NESFA Members' Reviews

Calculating God

by Robert J. Sawyer

Tor, 2001 [2000], ISBN 0-812-58035-4

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

One fine day, a spaceship lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum, and an alien that closely resembles a giant spider disembarks and asks to speak to a paleontologist. Tom Jericho, the head paleontologist at the ROM, emerges from his office to speak greet Earth's first exterrestrial visitor.

It turns out the alien's landing craft is only a shuttle, and the main ship is in orbit, carrying members of two alien species, the Forhilnors and the Wreeds. Their planets have experienced periodic mass extinctions, and they became very curious when they discovered that their worlds had experienced these mass extinctions simultaneously. Jericho's visitor wants to know if Earth has experienced mass extinctions that shaped the direction of evolution, and what the dates were.

The dates of Earth's mass extinctions match up, too. No one believes this is a coincidence.

Tom Jericho and his visitor (Hollus, a Forhilnor), eagerly exchange knowledge and make plans to scan the Burgess Shale fossils for the Forhilnors and Wreeds, in exchange for which the ROM and the Smith sonian will receive scans of Forhilnor and Wreed fossils of the same era. Meanwhile, anti-abortion, Creationist crazies from the US, in Toronto to blow up an abortion clinic, become distressed at the idea that the aliens, who have said publically that they believe in the existence of a Creator, an Intelligent Designer of the universe, are being shown the "lying" Burgess Shale fossils, which depict creatures which of course could never have existed--at least in the minds of seriously uneducated anti-abortion crazies from the US. (They're from the south, of course--Arkansas, to be precise.) (Their names are J.D. Ewell and Cooter Falsey.) (We're also assured that once an alien landed in the US, the American news media carried zero coverage of any aliens anywhere else.) Life becomes exciting for a while, and then Betelgeuse goes supernova, and three intelligent species are threatened with extinction--the Forhilnors' and Wreeds' homeworlds are roughly the same distance from Betelgeuse as Earth is.

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.

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