01/05/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: TOR/Forge. 334 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US), $16.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2289-0.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com and www.sfwriter.com
Now here's an interesting situation. What if a first contact meeting with aliens on Earth revealed that they were in favour of creationism over evolution? The latter isn't dismissed totally out of hand but their argument stems from why do all species, animal and plant life stem from one common source rather than divergent sources.
Bear that in mind as you read the re-release of Robert J. Sawyer's 2000 novel 'Calculating God'. There aren't many aliens, called Forhilnors, on-board the starship and are principally a scientific exploring unit rather than anything to do with diplomacy. One of their number, Hollus, resembling something that looks like a giant six-legged spider, is more intent on visiting a museum and its paleontologist, Tom Jericho, to study how things evolved here.
Through the course of the story, we follow how the friendship between the Forhilnor and the human evolves and the trouble and strife. For them both this includes a terrorist attack at the museum. Also for Jericho, himself, a developing cancer. There are also mysteries to be solved.
On-board the starship are members of another species called the Wreed who are oddly cryptic and alien. Other species' planets that the Forhilnors found appeared deserted and derelict with little idea where the dominate species went. When the star Betelgeuse explodes and something interferes with its debris coming this way, thought comes to there being something else out there.
Much of this story is done in first-person from Jericho's point of view. He also shares some connection to Sawyer's own background by being Canadian so you get that as the slant for your connection to the characters. It's not that different from American or even a British perspective so you're not seeing a totally different culture here. I think some of the emotional content, especially from Jericho's developing cancer and decisions about his family tend to be avoided than explored as much as they could be. I have a feeling that Sawyer must have thought these things rather too personal either for himself or Jericho to share in the book.
When the terrorists' perspective is shown, you're not really given much to understand the motivation for their action until they strike. Not that I would agree with their aims or objectives but it would have made them less like ciphers and give some insight into what they saw as being extreme eco-warriors. The Forhilnors and Wreeds are definitely alien in their objectives and outlook but then, I've seen Sawyer do this before and he knows how to bring realism to his aliens.
If you haven't read Rob Sawyer before then this book should be included in your list to read. He examines a lot of principles that should make for some interesting discussion and you'll know he's done the research on many topics looking at the background of life on Earth. Any blending away from this is so seamless that you'll go along with it because it makes sense in the story. By making the reality almost contemporary grounds the story effectively enough to add to the plausibility and touches on most bases. An interesting read.
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