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Summary

In this Hugo-nominated novel, an alien walks into a museum and asks if he can see a paleontologist. But the arachnid ET hasn't come aboard a rowboat with the Pope and Stephen Hawking (although His Holiness does request an audience later). Landing at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the spacefarer, Hollus, asks to compare notes on mass extinctions with resident dino-scientist Thomas Jericho. A shocked Jericho finds that not only does life exist on other planets, but that every civilization in the galaxy has experienced extinction events at precisely the same time. Armed with that disconcerting information (and a little help from a grand unifying theory), the alien informs Jericho, almost dismissively, that the primary goal of modern science is to discover why God has behaved as he has and to determine his methods.

BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains how the creationism vs. evolution debate informed the writing of Calculating God.

©2000 by Robert J. Sawyer (P)2008 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"Is Sawyer Canada's answer to Michael Crichton? Very possibly yes." ( Montreal Gazette)

What listeners say about Calculating God

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

a good, or is that god, thought experiment

I really found the idea of this book interesting at first so decided to give it a go. If you have ever thought much about evolution and creationism I think you will find it entertaining. There was almost a retro feel to the aliens in this book, not sure why, but they just seemed like that? But for the price it was certainly worthwhile and really quite enjoyable. I will be getting a few more of these titles.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A Thoroughly Good 'Read'

I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. I found it to be well constructed, thought provoking, well paced with many unfolding layers and contexts. The story begins simply enough with an alien landing on earth to talk to a palaeontologist. The focus of the collaboration between alien and human is initially about whether or not God exists and the creation of the Universe. The early part of the story recounts the debates that develop between the two parties, each maintaining an opposite point of view. As the story unfolds however, the focus subtly and gradually shifts from this a discussion, to an exploration of the relationships between the characters in the book. We learn about the palaeontologist, his world and family, and about the alien's world and family. We witness the bond of friendship growing between both individuals. The story continues to expand, and weaves in as a part of the plot, some of the current forces which are occurring in our society. The development of the plot in this way adds a real thriller element to the story, as well as maintaining the interest and pace of the book.
Overall the book explores some fascinating hypotheses about life and it's existence, the rise and fall of species and civilisations, the structure and nature of civilisations depending on what their thought structure is based upon, life and death of an individual at a personal and an inter-relational context. It also throws in some fascination facts about the Universe in which we exist.
A most thought provoking, interesting and engaging "read". In essence it is a real 'human story' with an unexpected twist at the end. I still find myself thinking about some of the ideas, concepts and hypotheses presented in the story.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

I don't regret listening to it, but...

The story is well written, and well read, and some of the details of alien biology / behaviour I thought were brilliant. I commend the author for writing this book, I am glad it exists, and would recommend it!

BUT, and for me this is a **massive** but, the main human character - the paleontologist - is rubbish at his job! He is likeable and quite a decent person, decently enough written etc, but he seems to not actually know much about evolution! I feel he is quite poorly researched, granted the book was written in 2000 and I am inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt that the information we have at our disposal these days was not available to a lay audience back then... though I suspect I am just trying too hard to defend him, because I did like quite a bit about the book.

I think anyone armed with a copy of Dawkins' books, The Greatest Show on Earth, and God Delusion, would blow the vast majority of the arguments out of the water (see spoilers below for more detail) AND be left with a better knowledge of evolution than the protagonist!

And the early misuse of the Occam's Razor made me cringe!

Overall a good book, just seriously hindered by the author's research, or lack thereof

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Potential spoilers below - but important clarifications
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I said that Dawkins' books would blow the "majority" of the arguments out of the water, because some, indeed the only good ones are based on alien knowledge, ie the author's imagination.

Also the Paleontologist seems to have an intellectual crisis over whether or not evolution is true, even though what the alien tells him is compatible with evolution by natural selection! The 'god' the alien has 'proof' of is not one I recognise from any bible passage I have read ;)

I also suspect that the research regarding certain astronomical events is also lacking, but I know less about that area.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Enjoyable read, but...

Any additional comments?

Skip the first 2' 45'' or so. The authors introduction, in my opinion, takes away from the story.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An excellent original story, with heart

This is an excellent, original story and very well presented. There are occasional parts that are a bit tedious and too "sciency" but are not too long or frequent, but if it wasn't for that I'd give it five stars. It's well worth listening to a different take on the "the aliens have landed" story

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Starts at a Gallop. Ends in a Canter

Any additional comments?

Great start. Wastes no time getting stuck in. The premise is intriguing. The main alien is a hoot. Ultimately just fizzles out but takes a long time doing it.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

enjoyable, informative and makes you question

I bought this after having listened to other books by this author.

If you try to explain the story to anyone they will think you are mad for listening to it and that it must be a boring book, but the story line is not only entertaining but also informative. Sawyer is very clever in the way he weaves true science into his stories and I find myself wanting to know and understand more about the science. At times I go back to listen to to certain areas again and I think I would now like to actually read the book.

I am writing this review before I have finished listening to the book, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am enjoying the story, the science and the questions it makes me ask myself. It is based on creationism but Sawyer makes you question eveything and deosn't preach. I am enjoying the book so much that I bought the actual book for a friend who is a staunch catholic because I wanted her ideas to be questioned.

All I would say is listen with an open mind and try to follow the science rather than being put off. It is deffinately a book I will listen to many times and that is very unsual for me.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ione
  • 07-05-10

Interesting book, very enjoyable narration

This book had a lot of interesting ideas, but I think some reviewers have misrepresented it significantly.

Firstly -- SPOILER ALERT -- this book does NOT argue against evolution. It doesn't even argue for the existence of an omnipotent or omniscient God. In fact, the aliens specifically believe that "God" is neither all-powerful nor all-knowing. So the book is almost as likely to annoy the religious as the non-religious, assuming that they are paying attention.

I don't agree with all the arguments in the book, but it does discuss interesting questions. For instance -- if there is a God, what is his/her nature? If God did design the universe, then WHY did he/she do so? Why does God allow evil (disease, death, etc.) to occur? And so on. You don't have to believe the same things as the characters in order to enjoy thinking about the questions.

IMHO the narration and tone of the book were excellent -- light enough to not be maudlin, serious enough to feel the suffering, humorous enough to avoid taking itself too seriously. The book isn't perfect, but it is quite an enjoyable listen.

92 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • John
  • 10-06-10

Step outside YOUR beliefs

There are a lot of critisisms of this book in these comments, first let me just say that I enjoyed it, simply that, I didnt love it, hate it, agree or disagree with its ideas or plot. It is a very well written book, with some surprisingly simple and yet very indepth characters, in other words, these people could be real, they are not special in any way, they are normal, and that lends the story its credibility. I read other reviews disagreeing with actions taken by extremists, agencies, offices, and commitees in the book, and I just want to say, while the actions seem dumb, unreal, or just outside the realm of what you would expect smart people to do stupidly, please just remember the line from "Men in Black" - ""Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."". I would recommend this book very much, I got it looking for the absurd, and the comedic, I found neither of those things, I found intelligence and understanding, both terrestial and non, mostly from it's author.

85 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Vincent Tume
  • 22-07-09

This story will make you think...

Robert Sawyer's Calculating God was a runner-up for the Hugo Award in 2001 and, having listened to this audiobook version, I again am forced to wonder why it didn't win. The story is not typical SF; a scientist is confronted by advanced aliens who have proof of God's existence. In less capable hands this story could have become a farce, but Mr Sawyer delivers a story which deals with very human issues of faith and mortality. It is compelling and, in several respects more than a little disconcerting.
The reading, as with all of the Audible Frontiers stories I've heard, is excellent. Robert Sawyer's introduction is interesting although probably would have been a better epilogue (he gives away a few things). The reading by Jonathan Davis is well paced and clear throughout.
If you're not familiar with Robert Sawyer's writings (and there are many now available on Audible) this would be a good story to start with.

72 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jason
  • 19-06-11

Excellent fiction. Not I.D. Propaganda.

I am an Atheist. I do not believe there is any real evidence for "Intelligent Design". I absolutely loved this book. There are some minor missteps (one dimensional creationist terrorists, far too specific and date-able Canadian politics to name the most obvious), but the overall story is fascinating and perfectly narrated. This book tells the story of an Alien who comes to earth with evidence of "God". Fictional evidence yes, but evidence that if given today, would definitely make most people think twice about the possibility and motives of a creator. It does not argue for a perfect God, nor a personal God, nor a deity that gives a damn about how you pray or whom you have sex with. In my opinion, this book is a reminder to all "dogmatic Atheists" that humanity does not know everything and to always keep your mind open--just a crack. To theists who might believe that this book justifies Creationism or Intelligent Design, think again. Even in this fictional tale, evidence is paramount.

71 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tech Nut
  • 26-06-08

Thought-provoking

I am a fan of Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax, so I went into this with an open mind, but also high expectations.

I will not admit to being swayed from my personal belief that there is no God. However, Sawyer makes a really interesting case for the possibility -- with a lot of math/science backing him up. He also helped me to understand how science and faith might find common ground.

I doubt believers will be satisfied with Sawyer's logic, but I think it could make the non-believers think twice. I suspect many more of us will read this book anyway.

Sawyer takes care to wrap personal human/alien drama around these complex ideas to make them easier to understand. And, if you overlook the simplicity of the plot, the concepts discussed in this book are definitely worth hearing if not study.

49 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Diana - Audible
  • 16-04-12

Unexpected delight

I don't normally delve into the Sci-Fi & Fantasy genre, but took a chance on Calculating God and really enjoyed it. (And by 'took a chance', I mean it was selected by a member of the Audible book club I was in at the time, so I felt I had to listen to it.) But Jonathan Davis' performance really blew me away here, and I was completely absorbed in Sawyer's smart, funny, and thought-provoking storytelling.

43 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ron
  • 01-04-09

Brilliant

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was a bit sceptical at first but was quickly converted to an avid listener. I found myself sneaking away from work to continue the story. Sawyer manages to give both a subjective and objective argument on creationism versus evolution from the point of view of both a human AND an alien. I can understand there might be some ideas that could upset some people, but I loved the idea of an alien scientist bringing us some form of proof that God exists. And I'm an aetheist!!!
Yes very well written, and very well delivered.
A must read for all thinkers.

41 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • D.James
  • 08-02-09

Calculating? God

Jonathan Davis and the author, Robert Sawyer do an excellent job of reading. All three books in the Neanderthal Parallax (also by Sawyer) are far better than this one. Calculating God", in short, is science fiction for creation "scientists," although I doubt very much that any believer in the biblical account of the creation of the universe would relate to the version of god presented in this novel. My main problem with the book with respect to its vision of a created universe, is that Sawyer employs all of the standard arguments of the creationist camp and fails to employ the strongest arguments against the existence of a creator. If you really want to learn something about the subject of this novel, listen to and then read Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion." You'll need to at least read Dawkins' book although the reading performance is worth hearing. Then, if you're feeling up to it, listen to this one. It's well written but weak in the respects noted above.

41 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Brendan
  • 26-05-09

Creationism

The premise: an alien comes to Earth and believes in God. Why? No, not because of some advanced scientific understanding, but because he (and the author, and the rest of the characters in the book) falls victim to the same old creationist "science" arguments.

The book is extremely disappointing. Every time the alien explains why he believes in God I cringe.

To be honest, I think the author read some of Tipler's stuff and is too dumb to understand it.

Anyway, the book could be saved (slightly) if the writing was any good, but it's pretty terrible. Comparing Rober Sawyer to Michael Chricton is laughable.

38 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • DG
  • 08-07-09

Intelligent Design in novel form

This novel wrestles with the issue of whether there is a God by having an alien who believes in God come to earth and argue for intelligent design. The novel's protagonist, and the sparring partner for the alien, is an atheist paleontologist. The intellectual exchange between the two is intriguing for those who are interested in these things. Thus, for the core elements of the book, this novel can be highly recommended. What seriously detracts from the novel is that Sawyer could not resist interjecting his own opinions on politics, movies, etc. all along the way. The novel is almost jingoistic in its "I love Canada" theme (like many Canadians, Sawyer revels in his love of Canada mostly by sneering at the USA). The book is cluttered with Sawyer's opinions on the policies of the former Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris (all of which makes the book about as relevant today as election campaign pamphlets from 1993). For modern readers, he might as well be commenting on the policies of Mackenzie King (a former Prime Minister of Canada). He also deals with Young Earth Creationism by interjecting into the novel a pair of yahoos (from the USA, naturally) who want to blow up museum fossils (something that these people, to my knowledge, have never done). It would have been better for him to deal with the issue intellectually, answering their arguments, instead of via this caricature. Sawyer plainly has the ability to do that, but he chose, it seems, instead to indulge his fantasies about what he would like to see happen to all such persons.

23 people found this helpful