Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book review: ARE WE ALONE? by Paul Davies

ARE WE ALONE? Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life (1995) by Paul Davies

Full disclosure: I think most UFO reports can safely be dismissed as unreliable or false.
I also think we have underestimated the possibility that intelligent alien life is out there but ignores us - that Earth might be, to use a metaphor, the galactic monkey cage. 


The author Paul Davies is no crank; he's a science professional who's written several popular science books on physics and astrophysics. .

ARE WE ALONE? is based on his lectures about the search for extraterrestrial life. He outlines the history of speculation about aliens since antiquity; scientific theories about the number of alien civilizations (and why we haven't found any signs of them); and the actual search for alien communication signals by radio telescope. 

Most interesting is Davies' argument that life is NOT a "cosmic accident" but an inevitable product of natural processes. That is, there's no rational reason to assume we are "alone" in the universe, since life will spontaneously emerge elsewhere. .

I recommend this book as an introduction to serious study of SETI (=Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence), if you can find it.

See also Davies' "sequel" book THE EERIE SILENCE: RENEWING OUR SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE (2010), where he argues that current SETI methods need to be reformed.
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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Book review: DEATH'S END by Cixin Liu

DEATH'S END (2010) by Cixin Liu

This novel is the third and final part of a trilogy that began with THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM and continued with THE DARK FOREST.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series! The second book didn't reach the same heights as the first... but the third part really succeeds. This is seriously epic stuff, spanning the far future and painting a vision of the ultimate fate of humanity.

The plot involves spectacular super-science, scale and size being used repeatedly to evoke gigantic change, vast passages of time... and destruction on a cosmic scale.

You might think that the human characters would be utterly dwarfed by the sheer scale of the story. But the author still manages to make the characters and their actions matter.

I noted that in all three books, Cixin Liu has a great knack for building a crisis and raising the stakes. Disaster is heaped upon disaster, until the odds against the protagonist seem hopeless – and then, at the last minute, comes an almost miraculous rescue, solution or escape from certain doom.

Speaking of doom – the THREE-BODY PROBLEM trilogy is based on an extremely bleak premise. I had to finish the trilogy to see just how far the author would go with his ”Dark Forest” hypothesis. I won't spoil the plot, but I was impressed that he took his idea and ran with it.

You may appreciate THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM as a standalone novel, but the two sequels do not stand on their own. I recommend the whole trilogy for readers of ”hard SF” with a grand, epic sweep and a unique, somber vision of the universe.

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