Study Questions for Jack McDevitt's "Act of God" (2004)

This semester, we have often commented on the derivative nature of science fiction. That is, more recent stories sometimes draw on and extend the work of previous authors. We saw this in our comparison of Campell's "Twilight" to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. McDevitt's story is quite clearly derived to some extent from Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" (1941) in which a scientist creates and directs the evolution of a new life form in his private laboratory on an island. However, McDevitt's story, like "Microcosmic God," is also derived from Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau because it questions the existence or identity of god. As you read "Act of God," consider some of the following issues:

  1. Who tells this story? Why, in your view, might McDevitt have chosen this style of narration. How does it affect you?
  2. Sturgeon's Kidder and Wells's Moreau are both implicitly if not directly compared to a vengeful Old Testament god. Does McDevitt also rely on Old Testament references or comparisons? What story details support your response?
  3. Compare McDevitt's Abe to Wells's Moreau. Has the image and nature of the renegade scientist changed over time? In what ways are Moreau and Abe similar? Different?
  4. What issues are raised by Abe's revision of the Ten Commandments? Does McDevitt effect a specific commentary on human culture and what is required to build a civilization? If so, what is that commentary?
  5. How does the end of McDevitt's story extend the depiction of a scientist playing god to a more aggressive comment on the natures of deity and of the universe? Does this story extend the Wells/Huxley notions of cosmic and ethical evolution, or does McDevitt alter the framework? What comment, ultimately, does McDevitt make about the relation of human knowledge to the nature of the universe?