Aliens from two distinct planets have come to Earth for a visit. Rather than looking to meet world leaders, the aliens greet a Canadian paleontologist, who is the central character of the novel. It is revealed that the evolutionary history of the three planets is nearly identical, bringing on the nearly inevitable question of a higher power.
Why Is This Book Great?
The appeal of Calculating God is that the story is deceptively designed to be as simple as possible, creating a nice coating around the many deep questions embedded in the novel. It is exactly the type of novel that you might have your grandmother read, then talk about it with her.
Another great appeal of this novel is the believability of the hero. Rather than to create an unbelievably strong hero, or to take the opposite approach and create a Thomas Covenant-esque hero within an antihero, Robert Sawyer instead creates a harrowingly real person, with a life and real problems. It is the reality of the central character that adds a great deal of general appeal to this novel.
The real care with which religion is handled in this book also stands for a lot. Sawyer, with a very delicate touch, writes a novel that won't offend atheists and religious people alike. Yet, even with this care, he asks the inevitable "Is there a higher power?" question in a thought provoking way.
Many of Robert Sawyer's other novels tackle issues with a similar touch. Highly recommended are The Terminal Experiment, Golden Fleece, Starplex, Factoring Humanity, and Illegal Alien.