Robert J. Sawyer
Completed 7/29/2017, reviewed 7/30/2017
An alien appears outside the Royal Ontario Museum and asks, “Take me to a paleontologist.” It turns out that this alien represents one of two alien races that had extinction events at the same time we had ours on earth. This is just one of the reasons the two alien races believe that the universe was intelligently designed. Combine this with the atheist paleontology curator at the museum who is dying of cancer and you come up with a very intriguing mix of morality, science, spirituality, and religion.
Despite its heavy content, the book is a fairly easy mélange of philosophical discussions. The discussions between the main character Thomas Jericho and the alien Hollus get fairly intense as well as some of Jericho’s own reflections. But it is fairly easy to follow. It is all made much more intense with Jericho’s plight as a cancer victim. With less than a year to live and as one of the ambassadors to two alien races, he is thrown into an existential crisis. The basic question is, if there is a god, why does it appear to be indifferent to us.
Thrown into this mix is a subplot where two fundamentalist Christian terrorists blow up an abortion clinic, killing someone. They flee to Toronto where they decide to destroy the evil fossils that Hollus is examining with Jericho so that Hollus can be saved. Of course, just believing in God isn’t enough, you have to be “saved”. This subplot is sort of clunkily thrown into the story, but it makes an interesting point: there is a God, but we’ve got it all wrong. And on top of that, our morality is all screwed up. For example, why should we need abortion when we have contraception? This is just one of the topics discussed in the book.
Ultimately though, the book’s argument comes down to why God only seems to act on the cosmological scale. It is the argument for intelligent design, but against fundamentalism. The book is nicely executed in presenting this, but I never felt the proof that the aliens had for the existence of God was ever adquately explained.
I give the book four stars out of five. This was another book for my Theology in Genre Fiction reading challenge. It was right up my alley in the conflict between religion and science. It seems like people are pretty divided on this book, but I found it interesting and well executed.