by Robert J. Sawyer
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Thomas Jericho, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum, prides himself in being a rationalist. There is no room in his world for things, which are not supported by incontrovertible facts. His faith in the tangible world is attacked when an alien appears on the steps of the museum and asks to speak to a paleontologist. This alien, Hollus, informs Jericho that it has proof of the existence of God.
Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God follows Hollus and Jericho’s relationship as Jericho teaches Hollus about the history of life on Earth and Hollus teaches Jericho about the alien’s view of the universe. Focusing on theological and biological ideas, Calculating God is, perhaps, Sawyer’s most intellectual novel to date, providing very little in the way of action until rather late in the novel. However, he handles the various arguments and Jericho’s attempts to deal with his doubts in a masterly way, which keeps the book’s pace rapid.
Eventually, Sawyer does incorporate some action as part of a subplot, but it has the feeling of being tacked on, rather than an integral part of the story. Given the antagonists' own religious views, it could have led to a much deeper discussion of religion between Hollus and Jericho. However, Sawyer changes the direction of the story immediately following the occurrence and never really returns to the ramifications.
Sawyer' novel is not about faith in God's existence, but rather about scientific proof, which is achieved by a deus ex machina event which leaves no room for doubt about the existence of a God who is willing and able to step in when intervention is needed. Of course, this leads to further debate on the nature of that God and the aliens decision to attempt to face the deity.
Sawyer has demonstrated in the past that he has an ability to create alien races, from the Quintaglios of Far-Seer and subsequent novels to the various races of Starplex. In Calculating God, his aliens are a mixed bag. The Forhilnors, Hollus's race, are very similar in many ways to humans, allowing Hollus and Jericho to have conversations beginning with a common point. The other aliens, the Wreeds, are only rarely seen and their outlook on life is completely different. They are so alien that Jericho needs Hollus to act as an intermediary to even begin to understand what a Wreed thinks.
Calculating God is a thoughtful book which begins with the concept that God must exist. Although the protagonist, Tom Jericho, is an unbeliever, he finds the rational arguments made by Hollus and the other aliens to be more in line with his own concepts as a scientist than the faith-based arguments he has always faced before. Sawyer applies an interesting and intriguing way of looking at God to the argument and has written a book which will lead to much thoughtful consideration of the issue of God's existence.
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