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 Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" (1941), an earlier story about a scientist who creates life in an isolated laboratory.  As you read and consider "Act of God" (2004), 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 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?
  3. Compare McDevitt's Abe to previous familiar science fiction scientists like Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau. Has the image and nature of the renegade scientist changed over time?  In what ways is Abe similar to his predecessors?  Different from them?  What specific examples support your judgments?
  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?  What story details sustain your answer?
  5. How does the end of McDevitt's 2004 story extend previous depictions of scientists 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?
  6. At the story's end, Abe asks Jerry if he could spend the night at Jerry's house. If you were Jerry, would you let Abe spend the night? Why or why not?