November 03, 2006

Calculating God

Calculating God is a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, that was recommended to me by a friend. Somewhat interesting review here.

I'm trying to figure out what I think about this book, so skip ahead if you're bored.

This is, at the most basic level, a first contact novel. An alien ship has been puttering around the galaxy in the last few years, looking for information about God. They've got a slower than light drive, and a lifespan similar to humans, so they've been examining stars nearby. They've found several abandoned planets that once had intelligent life, as well as another intelligent race.

These aliens have several bits of information. Both of the alien races experienced planetwide extinction events at the same time Earth did, 5 in all [think: dinosaurs]. They have evidence of 8 previous universes existing before our current one did. And this current universe seems impossibly tuned to support life.

What they seem to believe is that during the last universe an intelligence was formed, that has been guiding this one since our universe's creation. This God is powerful but not omnipotent, very knowledgable but probably not omniscient. If he acts at all, it's on a stellar or planetary scale, not a personal one. And we find out at the end that he has a purpose [although, it makes no sense whatsoever to me].

So. The aliens have discovered at least 3 different planets that had intelligent life, that either destroyed themselves or possibly downloaded their brains to computers. This appears to have happened within a few centuries of developing radio.

The aliens make the point that they posses insane or destructive individuals, and that as technology progresses individuals have more and more ability to do damage. And we have a couple of fundamentalist Christians [the book was writen pre 9/11] who have blown up an abortion clinic and try to destroy a museum paleontology exhibit.

Applying these kinds of ideas to the post 9/11 world, we get: terrorists are just bad people. We can try to help them, or kill them, but even if we destroyed every Islamic terrorist we can't find every dangerous crazy wacko. And as tech advances, possibilities for greater destruction continue. Everyone seemed to assume the obvious route is limited personal immortality through braintaping rather than colonization of outlying planets. Why, even though DNA is apparently universal [the aliens not only have DNA but their DNA codes for the same amino acids as ours], isn't clear.

In summary: a view of the world that isn't mine. And a view of God that as far as I know fits no major human religion [not omnipotent, but singular, no balancing evil or chaotic half]. I wonder what my friend's book club is going to think.

Posted by Owlish at November 3, 2006 06:30 PM | TrackBack

i agree with you on many points...and I think I should read this book as well

Posted by: Rob at December 5, 2006 12:50 AM
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