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On Writing Calculating God
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Carl Sagan always struck me as the quintessential
rationalist: a logical thinker, a debunker of pseudoscience, a
moral man who was also an atheist. But, still, there was a hint
of the metaphysical about him: he concluded his novel
Contact by announcing "there is an intelligence
that antedates the universe."
Of course, Contact was fiction, and Sagan was
no more obligated to believe what he wrote there than George
Lucas has an obligation to believe in the Force. Excepting what
he said in Contact, Sagan did seem to be an
unwavering atheist. And, yet, he died young, from a lingering
disease, giving him plenty of time to contemplate his own
mortality. Could he or any rational person really maintain
a devotion to logic while facing his or her own death?
(Tor, June 2000) is my exploration
of that issue. I don't think its main human character, Tom
Jericho, resembles Sagan much in personality (without dissing
poor Carl, I think it's fair to say that Tom is a warmer and less
arrogant man), but, like Sagan, he is a scientist, a clear
thinker, a devotee of reason. And, again like Sagan, he knows he
will die within a year. Jericho is a paleontologist, just 54
years old, who has terminal lung cancer, the result of having
inhaled far too much mineral dust during his work.
Carl Sagan had always hoped for the receipt of an
Encyclopedia Galactica the scientific wisdom of
advanced ETs, transmitted to us, and the rest of the universe,
via radio. What wonders such a document might hold!
Tom Jericho receives alien knowledge, too, but in a
different form. At the beginning of my novel, an alien
mothership from Beta Hydri III arrives in Earth orbit. The
beings aboard have advanced scientific knowledge, including what
they take to be proof for the existence of God.
What would a Carl Sagan-like rationalist have done if the
Encyclopedia Galactica asserted that the universe
was indeed the handiwork of God? Tom Jericho faces a similar
quandary: aliens, clearly more technologically advanced than
humans are, show up on his doorstep, convinced that the universe
is the product of intelligent design. The meat of
Calculating God is the relationship that develops
between Jericho and one of the aliens, a gentle, eight-limbed
being named Hollus, during the last year of Jericho's life.
Like my previous work, Calculating God is a
hard-SF novel: the science is carefully researched, and as we
travel through the plot we explore issues in evolutionary
biology, cosmology, quantum physics, astronomy, and biochemistry.
I think of Calculating God as a natural
thematic completion of the cycle of otherwise unrelated novels
that began with my 1995 Nebula Award-winner,
The Terminal Experiment.
That book dealt with the origin and ultimate
fate of individual human beings;
Frameshift (a Hugo
finalist) dealt with the origin and ultimate fate of the human
Starplex (a Hugo and Nebula finalist, and an
Aurora Award winner) dealt with the origin and ultimate fate of
the universe; and now
Calculating God caps them all
off with an exploration of whether science can ever answer the
question of whether a God an intelligent designer exists.
Most writers pay little attention to their reviews, and I'm
no exception. But one I particularly like was The Toronto
Star's assessment of my previous novel,
(third on BN.com's list of 1999's best
SF&F): "Sawyer compels us to think in a concrete way about
concepts that we usually dismiss as being too metaphysical to
grapple with. As he is clearly aware, the essence of science
fiction isn't starships, robots or virtual reality, but a unique
philosophical inquiry into the evolution of the human spirit." I
like to think I've continued in that vein with Calculating
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