[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Book Club Guide


by Robert J. Sawyer

Many reading groups and book clubs have enjoyed novels by Robert J. Sawyer. The following questions may help stimulate an interesting discussion about Calculating God. (These questions might also suggest essay topics for students studying the book.)

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Note that these questions reveal much of the novel's plot; to preserve your reading pleasure, please don't look at these questions until after you've finished reading the book.

  1. When was the last time you were in a museum or planetarium? How important are these institutions to your life? What did you think of Tom Jericho's fight against the "dumbing down" of museums?

  2. Is there any way to solve the dilemma of family when traveling in space? Hollus carried photos of her two children, but she never saw them again after leaving Beta Hydri III. Tom never saw Ricky again. The Wreed lifespan is so short that, by the time they reached Earth, their children would have been dead. Can you take your family with you? Or will space travel be for the unattached — a single lifestyle?

  3. Did you believe the way the two alien species used science to prove the existence of God? Do you believe that science and religion should be completely separate? Or do you believe that science and religion are two sides of the same coin — two different ways of explaining our world?

  4. To Hollus, abortion is not a moral quandary because with infallible birth-control methods no woman should ever have an unplanned, or unwanted pregnancy. Given that the Forhilnor are about 100 years ahead of us, do you think Earth will be like that in 100 years, too? Or is science reducing our need to be moral beings by eliminating the consequences of our mistakes?

  5. For the dramatic purposes of the novel, why does Tom Jericho have lung cancer? Did Sawyer's depiction of Tom's disease ring true? Did you expect either the aliens or God to save Tom at the end of the novel?

  6. What would you do if Betelgeuse went supernova right now? Where would you go? Who would you want to see? Would you try to stay alive as long as possible and hope for a miracle? Do supernatural miracles exist, or are they just scientific phenomena we don't yet fully understand?

  7. Do you believe it was the morally correct decision for Tom to leave Susan and Ricky and go to Betelgeuse? Contrast Tom's decision-making process with that of the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Given that Tom was dying, should we simply accept whatever decision he made as his "last wish?" Tom asked a Wreed for advice in this one matter: if you could ask a Wreed one question, what would it be?

  8. Are you a creationist or an evolutionist? Is it possible to find a middle ground between such disparate points of view? Did Sawyer portray creationists fairly in his novel? Did he portray the evolutionists fairly?

  9. Tom Jericho seems to waver in his scientific convictions as he faces his own mortality. Did that ring true? Contrast Jericho's feelings with those of the late atheist scientists Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, who publicly maintained their rationalism right up till the end.

  10. Sawyer predicts that the corporeal (physical body) lifespan of a technological race is very short. Do you agree with him?

  11. What did you think of the creation of Wibadal? Early Christians seemed to feel that humans need a tangible god; do we still have that need today? What purpose, if any, does prayer serve if God exists but is not listening?

  12. Did it bother you that Hollus was essentially a large spider? Did you find yourself thinking of her as a human being? What about T'kna? Was he too alien for you to relate to?

  13. Speaking of T'kna: his name is an anagram for Kant, as in the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that reason is the means by which the phenomena of experience are translated into understanding. How important is having a coherent philosophical worldview to the lives of most people?

  14. What do you think ultimately happened to Susan and Ricky? Are they dead, or uploaded into a computer, or immortal? Do you want science to continue to find ways to lengthen our life spans? What about immortality inside a computer? Inside a computer you never have to age, fall ill, or become senile. Is real life better than life inside a virtual world?

More Good Reading

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More about Calculating God

Book Club Guide Index
Book Club Guide for The Oppenheimer Alternative
Book Club Guide for Quantum Night
Book Club Guide for Triggers
Book Club Guide for Wake
Book Club Guide for Rollback
Book Club Guide for Mindscan
Book Club Guide for Hominids
Book Club Guide for FlashForward
Book Club Guide for Factoring Humanity
Book Club Guide for Frameshift
Book Club Guide for Illegal Alien
Book Club Guide for The Terminal Experiment
Book Club Guide for End of an Era
Book Club Guide for Golden Fleece

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