Title: Calculating God
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
What happens when an atheist tries to write a book that makes intelligent design make sense? Apparently a lot of fun, a well done First Contact, alien aliens who find our thoughts of what aliens must be ridiculous, and a redefinition of God. Unfortunately, Calculating God suffers from a weak ending, but otherwise, it's totally worth the ride.
A Canadian paleontologist's day is disrupted by First Contact because apparently this alien is far more interested in science than leaders. And apparently this alien claims that no only do they believe in God, but they have scientific proof! The paleontologist, an atheist himself, has to try and wrap his brain around this alien idea of God, an impersonal, but rather real deity, who tweaked the universe to make it able to sustain life. To make matters worse with the whole "struggling with God" thing, the protagonist has just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Personally, I didn't find the cancer story line that compelling. I never really do. It felt, in this instance, more of a plot contrivance to speed things forward and to make sure the protagonist really had a good reason to ponder this whole God thing.
The other main struggle in the book follows the plans of some evangelical young earth creationists. I felt like those characters were really cartoonish, in a way, but considering the way most of them represent themselves, I think it might have been difficult to develop them into full characters. The major issue I had with the creationist subplot is that it felt very discordant with the rest of the book, pulling you out of a rather nicely paced and written narrative to somewhere else entirely.
I always appreciate alien aliens, but even more, I appreciate alien aliens who laugh at our pop culture representation of aliens. In some ways, Calculating God reminded me of Existence, by David Brin—entirely self aware of our pop culture surrounding First Contact, rather than throwing it all away. The difference, though, is that Brin's novel seemed grander, less tongue-in-cheek.
There's also a lot to appreciate in Calculating God, especially when you realize that Sawyer doesn't believe in anything he's writing. And he had to stretch that science to make it work, to find a conclusive proof that intelligence must have been designed in some way. However, he doesn't try and find proof for a caring god, a just god, a moral god. An individualistic god. He doesn't look for souls or an afterlife.
I'd definitely suggest Calculating God. Not only because it's a fun book, but because I think exercises like these are important. Expand beyond your comfort zone and feel around to see if maybe you can share some footing with someone else.
Even if you have to fudge the rather scientific science at some point.