A great many of the reviewers whose comments I located had a lot of trouble – more trouble, probably, than the vast majority of readers – with Sawyer’s premise that the universe might show evidence of intelligent design.
Many American reviewers also professed to see anti-Americanism in Calculating God .
As a Canadian, I am of two minds about that. Many Canadian authors have been forced to reset their novels in the United States because American readers supposedly refuse to read books set in Canada. Sawyer has – throughout his career – refuses to go along with that and achieved stardom while making a point of setting novels squarely in contemporary downtown Toronto (Canada’s largest city, whose “greater Toronto area” has about 5 million people, or more than one seventh of Canada’s entire population). His choice of setting includes (thrown in for free, if you like) the way Toronto looks at the United States. I suppose many Americans would prefer him to set the story in Atlanta instead, but I am glad he didn’t. Anyway, these factors may have dragged down the book’s ratings, which is unfortunate, but don’t cheat yourself of reading it on that account.
So, here are some other reviews:
Mark Wilson, at Off the Shelf, SciFi.Com :
Provided with arguments for an intelligent creator, the natural human response is dissatisfaction: “Then why did he do this? And this?” Humans want a perfect world, but don’t know what’s meant by that; few see the perfection, interplay and balance of what already exists. Provocative issues and emotions raised in a novel meet as much resistance and misunderstanding as their counterparts in real life. Sawyer has postulated a universe in which the physical and the metaphysical plausibly synergize. Moreover, he provides a role for humanity grander than pure science might suggest for any species riding a microscopic speck of a planet through an incomprehensibly vast cosmos.
Jonathan Cowie, at Concatenation provides some very interesting information about why Calculating did not win a Hugo sci-fi award:
Calculating God was nominated for the 2001 Hugo (World Science Fiction Achievement) Award. Even more importantly it was the most voted for SF novel short-listed! So congratulations Robert you are now technically a Hugo winner. Naturally, World SF Convention fandom may give a double take here. ‘Hang on, mate, Sawyer did not win the Hugo in 2001.’ Correct, he did not. The winner went to one of Rowling’s children’s Harry Potter fantasy novels, purely owing to latitude in the constitution of the World SF Society so as not to exclude works bordering on fantasy. But, as has been pointed out by many elsewhere, given that fantasy novels have their own World SF event and awards it was a bit of a waste conferring the 2001 Hugo on a Harry Potter book let alone an undermining of the spirit of the Hugo. Ho hum. Nonetheless, it is a unassailable fact that the most votes an SF novel received that year for the Hugo was Calculating God and in our book at least Calculating God would have been more of an appropriate and deserving a winner.
Elisabeth Carey, at New England Science Fiction Association says,
Leaving aside a certain amount of stereotyping of Americans, this is an entertaining book, though not as deep and thoughtful as it would like to be.
David Soyka, inSF Site Reviews, praises Sawyer’s readability and ready familiarity with popular science culture:
Thus we are firmly planted in the realm of hard SF, typically characterized less by plot than ongoing dialogues among characters, the purpose of which is to expound upon scientific principles. Unlike some hard SF, which I find can get a bit tedious in constantly providing physics lessons, Sawyer writes well and with a sense of humour that, in the tradition of the old Mr. Wizard television show, proves just how much fun science can be. There’s a host of scientific references (e.g., Stephen Hawking, Stephen Jay Gould, Sagan himself) that anyone interested could consult for further edification, as well as constant mentions of popular culture and science fiction in particular. For example, at one point Tom and Hollus watch Star Trek movies. While Hollus finds fault with the idea of inter-species mating that could result in a Spock (which ironically foreshadows later events), there are some interesting points to be made in contrasting the second and third installments of the venerable series. In The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise and its crew, complying with the Vulcan edict of the “good of the many outweighs the good of the one,” which is also an underpinning principle of socio-biology. Yet that principle is contradicted by human behaviours such as those portrayed in The Search for Spock, in which the “good of the many” is jeopardized for “the good of the one.”
though he, like so many critics, is uncomfortable with Sawyer’s premise that the universe could show evidence of intelligent design.
Don Webb, ofBewildering Stories, really wishes that Sawyer could accept Yankee materialist boilerplate:
It comes as something of a shock that Steven Jay Gould’s distinction between science and religion is dismissed as “bafflegab.” If Thomas Jericho is the one who is speaking, his reaction is unaccountable in a scientist: the eminent American paleontologist deserves a fair hearing and a reasoned response. And the rudeness is quite un-Canadian.
Maybe Sawyer sees through the “distinction”, as many have? For example, Phillip E. Johnson, American constitutional lawyer and friend of the court for the ID guys, writes,
The realm of value assigned to the church [by Gould] is more like a radio talk show, where all opinions are equal and none is authoritative. Any attempt by the church to assert a genuine teaching authority would have to rest on assumptions of fact, such as the divinity of Christ, and these would be checkmated by science.
For example, Gould says that his settlement would forbid the church to teach that miracles have actually occurred, because that would be a claim of fact within the magisterium of science, which rejects supernatural interventions as a matter of principle. Among the questions of fact which scientists would determine, then, are such questions as whether God directed and guided the evolution of life, whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, and whether there is a factual discontinuity between animals and humans attributable to divine intervention. The answers would all be negative. The rules of NOMA give scientists exclusive authority to say which factual claims are real and which are illusory, and scientists will say that the alleged supernatural events upon which the church bases its magisterium are among the illusions.
Now, Sawyer’s character Jericho might have very different reasons from Phillip Johnson for seeing a problem with Gould’s formulation, but it’s a bit harder to understand why anyone would who thinks very hard about the problem would not see one.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada’s Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).