Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is Anybody Out There? plus more on SETI

Professor Stephen Hawking

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the SETI program -- the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This is why we've seen far more than the usual number of articles, interviews, and new books and their corresponding reviews on the subject.

In fact, not too many months ago -- April 25, to be exact -- the UK's Sunday Times Online ran an article on Stephen W. Hawking's (pictured above) new Discovery Channel documentary, with the following quote from the physicist: "The aliens are out there, and Earth had better watch out." Now, in a new audio recording with Big Think, Professor Hawking warns us that humanity's survival depends on inhabiting the stars: "I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load." And, of course, while we're at it, we need to be wary of ET! The Big Think piece is quite compelling; Hawking states that he is an optimist, but his outlook for the human race is very bleak. And there are more than 50 Comments to the article, some as intriguing as (if not more so than) the article itself.

This past weekend, the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, hosted SETIcon, a convention that brought together representatives from science and research (Frank Drake), space exploration (Astronaut Rusty Schweickart), television & media (producer Andre Bormanis, actor John Billingsley), literature (authors Mary Roach & Robert J. Sawyer), music (Mickey Hart), and many others, and was open to the public. Speaking at the convention, Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, said: "I actually think the chances that we'll find ET are pretty good....Young people in the audience, I think there's a really good chance you're going to see this happen." (quote courtesy of msnbc.com)

Of course the big questions continue to be: "How will we discover ET?" and/or "In what form(s) will we discover ET?" -- which was touched on in my previous blog on "50 Years of SETI" -- but if you haven't figured out where I'm headed with this then you haven't been reading my blog regularly.

When Nick Gevers and I conceived the idea for our anthology Is Anybody Out There? we didn't plan in advance for the 50th Anniversary of the SETI program; we didn't realize at the time that nearly three years would pass before the book was actually published. But in retrospect, one could say the publication delay was cosmically induced. Regardless, Is Anybody Out There? provides readers with 17 science fiction authors' interpretations of the Fermi Paradox and its impact (or lack there of) on humanity.

Following are three more reviews of our anthology for your consideration; I'm including just a few excerpts from each review, with a link to the full review. If I recall correctly, this anthology has now been reviewed nine times; sufficient for a reader to determine whether or not this book was worthy of their purchasing dollars. I would hope, of course, that the end result would be that readers -- particularly those who enjoy quality short stories -- would find this anthology a valuable addition to their library. And let's not forget that I have posted on this blog six of the fifteen stories from this anthology in their entirety.

  • Daniel's Thoughts blog; review by Daniel Franklin; posted August 1, 2010

  • Residue by Michael Arsenault
    It might be because I'm a star-crossed lover too, but this is a lovely and sweet story. Romantic -- utterly and unashamedly romantic -- whilst also dealing seriously with the Fermi Paradox, Arsenault's purely conversational piece (it's 2 people talking, all dialogue, nothing but) creates an atmosphere and scene perfectly; the one really interesting point of course...is that they're not necessarily human.

    Graffiti in the Library of Babel by David Langford
    This is a wonderful story, appealing to the bibliophile and cryptophile in me. The answer to the Paradox is never spelled out absolutely clearly, but is implied and described in more general terms; equally, the method of the contact with aliens is absolutely wonderful -- just a brilliant idea, it really is....characters are well fleshed out; indeed, impressively so in such a small space.

    Timmy, Come Home by Matthew Hughes
    This is a somewhat disturbing story; an answer to Fermi that aliens exist, but they're just too alien... and if they're here already, they don't want to be. It's really well written, and creepy as anything; the slow build-up to the end, which isn't that surprising, is really well done.

    Gevers and Halpern have put together a generally strong and generally on-theme anthology here; almost every story has an answer for the Fermi Paradox....Equally, they all have a way to discuss it differently. There are some duff notes, but also some standout ones -- Morrow and Hughes, for instance -- and Arsenault's story is the absolute gem of the collection. I recommend this for scifi readers everywhere.

  • Arcana Chronicles blog; review by R. B. Wood; posted August 11, 2010
    [Note: This reviewer also attended the official book launch for the anthology at ReaderCon 21 in July; his review includes a photograph taken at the launch and a few comments on the event.]

  • The writer-meeting-his-own-alien-creation story by Yves Meynard [Good News from Antares] is a wonderful take on man's desire to know answers, and the less-than-satisfying results knowing brings.

    The wonderfully fun Report from the Field by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn is a kooky alien Dan Rather type story with an extra- terrestrial's take on Earth and all that is humankind.

    Paul Di Filippo's Galaxy of Mirrors is a tale spun with good humor and in grandiose style about the fate of two hapless lovers and their encounter with the World Thinker.

    The final tale in this collection, James Morrow's The Vampires of Paradox is an investigative piece on paradoxes themselves. Twisted logic and mind-bending questions are asked and the answers that arise are told in a way that Jim pulls off brilliantly.

    Overall, this is a marvelous collection of stories, some I've touched on, others just as intriguing and entertaining, and leaves the reader with one final paradox: How many different ways are there to ask Is Anybody Out There?

  • Locus Online; review by Lois Tilton; posted August 16, 2010

  • The fifteen stories presented here are for the most part in the style of classic science fiction. The order and placement of stories in any anthology is always of interest, and here there is a clear trajectory from the abstract to the concrete; from stories of people who only think or dream about aliens to actual alien visitations. There is also a recurring theme: loneliness. Individuals or humanity itself yearn for the arrival of aliens because we can not stand the idea that we are alone in the universe. The anthology seems to be carrying on a symposium on the question, not exactly: Where is everybody? but, Why do we care so much

    "Permanent Fatal Errors" by Jay Lake
    Maduabuchi St Macaria (delightful name!) is part of a small expedition sent to explore the brown dwarf Tiede 1. While he is in the observation lounge, he notices a flash of green from the star, a color not emitted in nature. It seems to be evidence of an alien presence, but Mad discovers that the rest of the crew, all posthuman like himself, seems already to be aware of it and involved in a conspiracy to withhold the knowledge, a conspiracy that might include his elimination if he presses the issue.
    There's a contemporary freshness to this one, made particularly interesting by the eccentric behavior of the crew, who are all Howard immortals, modified by a process that makes them eccentric -- antisocial, quick-tempered and often irresponsible. The Howards are the aliens here, even to Mad, who is too young to really be one of them yet.

[Note: Blogger has made upgrades to its design, so my apologies in advance for any problems with paragraph breaks; I've disabled what new options I can, but Blogger does what Blogger wants. Also, I don't believe the "jump" feature works properly now either. sigh....]

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