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Reading Group Guide
by Robert J. Sawyer
Many reading groups and book clubs have enjoyed novels by Robert J. Sawyer.
The following questions may help stimulate an interesting
discussion about Calculating God. (These questions
might also suggest essay topics for students studying the book.)
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Note that these questions reveal much of the novel's plot; to
preserve your reading pleasure, please don't look at these questions
until after you've finished reading the book.
- When was the last time you were in a museum or planetarium?
How important are these institutions to your life? What did you
think of Tom Jericho's fight against the "dumbing down" of museums?
- Is there any way to solve the dilemma of family when traveling in
space? Hollus carried photos of her two children, but she never saw them
again after leaving Beta Hydri III. Tom never saw Ricky again. The Wreed
lifespan is so short that, by the time they reached Earth, their children
would have been dead. Can you take your family with you? Or will space
travel be for the unattached a single lifestyle?
- Did you believe the way the two alien species used science to prove
the existence of God? Do you believe that science and religion should
be completely separate? Or do you believe that science and religion are
two sides of the same coin two different ways of explaining our
- To Hollus, abortion is not a moral quandary because with infallible
birth-control methods no woman should ever have an unplanned, or unwanted
pregnancy. Given that the Forhilnor are about 100 years ahead of us,
do you think Earth will be like that in 100 years, too? Or is science
reducing our need to be moral beings by eliminating the consequences
of our mistakes?
- For the dramatic purposes of the novel, why does Tom Jericho have
lung cancer? Did Sawyer's depiction of Tom's disease ring true? Did you
expect either the aliens or God to save Tom at the end of the novel?
- What would you do if Betelgeuse went supernova right now? Where
would you go? Who would you want to see? Would you try to stay alive as
long as possible and hope for a miracle? Do supernatural miracles exist,
or are they just scientific phenomena we don't yet fully understand?
- Do you believe it was the morally correct decision for Tom to leave
Susan and Ricky and go to Betelgeuse? Contrast Tom's decision-making
process with that of the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close
Encounters of the Third Kind. Given that Tom was dying, should
we simply accept whatever decision he made as his "last wish?" Tom asked
a Wreed for advice in this one matter: if you could ask a Wreed one
question, what would it be?
- Are you a creationist or an evolutionist? Is it possible to find a
middle ground between such disparate points of view? Did Sawyer
portray creationists fairly in his novel? Did he portray the evolutionists
- Tom Jericho seems to waver in his scientific convictions as he faces
his own mortality. Did that ring true? Contrast Jericho's feelings with
those of the late atheist scientists Carl Sagan
and Stephen Jay Gould, who publicly maintained their rationalism
right up till the end.
- Sawyer predicts that the corporeal (physical body)
lifespan of a technological race is very short. Do you agree with him?
- What did you think of the creation of Wibadal? Early Christians seemed
to feel that humans need a tangible god; do we still have that need today? What
purpose, if any, does prayer serve if God exists but is not listening?
- Did it bother you that Hollus was essentially a large spider? Did you
find yourself thinking of her as a human being? What about T'kna? Was he too
alien for you to relate to?
- Speaking of T'kna: his name is an anagram for Kant, as in the German
philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that reason is the means by which
the phenomena of experience are translated into understanding. How important
is having a coherent philosophical worldview to the lives of most people?
- What do you think ultimately happened to Susan and Ricky? Are they
dead, or uploaded into a computer, or immortal? Do you want science to
continue to find ways to lengthen our life spans? What about immortality
inside a computer? Inside a computer you never have to age, fall ill,
or become senile. Is real life better than life inside a virtual world?
More Good Reading
Download this Reading Group Guide in Adobe Acrobat Format
More about Calculating God
Reading Group Guide Index
Reading Group Guide for Quantum Night
Reading Group Guide for Triggers
Reading Group Guide for Wake
Reading Group Guide for Rollback
Reading Group Guide for Mindscan
Reading Group Guide for Hominids
Reading Group Guide for FlashForward
Reading Group Guide for Factoring Humanity
Reading Group Guide for Frameshift
Reading Group Guide for Illegal Alien
Reading Group Guide for The Terminal Experiment
Reading Group Guide for End of an Era
Reading Group Guide for Golden Fleece
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