Study and Discussion Questions for Jack McDevitt's "Act of God"
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 Campbell's "Twilight" to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. McDevitt's story is quite clearly derived from Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" (1941). As you read and consider "Act of God" (2004), consider some of the following issues:
Sturgeon's Kidder is implicitly, if not directly compared to a vengeful yet forgiving Old Testament god. Does McDevitt also rely on Old Testament comparisons? What story details might support your answer?
Compare McDevitt's Abe to Sturgeon's Kidder. Has the image and nature of the renegade scientist changed over time? In what ways are Kidder and Abe similar? Different? What specific examples support your judgments?
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? What story details sustain your answer?
How does the end of McDevitt's 2004 story extend Sturgeon's depiction of a scientist playing god to a more aggressive comment on the natures of deity and of the universe? What has happened in our understandings of science and culture over the past 60 years that might allow McDevitt to extend his inquiry in these ways?