"a book about the first contact between an extraterrestrial and someone who, I suppose, was all too human." (p 334)
The science fiction literature includes an immense variety of styles and approaches for the presentation of ideas. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer is a science fiction novel that I would call philosophical.
The novel uses the trope of contact with aliens to explore cosmological ideas that intrigue thoughtful persons whether or not they are interested in science fiction. It takes a contemporary setting (in Canada) and describes the arrival on Earth of sentient aliens. The bulk of the novel covers the many discussions and arguments on the reasons for their presence, as well as about the nature of belief, religion, and science. Calculating God received nominations for both the Hugo and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards in 2001.
The main plot is told from the point of view of Tom Jericho, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, and it begins with the appearance of a spider-like alien who is interested in studying the Earth's history with Jericho. The discussions they have also explore questions about the nature of the universe, comparative planetary history, and the ultimate question of the existence of God. On that issue the book presents some strange conundrums that make it rise above the average Science Fiction novel.
There is also a subplot dealing with the illness of Jericho and his imminent death due to lung cancer. The author neatly connects that with the visit of the aliens with surprising revelations as well.
I enjoyed the philosophical and scientific discussions primarily due to the inventive approaches to questions that arose from the unusual views of the aliens. Sawyer succeeds in describing the meeting with aliens in a way that held my attention through both its believable detail and its novelty. I found myself wondering about the thoughtful calculation of alien scientists and if they really could include god in that calculation.