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The Skeptical Inquirer's Review
of Calculating God
9 March 2002
Dear Skeptical Inquirer:
As a skeptic and evolutionist, I was stunned by Barry Seidman's review of my Hugo Award-nominated science-fiction novel Calculating God (March/April). He incredibly characterizes a novel whose villains are a pair of young-Earth creationists, destroying Burgess Shale fossils in order to erase evidence of evolution, as a pro-creationist work. Heck, one of my creationist antagonists has the last name "Falsey" I couldn't have been more obvious about my sentiments. (What's that? You don't remember those characters from Seidman's review? Exactly.)
Further, Seidman misleadingly presents a line of dialog (omitting any indication that it is dialog) as if it were a statement of my personal beliefs. Yes, I have a character (an alien character another little fact Seidman fails to cite) say: "That we live in a created universe is apparent to anyone with sufficient intelligence and information." But Seidman makes no mention of the pages of later dialog in which the novel's human protagonist disputes this statement. (For an articulation of my own beliefs, see the essay "Science and God" that Borders commissioned to accompany the release of Calculating God.)
SI's editors should be chided for accepting a book review from someone who cites within that review a personal relationship with the author. Yes, Seidman sought me out repeatedly, and argued in what I felt was an illogical and rude fashion. Even after I stopped responding to his rants, he continued to send me unsolicited emails for years afterwards. There are countless disinterested skeptics who could have reviewed my book; using one of them would have been much more appropriate journalistically. (If the editors now choose to edit this response, I hope they'll note that the full text is available on my web site at www.sfwriter.com.)
Contrary to Seidman's statements, my novel takes pains to point out arguments against intelligent design, irreducible complexity, and many other issues.
More: Seidman outrageously charges that I'm trying to discredit Sagan and Gould. As Dr. H. Paul Shuch, director of The SETI League, wrote to me (unsolicited; our first-ever contact): "I certainly identified with your protagonist. Of course, early on I recognized Steve Gould. And I saw in [the character's] atheism a healthy dose of Cosmic Carl. All in all, he was a most appealing composite."
Seidman, who said in a February 1999 email that he'd only just started reading "sci-fi," now feels expert enough to declare that I should "stay far, far away from hard science fiction." This would astonish Dr. Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog, universally considered the leading hard-SF magazine. Schmidt had planned to serialize Calculating God, and only scheduling difficulties with the hardcover publisher prevented its appearance (Analog is currently serializing my next novel, Hominids, instead, and previously serialized my Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment, which Seidman also decries).
It would also astonish Dr. Gregory Benford, professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, who is often cited as the greatest living hard-SF writer. Dr. Benford was one of the three judges who awarded Calculating God second place in the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel of 2000. Wrote Benford: "Your handling of the ending was just right no mysticism creeping in."
Barry Seidman's review isn't just unfairly damaging to my book: it's also part of the shift toward knee-jerk reaction and rhetorical sleight of hand within the skeptical community that is damaging the skeptical movement itself. Seidman should be ashamed.
Robert J. Sawyer
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