Calculating God
by Robert Sawyer
Review by Ann Cecil

This book is successful in its main intent: it intends to be thought-provoking, and it is. I'm not sure it is as successful as science-fiction, though it has the requisite depth of science (I can always tell true physics: my brain starts to twinge around the third equation/concept). The reason I can confidently say it is successful in main intent is that 3 weeks later, I am still arguing with it in my head. And I can write this review without having to refer back to a copy of the book.

The protagonist, Tom Jericho, works for the Royal Ontario Museum as a staff paleontologist. One morning, an alien turns up: the alien, Hollus, a Forhilnor from Beta Hydri, is one of several in a research team, which turn up more or less simultaneously at various spots on Earth. They are researching our fossil history, and, oh yes, they believe in God. They feel they have absolute proof - statistically significant evidence.

Tom is a resolute atheist, and plans to hold to Carl Sagan's example: to go out as much an atheist as he lived, since Tom is dying of cancer. Statistics doesn't do it for him, he tells the alien. The alien, much concerned, informs him that there is a second race, the Wreeds, picked up from Delta Pavonis, traveling with the first, and they are believers as well. Tom holds out, even after he gets to meet the second alien. Tom has a (church-going) wife and son, whom we get to know at a surface level. In the course of the book, we get to know a great deal about Tom, and eventually more about Hollus (who turns out to be female, to Tom's surprise) and her people.

The author does not cheat: Tom gets his conclusive evidence, but no easy answers. The God Tom meets is the God he needs and wants. How satisfying you will find the ending depends on your personal requirements for God.

Another comment on this book; Sawyer very cleverly uses the alien as the voice that gives Tom all the standard lines most people say when confronted with a dying friend. This gives them an ironic undertone, that adds to the argumentative nature of the book.

Return to Review Indexes by author or reviewer.

Click here to return to the SIGMA mainpage.

This page maintained by Greg Armstrong