Calculating God

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Sawyer, Robert J. Calculating God. New York: Tor Books, 2000. Available in numerous reprints, at least three translations, Kindle, and audio (2013).[1] Annotator's primary text, the Audible Frontiers audiobook.

Calculating God is a meditation on the question of Creation and a god-directed universe by an author who knows and appreciated the applicable science. Calculating God's relevance here is that in the evolution of intelligent life-forms in the local area of our galaxy if not the universe — of the story — intelligent species reach a period of a couple centuries in which they can destroy themselves or learn to upload their individual «consciousnesses» (and personalities?) into computers, where they have "transcended into a machine realm, a virtual world, a computer-generated paradise." In the value-system of this novel, it is good to remain "still human" — or whatever — "still warm and biological and real." This valuing of the material and biological is embodied in the main plot in a novelistic reinforcing of and rebuttal to A. C. Clarke's 2001: i.e., a plot climax and teleological upshot in an embryo and a god-tweaked birth (with Sawyer having the tweaking accomplished by something so non-mystic and relatively mundane as a kind of particle beam). In the universe of this novel, God is and acts on a large scale on His/Her/Its Creation: "God was the programmer; the laws of physics and the fundamental constants were the source code; the universe was the application, running now for 13.9 billion years leading up to this moment," i.e., the moment of the conceiving of a fetus based on three intelligent species and the birth of a star-child (our term, not Sawyer's) that is potentially immortal not from lacking a material body but from lacking telomeres at the end of its defining, genomic "supersomes" (which is Sawyer's term): i.e., the complexly combined chromosomes of the three intelligent protagonist species. There is a relatively minor plot in which the antagonists are armed, dangerous, and Fundamentalist citizens of the US South; the key antagonists, though, are a cybernetically "transcended" species who try to protect their VR paradise from interference by sterilizing their, and our, section of the Milky Way, a monstrous action prevented only by a literal act of God, although a God more like Clarke's Overmind in Childhood's End (1953)[2] in matte black than more usual views of God in the Abrahamic tradition. With significant choice of figures of speech — including understatement — Sawyer comments on the evil of attempted multiple species-cide by saying "That the ability to transcend, to discard biology came too soon in a race's life was a bug" in the Program, "a flaw in the design […] but finally, with careful manipulation the Programmer had worked around the bug."

The human hero of Calculating God is a Canadian paleontologist, so it is not surprising that in the debate over the desirability of transcending the flesh and the material universe, Sawyer here comes down hard on the side of biology.

RDE 25/I/16