Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

The Genesis of Calculating God

by Rob - December 17th, 2008.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

My most popular novel seems to be Calculating God, and ten years ago today is when I came up with the idea for it.

On Thursday, December 17, 1998, I was down on the shore of Canandaigua Lake in Upstate New York, borrowing my father’s vacation home there. I had a contract to write a novel for Tor called Up to Code (second book on the two-book contract that had also included Flashforward), but it wasn’t going well. I noted this in my journal for that day:

Tried outlining more of Up to Code, but it just isn’t credible. Meanwhile, received a fan E-mail that praised to the skies my characters and how they integrate with my premises. Of course, I have no real characters at all in Up to Code. Thought seriously about completely revamping the premise.

I first thought of making it more intimate: an alien ship and a human ship have a chance encounter in deep space; I then thought of an idea of an alien coming to Earth just to live with a human family, as a way of assessing the worthiness of our race.

And then it occurred to me to have an alien who was a “paleotheologist” — someone looking for ancient fingerprints of God (although the word is really “theologian,” not “theologist”). Carolyn suggested that maybe the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary layer is a galaxy-wide phenomenon, and he’s come to investigate that.

I figured he could show up and say, look, I’m here to consult with a human paleontologist, and if all the rest of you leave me alone for the year I’ll be here, I’ll tell you how to cure cancer before I go (which suggests a kidnapping plot by someone desperate to have the cure right now). It’s intriguing, anyway …

And, indeed, it was intriguing, to me and to a lot of other people: Calculating God came out in 2000, has been continuously in print since, was nominated for a Hugo and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, was named the best SF novel of the year by both and the Denver Rocky Mountain News, hit #1 on the Locus bestsellers’ list, was my first national top-ten mainstream bestseller in Canada, has been translated into numerous languages, is widely taught at universities, and was the only book published as science fiction to make the Chapters/Indigo list of the 100 best Canadian-authored books of all time. recently released an unabridged recording of Calculating God, and in March 2009, Tor is bringing out a new trade-paperback edition of Calculating God with a book-club discussion guide bound in.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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