by Robert J. Sawyer
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Review by Andrew Brooks
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765322890
Date: 03 March 2009 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer, is about what happens when a man who doesn't believe in God or any sort of intelligent design meets an alien with irrefutable proof that he's wrong. Tom Jerico, a palentologist who works at the Royal Ontario Museum who's dying of cancer, serves as the protagonist of this scientific and philosophical little jaunt. His counterpart, an alien named Hollus, and he basically serve as point and counterpoint in what is essentially debate presented as story. As interesting as this idea is, the book's arguments for and against seemed contrived at points.
In the beginning of the book Tom and Hollus meet under humorous circumstances, in which Tom learns about Hollus and his fellow explorers. The aliens are out looking for other intelligent species, having found one still in existence, the Wreeds, as well as several that have become extinct. But they've finally come to earth to communicate with humanity. Through their travels and study they've discovered that all of the home worlds they've studied have similar paleontological histories. Also, they've discovered that of the worlds where some species have become extinct that the cause of that extinction is strangely similar. This is Hollus' argument, one of the first in the book anyways, for intelligent design. Not surprisingly, Tom isn't buying it.
Afterwards the novel is a debate on whether the entire universe might or might not be the design of God. While entertaining, the book does set up a few strawmen arguments, and both Hollus' and Tom's arguments for or against seem weak at times. At one point Tom tells Hollus that he doesn't believe in God because of his cancer, the age old argument that if a God existed then things like that, bad things, wouldn't happen. True, this is one argument only but I found it annoying.
The aliens never postulate that God is all powerful, although he'd have to be pretty powerful to create and set on a path an entire universe, nor do they claim him to be a benevolent God. Some of the arguments were stronger, but the book still got mixed feelings from me.
There's a mystery involved in the plot, how the other species were wiped out, but it wasn't quite enough for me. I like books like this normally, I do, however I could never get fully into this one. Perhaps it was expectation going in, I'm not sure. I recommend this book to Sawyer fans and for those extremely interested in the subject, but warn others to check it out from their local library.