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Calculating God

Written by: Robert J. Sawyer
Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (58 ratings)

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Publisher's 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.

What the critics say

"Is Sawyer Canada's answer to Michael Crichton? Very possibly yes." ( Montreal Gazette)
"Jonathan Davis...is one of our very best narrators and this is a fine performance. I was rapt the entire time, and even near tears at one moment in the book." (sffaudio.com; named an SFFaudio Essential)
"Jonathan Davis portrays a thoughtful and quietly introspective Jericho....As the conversation with Hollus continues, Davis keeps a steady pace and reflects the intellectual engagement of both characters. He presents the alien's speech as lightly studied, a fitting style for a non-English speaker who coordinates his speech between two mouths." ( AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Great book

At times this is a dry, cerebral book. It's generally more of a discussion of mortality and the nature of God dressed up as a SciFi story than a true Science Fiction tale. It is an extremely effective plot device to discuss philosophical and really weighty issues: Mortality, Religion, Intelligent Design vs Strict Atheism.
Tom sounds like a cross between my Paleontology professor in University and the TA we had for Comparative Anatomy. Hollis, the alien, sounds like a reasoned and very intelligent pastor. This is NOT a debate, however, but a story with a plot and everything (and a pretty good one, though not perfectly executed - at points it gets silly and clichee'd)
Jonathan Davis does a pretty good job reading some stretches of fairly bland writing. His choice of light accent for Hollis is like an Oxford-educated maharaja from Colonial India. At times it sounds like he's reading an instruction manual of some kind. A little monotone for my tastes.

Notwithstanding, a decent reading of a great "Makes ya think, don't it?" novel. Easily 4 out of 5 stars.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Mindblowing

Can't just start another book right away after finished this one! Mind needs processing time...

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

Well done, strangely less ludicrous than the blurb

The blurb really makes it seem like this would be weird and strange, probably gonzo. But I must admit it was an interesting way to insert multiple perspectives into a discussion around creationism and evolution. Literalization alien viewpoints is mostly pulled off. There’s an attempt at a sub plot because it’s mostly dialogue that is fine? Probably didn’t need it since it begins halfway in. But I enjoyed the book regardless.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good Scifi

A fun SciFi what if. You may fear this goes to far in either direction but rest assured anything it does stays within the confines of the scenario.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Profound

An outstanding piece of Science fiction with many profound Science facts embedded within. I came away from it with awe and a new appreciation for the complexities of life as we know it.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ione
  • 2010-05-07

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.

86 of 90 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • 2010-06-10

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.

77 of 81 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Vincent Tume
  • 2009-07-22

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.

68 of 74 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Diana - Audible
  • 2012-04-16

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.

39 of 44 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jason
  • 2011-06-19

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.

68 of 79 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Tech Nut
  • 2008-06-26

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.

47 of 55 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ken
  • 2012-01-06

Calculating God-- wow

What did you love best about Calculating God?

It was interesting, thought provoding (over and over again), creative and captured my interest right away. I found myself wondering what new idea or concept he would introduce next.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Calculating God?

There were so many. Perhaps when the main character considered his options for extending his life.

Which character – as performed by Jonathan Davis and Robert J. Sawyer – was your favorite?

My favorite character was probably Hollis. Robert uses our visiting Alien to easily introduce many new ideas and ways of looking at things. I love getting to know him (her :) and all of her human / non-human qualities.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The final moments when Holis and the main character go their separate ways I realized

Any additional comments?

Sawyer does a wonderful job of educating (with interesting facts and observations) and also creates a mileau in which we find ourselves somewhat confortably questionning many, perhaps long held, assumptions about god, evolution, other forms of life. This book was so interesting, creative, stimulating and full of rich and varied feelings that my wife and I plan to listen to it again.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Jacob Denhollander
  • 2014-04-16

Amazing performance of a somewhat mediocre tale.

**Minor spoilers**

First off, I did enjoy this book. The reading was very well done; Jonathan Davis is a very talented reader. The premise of the book is also tantalizing and interesting: Aliens visit our planet and lo and behold, they advocate a form of Intelligent Design instead of the commonly (on earth) accepted theory of Darwinian Evolution.

The idea is a great one, but the execution was less so. One of the reasons I love science fiction is that it invites you to think outside the box and imagine new realities and different ways of thinking. However, beyond superficial aspects, I didn't find the primary alien race to be all that interesting or 'alien'. They might as well have been Michael Behe. There was no real indication as to how their beliefs shaped how they did science, how it influenced their society, what religious significance they attached to their scientific pursuits, nothing. It seems that Mr. Sawyer was intent on following the ID mantra of "It's all about the science, and we aren't going to discuss other implications." That's all fine and good, but honestly it didn't make for very compelling or interesting story. The Spider People didn't really seem 'alien', they were just ID advocates with access to information we don't have. The 'Reeds' were a better attempt at describing alien thought, but their appearance is so brief, and the discussion about their moral intuition so hilariously bland and boring, that they feel like an opportunity wasted.

Honestly, the most alien creatures in the whole novel don't come from outer space, they come from the Southern USA. They appear in the form of horrifically stereotypical 'fundamentalists' bearing the names of JD and 'Cooter'. These characters and their actions have no real impact on the story or its final outcome, and seem to exist so that Mr. Sawyer can demonstrate in no uncertain terms that his book is not a subversive attempt to introduce creationism. As a creationist myself (though, I confess, I now have doubts about my sincerity now as I've never killed an abortionist or destroyed fossils with a submachine gun), I wasn't offended by the portrayal of these characters as much as I was annoyed at another missed opportunity. I'm sure rednecks like these exist, but someone who at least 'tried' to be scientific might have made for a more interesting antagonist. I would have been interested to hear the aliens rebut the creationists and correct their 'primitive' conceptions of god with a more enlightened view. But Mr. Sawyer went the boring, unimaginative route instead, unfortunately.

I also wonder if Mike Harris ran over Mr. Sawyer's cat. There are so many negative remarks directed to provincial elected officials that it almost seemed personal. It was very odd and frankly, distracting.

In closing, I don't really regret listening to this book. There were stimulating passages, and it did pick up toward the end. However, I have a nagging disappointment in this book that it didn't challenge me or live up to the potential suggested by the subject matter. It's a good book, but you probably won't be changed by it.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • smokefan201417
  • 2008-12-27

Fabulous book!

This is the first book I read from Robert Sawyer and definitely not my last. The author explores a topic most are afraid to write about. He does an excellent job showing both sides of the coin. Religious/moral beliefs and science blend well in this thought provoking book.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ron
  • 2009-04-01

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 of 52 people found this review helpful