Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Aliens and God

Calculating God

Calculating God 


"I had studied life on Earth since its beginnings, deep in the Precambrian.  I'd often seen fossils that represented new species or new genera, but I'd never seen any large-scale animal that represented a whole new phylum.
Until now.
The creature was absolutely a lifeform, and, just as absolutely it had not evolved on Earth." (p 18)

The science fiction literature includes an immense variety of styles and approaches for ideas. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer is a science fiction novel that I would categorize as 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. But it goes beyond this in also taking on the claims for belief in God, the battle between evolutionary theory and intelligent design, and the personal issue of how one faces death. It takes a contemporary setting (in Canada) and describes the arrival on Earth of sentient aliens that are more intelligent than humans but whom also share some of the same issues and questions about the nature of the universe. 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 named Hollus 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 difficult conundrums that make it rise above the average Science Fiction novel.
The issue of how a person faces death is presented in a subplot about with the illness of Jericho and his imminent death due to lung cancer. The author neatly connects this with the visit of the aliens with surprising revelations as well.
The friendship that develops between Tom and Hollus is developed particularly well and adds yet another level of meaning to the novel when the friends face difficult situations together. I enjoyed the philosophical and scientific discussions primarily due to the inventive approaches to questions that arose from the unusual views of the aliens. There were many discussions of a theoretical and philosophic nature that were presented clearly and did not detract from the action of the plot. 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.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer. Tor Books, 2000.

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