal human/alien drama around these complex ideas to make them easier to understand. And, if you overlook the simplicity of the plot, the concepts discussed in this book are definitely worth hearing if not study.
This is the first book I read from Robert Sawyer and definitely not my last. The author explores a topic most are afraid to write about. He does an excellent job showing both sides of the coin. Religious/moral beliefs and science blend well in this thought provoking book.
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!
"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.
"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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