Calculating God

Robert J. Sawyer

Tor 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
When the aliens land they are not interested in Washington, Moscow, the Vatican, or NASA: the one that lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum wants to see a paleontologist. Much to the shock of senior vertebrate curator Tom Jericho, the aliens are creationists, believing that the universe shows clear signs of intelligent design... It turns out that mass extinctions on other worlds have coincided exactly with those on Earth, despite their causes being local. (This opening, in the sample chapter of Calculating God on the web, quickly had me hooked.)

For his plot Sawyer has to exaggerate (or rather invent) evidence for intelligent design and external intervention in Earth's evolutionary history. But all the implausibilities involved resolve into a single big one at the centre of everything, which is much more satisfying (and easier to suspend disbelief for) than many small unconnected implausibilities: I was close to being annoyed by Sawyer's liberties several times, but he always came back. Sawyer also avoids a facile ending, showing a willingness to honestly face such emotionally difficult topics as relativistic differential aging and death from lung cancer.

While it offers plenty of interesting ideas and some exposition of science, Calculating God also works as a novel. It doesn't have much physical action — and most of it is crammed into a somewhat implausible sideplot involving real capital-C Creationists — but I never found it dry or slow. Though Tom is the only character we ever get any insight into, his psychological and intellectual journeys are skillfully interwoven. And Sawyer's aliens, while they don't turn out to be truly alien, are more convincingly different than most such creations.

July 2000

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%T Calculating God
%A Sawyer, Robert J.
%I Tor
%D 2000
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0312867131
%P 334pp