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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science can know and understand God
In my opinion, this is Robert J. Sawyer's masterpiece.
If you're looking for character-driven speculative fiction about God, aliens, mass extinctions and -- not least -- hope, then you've come to the right place.
The synopsis given above provides amble insight into the plot but I think that one thing should be made clear: Sawyer is NOT throwing a bone to the...
Published on Jan. 14 2002 by Keith

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a Good Book
The premise is interesting, but the narrative is poor, most of the characters are weakly drawn, and the dialog is forced. Overall, not a book I would recommend
Published on July 21 2002


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science can know and understand God, Jan. 14 2002
By 
Keith (Huntsville, AL, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
In my opinion, this is Robert J. Sawyer's masterpiece.
If you're looking for character-driven speculative fiction about God, aliens, mass extinctions and -- not least -- hope, then you've come to the right place.
The synopsis given above provides amble insight into the plot but I think that one thing should be made clear: Sawyer is NOT throwing a bone to the creationists.
What the author IS doing is expressing a sentiment that exists among many of us scientists today: the notion that God can be measured, studied and calculated by science. He weaves arguments about the potential for intelligent design of the universe into the narrative without bogging it down. The exchanges between the protagonist and the alien are funny and profound and touching.
Sawyer does something else very well. He depicts a scientist as a normal human being with normal human feelings and normal human flaws ... the kind of guy you'd like to sit down and drink a beer with ... this is a refreshing contrast to the myriad stereotype scientist characters that have been spoon-fed to us down through the years.
Please read CALCULATING GOD ... it will provoke thought and entertain.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Alien Walks into a Museum..., Feb. 23 2013
By 
John M. Ford "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Calculating God (Paperback)
An alien space shuttle lands in front of the Royal Ontario Museum and a large, spider-like alien climbs out. It negotiates the stairs and the front door and walks unhurriedly up to the information desk. In articulate, unaccented English, the alien asks to speak with a paleontologist. The security guard on duty directs the alien to the office of Tom Jericho, paleontologist. And so it begins...

The alien, Hollus, is from the crew of a spaceship traveling to several worlds in search of answers. Why are some habitable worlds empty, seemingly abandoned by races that once lived there? Why have massive "extinction events" occurred simultaneously in the histories of Earth and the home planet of the visiting aliens? Hollus looks for part of the answer in Earth's fossil record.

As they work together, Hollus and Tom learn about each other. To Tom's astonishment, Hollus believes firmly in God, persuaded by the "argument from design" accepted by many Earth theologians. There must be a creator because the universe seems so carefully designed. Tom and Hollus debate this issue while they work. This part of the book presents a balanced review of creationist versus evolutionist thought. Hollus's creationism is a scientific position, leaving the debate untainted by our society's social baggage. Tom's atheism is well-argued, and flavored with personal observations and admissions. The author plays fair by not giving the aliens any argument-trumping new knowledge supporting their views.

As the story nears its conclusion, the nature of God becomes a more immediate and personal issue. I won't spoil the plot by saying more.

I enjoyed the book immensely, and recommend it to fellow science fiction fans. It covers old ground in a new way, yielding feelings of familiarity blended with the joys of discovery. Do read it.

That said, I note two flaws. First, it seems that Tom and Hollus never address the basic question of what kind of God they are discussing. There is a difference between an abstract initial creator of the universe and a personal God who hears day-to-day prayers. This is touched upon by the book, but not in the initial discussions between Tom and Hollus. Clearly the author is aware of this distinction--why are his characters largely unaware of it?

Second, it seems that the careful standards of reasoning followed early in the book are loosened, if not abandoned later on. Tom and Hollus both make incredible leaps of deduction about unfolding events--and of course turn out to be largely correct. At each point there are alternative explanations which are not considered. This is not unheard-of in science fiction, but here is a striking contrast to the earlier tone of the book. There are no examples which are not spoilers, so readers will have to judge this observation after reading.

One final comment. I find some of Tom's decisions personally questionable. They suggest that one can use the excuse of "searching for God" to justify simply indulging one's curiosity to the point of irresponsibility. This is not a flaw in the story, but one way in which the author has--I believe intentionally--provoked reflection from a reader. Nicely done.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, May 3 2013
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This review is from: Calculating God (Paperback)
I didn't know what to think of this book at first, and spent over a year before I actually picked it up to read it. It was surprisingly good. The ending kinda sucked (as with most of Sawyer's books) and, let's face it, the book is written for those who don't believe in God; but it was still an interesting read. I wouldn't have been able to think stuff like this up. BTW, the title is misleading. Nowhere does the book actual "calculate" God. Remember: this is a piece of fiction.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Learnt a lot knowledge, April 3 2014
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This review is from: Calculating God (Kindle Edition)
I have learnt a lot of science from this book, physics, chemistry, biology, and paleontology. A very handy SF, nice imagination, and a little weird ending.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive science fiction!, Oct. 26 2000
By 
Wim Biemans (Bedum, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Calculating God (Hardcover)
About one or two years ago, I discovered the books by Robert Sawyer and by now I've concluded that all the platitudes about Sawyer are correct: he is the best SF writer alive, he wonderfully manages to combine hard science with believable characterization and he does get better with every book he writes.
In Calculating God, an alien arrives at a museum in Toronto and asks for a paleontologist. After an extremely funny start, the major part of the book consists of a lively discussion between the alien, who is gathering additional evidence to prove the existence of God, and Tom Jericho, a paleontologist who is diagnosed with cancer and starts to wonder about some very basic questions.
Sawyer manages to squeeze in fascinating discussions about cosmology, paleontology, biology and evolution (Sawyer seems to be equally at ease with all these subjects!), and at the same time uses the alien to present some interesting perspectives on such issues as morality and abortion. Calculating God is a truly intellectually satisfying and fascinating read. It kept me up for a couple of nights, I found myself laughing out loud and quoting funny dialogue to colleagues at work and recommended it to lots of people. On the last morning, with just a few pages to go, I quickly fed my daughter, left her to her mother, and proceeded to finish the book. I ended up still in my bathrobe when mother and daughter left home and needed to hurry to get to work at a reasonable time... So, it if safe to conclude that I enjoyed the book tremendously. While the story didn't convert me, it did really make me think (and still does...).
Having said all this, I'm a bit surprised at some of the criticism from previous readers on this site. For instance, I noticed the inconsistency about Jericho's thoughts about cilia, but I just interpreted them as different musings at different times and why should they be consistent? And what's wrong with the ending of the book? I absolutely loved it! It is admittedly on a very grand scale, but it fits the book and is definitely better than the mystic hoopla in 2001. And taking the trouble to write a review and say that it should be This Kiss instead of The Kiss... Naturally, I really couldn't understand the reader who couldn't get through the book. But, hey, different people, different tastes. I absolutely loved the dialogues, the jokes, the science, the various musings and the great eye for detail. Absolutely wonderful. The only thing that bugged me a (little) bit, was that at several places in the book Sawyer mentions that Hollywood has always had a very limited idea of what an alien should look like. That they are definitely more alien than the movies show. But at the same time, he made his alien into a very human character, making human jokes ("this side up", indeed!) and acting very much like a human. To me, that's a bit strange and contradictory and I feel that the alien should be more alien. Of course, I realize that that would complicate the conversations with Jericho considerably, but nevertheless....
Anyway, in my opinion Calculating God is an impressive achievement and from now on I'll buy every new book by Sawyer as soon as it appears!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a Good Book, July 21 2002
By A Customer
The premise is interesting, but the narrative is poor, most of the characters are weakly drawn, and the dialog is forced. Overall, not a book I would recommend
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor science, poor character development, awful ending, May 5 2002
By 
James Ryley "James R, PhD" (Maryland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I have to say that I am stunned by the 5-star reviews of this book - not to mention the people calling Sawyer the best Sci-Fi writer alive. This book is poor fiction, and it is certainly poor SCIENCE fiction.
The discussions of science are superficial fluff -- Sawyer throws in a lot of stuff as if to show that he is aware of its existence, but the book doesn't have any logical, in-depth discussions that are germane to the plot, or that make any sense.
For example (do not read this if you don't want to know about the plot): One of the mysteries of the book is where several other intelligent species have gone. They are evidenced by ruins discovered on various planets, but no living representatives of these species can be found. The main character "resolves" this quandry by "figuring out" that they have all uplodaed themselves into computers and are living in a virtual world now. The only problem is that there is NO evidence to support this. It is pure conjecture (and not even likely conjecture in my opinion), yet the remainder of the book seems to treat it as fact. A lesson in critical thinking this book is not...
Here's another example of a "scientific" discussion lacking all rationality: One of the alien species in the book does not have the ability to count higher than about 45. Further, it isn't just that they can't assign numbers to more items than that, it is that they really don't recognize the difference, so 100 might as well be a million. A discussion ensues about why this might be, and the supposed explanation is that since the Wreeds (the aliens in question) have a societal structure where they live in small clans of no more than 20 or so, they have never needed to be able to count higher than that. Come on... I won't bother to list the numerous evolutionary disadvantages that not being able to count past 45 would have. Not that it couldn't happen perhaps, but that's not the point. The point is that the book puts forth some silly explanation that doesn't hold water and acts like the issue has been explained. That happens far too often about all sorts of scientific matters.
In addition to the poor science, the characters are very poorly developed. (And to those who would say otherwise, as some do in their reviews, I ask this: Why does it take half the book to find out Hollus is female, and 4/5 of the book to find out she has children? Answer: Because up to that point there are no discussions of a personal nature of any depth).
And finally, the ending in an IMMENSE let-down. The ending is the final straw in a parade of non-sensical "scientific" events or explanations. DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO HAVE PLOT REVEALED: A God who won't respond to any radio messages or any other means of technological communication, but will talk to one of the alien races telepathically? A God who apparently can't survive the collapse of the universe, but can make a child out of DNA that can? This book is a big let-down.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting thesis/hackneyed plot development, March 15 2001
By 
templedelasol "leigh32" (Southern California, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Calculating God (Hardcover)
I have read all of Sawyer's books, with the exception of Golden Fleece, which I believe is out of print. I was excited by the beginning, as I love aliens. I also liked the aliens analysis of why God must exist. However, I was thrown for a loop by the main character's illness-necessary for his theme of 'Why doesn't God care about little me'- but I kind of felt like God must feel- you whiner, why should I care? Perhaps it was the stereotypical way the illness was portrayed- there is actually a scene where the son says, "Dad, don't die" and Dad says, "But I must die!" I started to lose faith in this author when he then threw in two bomb toting fundamentalists- everything is told in the first person, and then in the middle of book you have this third person account of the fundamentalists???? I can understand the intent to create a central question, "if god is good why doesn't he literally save me?" and to distance his own analysis from those he considers to be ignorant religious hicks (unlike his sophisticated and wise aliens) but it's crudely stitched together. Sawyer is just a better writer than this. Sawyer has never disappointed me with his endings, and this was no exception- it pulled themes together nicely. However, if you're interested in Sawyer, try The Terminal Experiment- a much better book about the nature of the soul- or really, any other Sawyer- I have nothing but praise for his other books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent design with a major twist., April 3 2004
Sawyer's work is among the most intellectually challenging in modern SF. His plots are strong and his characters are interesting, but what makes Sawyer's novels so fascinating is the way in which he blends current scientific thinking with speculative themes. In "Calculating God," this mix includes the debate between evolutionary theory and intelligent design, first encounters with alien species, and a plot by human fanatics.
The story centers on attempts by several alien species to find (literally) God. They have come to Earth to research mass extinctions, which seem to have taken place at the same time on all planets with intelligent life. The major characters are a terminally ill human paleontologist and his alien counterpart. The human, an exponent of modern evolutionary theory, finds himself increasingly intrigued by the alien's vision of intelligent design. As they discuss their different points of view, a friendship develops, and the human becomes a participant in the search.
Although "Calculating God" is talky at times, the action is there. Some reviewers have felt that the ending was lame, but for me, it was the best part of the book. Conceptually daring and (for this reader at least) totally unexpected, it elevated the novel out of the realm of an ordinary story about the existence of God into something totally different. A reader who's looking for some light space opera probably wouldn't like this book. But for someone looking for a more philosophical novel, it would make a very good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story that made me think for real., March 2 2004
By 
BP - "Afficionado" (Greenbrae, CA United States) - See all my reviews
I love this book. The first page was weird, and I was thinking, "Oh, my god. This is going to be totally corny bad."
But it wasn't. It's great. The conversations on science are a little lightweight, but accurate. Just one proposition introduced for the sake of the plot, about extinction events coinciding.
As a non-religious guy, I found the arguments in the book really cool and fun. It's a great thing to find fiction that tweaks one's sacred cows. One of mine is the idea that there could not be a god. Sure, this god is way different, but it's a real argument. It's not the "void" of buddhism, nor the tao, nor is it the father-god in heaven. It's a discussion that will rock a guy back on his heels for a change, make him think.
Wonderful book, great story in the class of Jonathan Swift!
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Calculating God
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer (Hardcover - June 3 2000)
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